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Making Immersive Experiences

“ What do new immersive technologies, such as augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence, offer storytellers and makers? And do they change the stories we choose to tell audiences? Two internationally renowned digital storytellers and makers present their latest creative projects and help us to find answers to these questions.”

Notes from ‘Making Immersive Experiences 1: Lance Weiler, Storytelling Lab, Columbia University + Chris Mullany, Marshmallow Laser Feast’ Organised by Immersion Research Group, Manchester Metropolitan University

Immersive storytelling is not something I have really ever thought about in relation to my work, however, I find the ideas discussed resonated strongly with my own practice and collaborations I have been part of.

While listening to the speakers I realised I have taken part in several immersive theatre experiences; A ‘Punch Drunk’ [] performance back in 2002, which I hadn’t even considered this being a form of ‘storytelling’. It made me realise that I was so immersed in it I hadn’t even considered the structures and mechanisms at work [being chased by a man with a chainsaw might have this effect] I have also helped out with a blast theory production in years ago as an intern. Using what at the time seemed incredibly high-tech PDAs to guide people around the city to various locations/interactions.

The interplay between technology, was still necessarily mediated by actors [facilitators?] and participants. Lance Weiler, demonstrated how far the medium has evolved, in line with technological developments, orchestrating performances on a global scale. The apparent complexity of interactions between these technologies was impressive.

“The goal of Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things” is to encourage participants to step into a collaborative framework that enables them to create 21st Century adaptations of the work of Arthur Conan Doyle. These “forked” projects use Sherlock Holmes as a jumping off point. To date, a number of spinoff projects and prototypes have been created. From escaping the room games to team building frameworks to high school educational programs to card games to connected objects that tell stories to Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality games and applications – Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things has provided a foundation for open creativity.”  [ ]

‘Frankenstein AI’ extends the notion of ‘Frankenstein’  to social media context, reverse engineering this story and transforming it into a group experience. The ‘audience’ interact with each other through various tasks and interfaces, somehow from all this, a new AI identity emerges. A literal ‘human corpus’ [one, of many people] There was a discussion of how teaching can be led by storytelling and enabling collaboration through the following key concepts. He believed a successful projects are based on these core design principles:

Creating a trace –  seeing themselves in the story
Granting agency – giving individual’s space so they can bring stuff back to the space
Serendipity management – make room for things to happen

‘Knowledge as ownership’ and ‘Knowledge as Becoming’ There are many links and resources on his website

I asked if they ever though technology gets in the way of what they were trying to do? Perhaps a silly question, but someone asked me once of our work as Owl Project. I thought the question was silly at the time and answered No, justifying this thoroughly. But on reflection, I can now see how in many ways technology can get in the way rather than simply enable. Is the technology seen as the work rather than medium upon which the artwork is created? In reality its more possible that the two cannot be separated, and that to a certain extent the ‘medium is the message’ [1]. When participants become embroiled about with what work is doing or how it works, I feel this can be an obstacle to the work.

However, both answered yes to this question, expanding on the idea Chris Mullany reflected how they make the use of the equipment more of a ‘ritual’ so it becomes part of the work rather than just the means of viewing the work. In this example you can see how this is addressed: the headsets become sculptural objects. Domes with mosses and bark encrusting a face panel. Making the HMDs site specific.

I agree that these works are certainly immersive and captivating. But could it be the case that the relationship with the interface of the HMD, screens or handheld device renders the viewer as a passive unit? The participant still depends entirely on the media fed to them in order to ‘interact’ or fulfil the experience to its end. Its possible the works developed by Weiler go beyond this. They seem to have gone beyond the initial experience, to the point the user generates the content and redefines the outcomes.

1 ‘Understanding media: the extensions of man’ McLuhan, Marshall, 1911-1980


Artist, educator, and researcher working between the fields of science and art.

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