I walked along the edge of Hudson river; a chill wind cutting through my jacket and rushing my steps. I was on my way to a haunting. My own haunting to be exact.
I had been invited to Story Arcade, a showcase of eight exciting technological exhibits, culminating in a virtual reality experience called Chained, which is a reimagining of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Story Arcade is a project run by The Future of Storytelling, a community of people involved in media, technology, and communications who are developing new ways to tell stories in the digital age. I sampled a few of the offered experiences and I can say with confidence, each exhibit is unique and compelling.
The first VR experience I encountered was Jurassic Flight gives you the chance to fly through a pre-historic landscape through the use of a full-body robotic “motion platform” paired with active airflow. You lay down on the machine, feet propped up behind you and arms splayed out over the flaps that act as your wings. With the VR headset on and the simulated wind in your hair, you dive in, quite literally. Awkward at first, it is amazing how quickly your body adjusts to the idea of flapping your arms to keep from falling. Within a minute I was gliding over waterfalls and dinosaurs as I skimmed treetops and narrowly avoided crashing into rock outcroppings.
Next up was a piece based on the work by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. Wolves in the Walls is a VR exhibit where you interact with a young girl named Lucy, who wants to capture evidence of the predators that prowl behind the walls of her home. The animation on this piece reminds me of Pixar films; beautifully rendered and infusing a life and personality into the character that makes her believable. Unlike a film where you are nothing more than an observer, with Wolves in the Walls you get to interact with Lucy as she hands you her Polaroid and asks you to take some shots while she listens for the scratching and growling of wolves. This short piece makes excellent use of lighting and and sound to transport you into Lucy’s world.
Algorithmic Perfumery is something completely different. By asking you a bevy of questions that relate to personal preferences and how you see yourself, an AI system calculates and then crafts a personalized scent for you. The AI system that adapts and learns from every exchange and thus gets better about matching particular scents to personalities. I had my doubts, but Algorithmic Perfumery managed to create a light, fresh perfume that I was pleasantly surprised by.
The oddest exhibit I saw was Cosmic Sleep. It aims to simulate what it would feel like to be a comet traveling through space through the use of a multi-sensory installation. You lie under what looks like a giant electric blanket that emits different temperatures as you coast through space while your face is presented with a series of scents intended to help deepen your experience.
My evening rounded out with a soft-spoken attendant leading me to the door to Chained. The experience is a fully immersive VR play where you become the main character. Once a ghost has properly prepared you for a visit to the “other side” (by strapping on your VR helmet) you’ll be dragged across the threshold of life and death by the ghost of Jacob Marley. Bedecked in chains and warning you of what may come, Marley asks you a series of questions. Your answers become part of the story, making the feel more real and extra creepy. Just like A Christmas Carol, the rest of the performance has you meeting the ghosts of the past, present, and future as they try to guide you away from the fate you have crafted for yourself, but what separates Chained from any other play or VR experience I have ever seen is that the ghosts are “real”.
No, not in the incorporeal way, but in the fact that there is a live actor in a motion capture suit in the room with you. That means when a ghost puts a hand on your shoulder, you feel it. If you are offered an apple, you can actually grab it. The mixture of the VR imagery overlaid with the tactile reality, makes everything that much more real feeling and by the time you meet Present’s “guests” you may find yourself trying to back away from their horrifying little faces even though you know they’re not real. I won’t spoil anything more, but I can safely say that Chained is a personalized and creepy experience that haunt me for quite a while.
All of the exhibits were exciting, thought-provoking, and fun and I’ve only touched on a few of them. There are plenty of other fascinating things to explore in the Story Arcade and these works are just a sampling of the many exhilarating projects that the Future of Storytelling supports in their quest to discover new heights in technologically assisted communication. The Story Arcade pop-up will run through April 21, 2019. For more info about the exhibit, visit Futureofstorytelling.org and make sure to use the Code: GEEKNSUNDRY to get 30% off tickets.
What next technological advancement in storytelling would you want to see next? Perhaps a holodeck. We’re holding out for a holodeck. Let us know in the comments below!
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Image Credits: Jessica Fisher, The Future of Storytelling
Hailing from New York, Jessica Fisher is a writer, artist, and all around geek. In addition to Geek & Sundry, she writes for Gameosity.com and produces the Gameosity Reviews Youtube Channel. Find her talking about all things geeky on Twitter as @miniktty.