Digital Storytelling: A New Virtual Reality Might Not be Far Off

Content Marketing

You’re standing in the middle of the train tracks. You look to your right, endless tracks as far as the eye can see. You glance to your left and far, far off in the distance you see a train is coming. You freeze. Faster and faster, it picks up the pace. Your heartbeat is loud in your ears, your palms grow damp with sweat. On the train comes, silent, deadly, still faster … and BAM, it hits you.

But you feel nothing.

You take off your virtual reality glasses, wipe the sweat off your brow, wish you’d brought deodorant. You look around; you are back where you started, in this ordinary place. It felt so real.

For those of you thinking that virtual reality is far off from daily life, you’re wrong. It’s here. And we’re in the beginning stages of figuring out what that means for us as storytellers, marketers, designers, teachers, and as humans.

Recently, at an event put on at Design Week PDX, I listened to six subject matter experts speak about how virtual and augmented reality are changing digital storytelling forever.

What I learned was mind-boggling. Here are a few highlights.

The Panelists at the Digital Storytelling Event for Portland Design Week were:

Shelley Midthun, @shelleytune, Director @ Oregon Story Board

Kelsey Snook, @kelseysnook, Creative Director @ Second Story

Tim Williams, @timbwilliams, Executive Director @ Oregon Film

Peter Lund, @peterlund, COO @ SuperGenius, Chair of Oregon Games Organization

Ben Fischler, @arnoldrenderer, Director of Education + Outreach @ Solid Angle

Monica Morlo, @PortlandCC, Multimedia Ed-Tech @ Portland Community College (PCC)

Q: What does digital storytelling mean to you?

Shelley: Digital storytelling, to me, is where creativity meets tech. Digital storytelling is emotive, expressive, and it’s using tech.

Kelsey: Digital is the means of our time.

Peter: Don’t chase the shiniest object. The bones of that story still have to be compelling.

Q: Tell us about emerging technology:

Peter: Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are going to change the way we interact with the computers around us, particularly with our media. It’s going to mix and match the preconceived notions of what media is.

Ben: AR & VR allow us to share, make, find, and consume stories in a different way. AR allows us to maintain a normalized social dynamic. (VR is all-consuming)

Tim: Emerging technologies make us ask ourselves ‘what’s the story? What’s the experience? What do you chose to do with it?’

The sky’s the limit. It’s up to us to decide how we will experience this device.

Monica: For me, the most interesting thing about digital storytelling is using these emerging technologies for education. For example, we can use the technology in our automotive classes at a community college in order to teach people about the mechanics of a car without having a car in front of them. Or teaching people to improve their public speaking by emulating the feeling you get when you are speaking in front of an audience using virtual or augmented reality.

Q: What are the pros, cons, and opportunities of emerging technologies:

Peter: The real problem with these emerging technologies is the cost. We’re platform agnostic. This is a barrier for a lot of media creators. There’s a lot of speculative smart money in California and great stuff is coming out of the indie community. The design rules for these technologies are still being established. We’re working to make things that feel good in VR.

Shelley: Challenge: How do we make learning this stuff accessible to more people? It’s taking a lot of collaboration and a lot of creativity. Industry and education need to work together to make learning with it more accessible.

Kelsey: We don’t have to covet the newest technology. The Google Cardboard is the coolest thing around. There’re tons of homeless people with smartphones, and hypothetically, if they get their hands on a Google Cardboard device, they have access to virtual reality. The idea of coveting the shiniest thing is the biggest barrier.

Peter: The price point is the biggest con. VR and AR are still very much in the novelty phase.

Kelsey: AR and VR are truly a phenomenon. You’re able to neglect your physical environment. You can’t do this for very long at all though. Do you know an AR or VR experience that you want to stay in for longer than 10 minutes?

Tim: VR is the anti-community device.

Monica: Thinking about how people consume information to learn from it and testing with a variety of abilities. This is the digital divide.

Peter: Most of the tools are freely available – you have to be conversant in development or programming, but the tools are there if you understand them. The topic of the K-12 pipeline is dear to a lot of us. People need to have access to discrete math, and science, and there’s a heck of a lot of more work to do on that front.

Monica: I know as an educator I shouldn’t be saying this, but credentialing is not important in this platform. Anyone can learn from the Internet or Oregon Story Board, the local industry, or Twitter.

Shelley: We need to focus on how we can create a workforce that’s catering to the education of this industry. At Oregon Story Board we’re using funds from corporate facing classes to go back into non-profit for those who can’t afford it. We want to create a broader spectrum of opportunity for those interested in developing these emerging technologies.

And when the question-and-answer session began, I was finally able to ask my question:

I am a digital content creator for a software company. How can I start introducing these emerging technologies into our content creation?

The answers from the panel and from the audience were positive, inspiring, and encouraging:

“Use this experience as inspiration”

“Just go make something – start basic, keep it simple, experiment, and see what sticks”

“Start pushing the envelope”

“Hold group trials”

“Make something, tweak things slightly until you like what you’ve created”

In the end, I walked away feeling much less … intimidated by virtual and augmented reality. I felt less constrained by the traditional storytelling methods, and excited for an opportunity to explore a new realm of digital possibility. But it was Ben Fischler’s words that stuck with me the most:

“The thing to focus on is: What is my story? What do I want to tell? And then, where does my story fit into this giant ecosystem of platforms?”

So it does come back to the human element: we learn better, we identify more strongly, and we remember better through stories that resonate with us, regardless of the medium. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get more attention and amplify your story with the right medium.

To see how marketers are pioneering digital storytelling through VR and AR, check out these two awesome campaigns:

Expedia + St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital Dream Adventures Initiative

Wieden & Kennedy + National MS SocietyTogether We Are Stronger Project

What do you think?  Will you be using virtual or alternative realities in your storytelling soon?