An up-and-coming form of interactive media is Virtual Reality (VR). The difference here to earlier forms of interactivity is that the user is immersed within an experiential narrative.
VR is a storytelling superpower. No other medium has the quite the same potential to create empathy and drive human connection. Because viewers are, for all intents and purposes, living the experience.
With a set of goggles, a phone and an internet connection, VR is accessible to the wider public, but VR storytelling is still in its infancy. This drives writers to think beyond linear and non-linear narratives to design a unique experience because if you can't interact with the virtual world, the illusion quickly fades.
Creating content for VR requires a lot of preparation. It is not as simple as putting pen to paper. Like video games, there is software, hardware and distribution to take into account. Also, a common VR flaw is that it can induce motion sickness - an effective deterrent to user uptake.
Yet the potential for creating something truly unique is exciting. Much like the early internet or the smartphone before the app explosion, VR is waiting for the motivated to launch this medium into a phenomenon.
Writing for the virtual world also requires an understanding of design principles. VR narratives require more than a linear or non-linear storyline. They also need you to imagine a world where everything can be viewed in a 360-degree panorama. And this means you must always be aware of audience orientation. For example, how will you know where to direct a person's attention when action in 360 degrees takes place behind, in front or to the side of the user?
UX Design, also known as user-centred design, helps the writer lay the groundwork for the virtual world. We will explore this in more detail in the 'Writing for Future Tech' unit. For a more comprehensive overview of VR, refer to the 'Becoming a Digital Futurist' unit.
What is the most common beginner's mistake with immersive storytelling?
As with any technology, storytellers may feel hesitant to use new mediums. Unfortunately, the longer you wait, the more likely it is that the technology will go mainstream and you will have lost the opportunity to be truly innovative and build an audience.
The narrative will always come first and your role as a storyteller is still the most important part of the process. Technology is there only to add another layer to audience engagement. Building immersive VR experiences can be hard work, but it is also rewarding.