Evolving Storytelling Through Virtual and Mixed Reality Technologies

Jan 10, 2017 | Design Patterns

Storytelling is in our DNA. It’s part of what makes us human. How we tell our stories shapes our culture and profoundly affects how we understand ourselves and each other, and engage with the world around us. There are archetypal patterns that underscore the fundamentals of storytelling and contextualize its evolution through emerging technologies.


The core construct of traditional storytelling is the linear narrative and the ancient art of the storyteller can be used a starting point. Sitting around a campfire, an audience gathers, usually in a circle, and listens to the stories and songs of the storyteller. The temporal experience is linear and continuous, and the storyteller is a clear and singular focal point.


Theater offers an audience a more immersive experience of a story. Stagecraft evokes the narrative world and the audience identifies with the actors playing the roles of the characters. Temporally, the experience is still linear and continuous but the focal point is expanded from one storyteller to the world of the stage.


In film, the focal point is further expanded. The story is composed through a montage of different perspectives. Temporal engagement still follows a linear and continuous format, but the focal point shifts continuously and dramatically within the world of the screen.


In TV, the story becomes discontinuous and episodic. The focal point mimics film in the form of the montage within the screen, but temporally the audience engages and disengages at will.


A more significant shift comes with the transition from analog to digital media. Native digital storytelling is participatory and interactive, disrupting many of the tenets of classical storytelling. In gaming, the audience becomes the protagonist and their actions unfold the story, which is experienced from a first person perspective.


When you follow someone on social media, you are a live witness to their story, which has no clear ending and is told from an infinite number of discrete focal points derived from their journey through life. And, you are presumably contributing your story to this forum as well. There is a merging between the story you are witnessing, the story you are telling, and the story you are living.


The next paradigm shift in storytelling is now arriving with the onset of virtual and mixed reality platforms. In virtual reality, the story you are witnessing or experiencing becomes perceptually indistinguishable from your reality. You are fully immersed in a virtual world and on some level, your neurosensory processing system believes that it is reality.


Comparably, but differently, in mixed reality, the story seamlessly integrates with your physical environment and your immediate perceptual framework. Again, merging your reality with the world of the story.


Virtual and mixed reality storytelling languages and archetypes are currently in their nascent formative stages. Expect wholly new immersive narrative experiences to emerge in the years to come.

– Heather Raikes, Creative Director









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