The future of storytelling. And how technology will influence future storyworlds. 

Still from the VR project «VESTIGE».

In my opinion «VESTIGE» is still one of the best examples when it comes to storytelling in VR. «VESTIGE» is an award-winning, room-scale VR creative documentary that uses multi-narrative and volumetric live capture to take the viewer on a journey into the mind of Lisa as she remembers her lost love, Erik.

I talked to the director Aaron Bradbury to discuss the future of storytelling and how technology will influence future storyworlds.

I have been asked about the future of Immersion or the future of storytelling many times in the past. “What’s next?” An obsession with time that existed throughout all time. Well, at least our time. Most of my projects deal with this obsession to some degree, whether it is the infinite looping melody of a music box travelling along a Möbius strip, or how death can change memories, our personal document of past times.

«Layering past and future in your home like ghosts of memories yet to come.»

I have recently fallen deeper into this obsession with my latest project, “Fractal Flight”. I find myself drawing complex webs of interconnected timelines and trying to figure out how to navigate time through portals and how to seamlessly blend between linear and emergent narratives. All of this within mixed reality, gathering variables from the “user”, processing semantics about the environment. Layering past and future in your home like ghosts of memories yet to come.

So when I am asked about what the future of storytelling might be I think about placing one of these virtual time portals right next to me and just stepping through it. What do I see? How will the story be told in that place which isn’t now? Will I understand it? Will I even know it’s a story?

Still from the VR project «VESTIGE».

Through the portal I see an exponential increase in transdisciplinary media and convergence of these into new chimerical experiences. It’s interactive like a video game, and it has elements of film and theatre. The story isn’t just unfolding before me either. I’m in the story, I’m part of it. There are other people here too... some of them are real people. They may be digital avatars, but they’re real somewhere. It leaves me reeling with uncertainty. Which characters are here for the experience and which ones are part of the story? I speak and they respond, they feel real, but then it could be also some kind of artificial intelligence talking to me, right?

The world feels real. The visual’s fidelity matches my visual acuity and the sounds I make reflect the objects in the scene. I mean, back in the past, I felt like I was really there when the time traveller in H. G. Wells’ ‘The Time Machine’ described the salty Dead Sea on the edge of eternity. But aside from the cold shudder of a meaningless existence, I don’t really remember ‘feeling’ anything. In this storytelling future I can feel the icy cold burn of the granite rocks through haptic technology, and smell the salty moss that grows on rocks around me.

«The story has a myriad of alternate endings and ways to get there.»

“The story is all around you?! But what if you miss something?” They used to say in 2020. But in the story of the future it knows where I’m looking. It knows when I’m turning and it modifies the story depending on how I navigate it. If I turn away, it reacts. More time portals open up around me, I step over the threshold and I’m in a different part of the story. I’ve jumped onto a different path, of which there are many. Multi-narrative, hyper-narrative, emergent-narrative, parallel stories, storylets… The story has a myriad of alternate endings and ways to get there.

Even the same path doesn’t look the same for everyone because if the storyteller wants to create a sense of futility in my existence... the algorithms know me best. This story of the future is a complex system packed with realtime-analytics and machine learning algorithms, connected to external sensors and the internet of things. It knows what this futile world looks like for everyone who visits. It colours the sky with just the right reddish hue that tells me what I need to know and exactly how to feel. Where storytelling of yesteryear relied on cultural averages the story of the future is connected to me on a whole new level. It knows me. It knows what I shop for, it knows what kind of search terms I use late at night.

Still from the VR project «VESTIGE».

The story will continue to evolve as more people experience it, and all the data collected from each experience goes back into the machine. The ticket price is nothing compared to the money being made from the terabytes of analytical data harvested from each experience. This isn’t just search terms and clicks anymore, they can tap into all the nuances of body language, what gets my heart pumping and what type of face I dwell on for a fraction of a second longer, to help figure out new ways to convince me to part with my money.

This all starts feeling like a cliched dystopian story of the future and I start to wonder if we really want these kind of experiences, I mean, books are still telling great stories. But when you step through that portal and you experience it for yourself, you’ll understand that there is something truly special about these stories. Beneath all the complexities there are real people telling real stories that connect with you in a truly unique and meaningful way. Just like today's media landscape, you may have to travel far and wide to uncover the gems but they’ll be there and they’ll transform you like nothing before.

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