The Storyteller’s Guide to the Virtual Reality Audience

By Katy Newton, Karin Soukop, Judeth Oden Choi

Read the full piece here.

Over ten weeks, we conducted 3 sets of experiments with over 40 participants. All of our experiments were lo-fidelity and analog, allowing us to adapt and respond to new questions as they arose. Photos: Karin Soukup and Alexandra Garcia

As VR storytellers, we are charged with molding experience itself into story, and none of our storytelling tools have prepared us fully for that. As we stumble our way into this new, mysterious medium, we ask ourselves, “How do we tell a story for the audience when the audience is present within it?” Being bodily present in the story seeds the need to be active, to “do.” But how does the audience know what to do? And how do we take their needs and perspective into consideration? To even scratch the surface of these questions, we need to better understand the audience’s experience in VR — not just their experience of the technology, but the way that they understand story and their role within it.

To explore the audience’s experience in VR, we partnered with Stanford’s d.school Media Experiments, the National Film Board of Canada, and independent filmmaker Paisley Smith. To anchor the testing, we used scenes and locations from Paisley Smith’s VR documentary, Taro’s World. The documentary explores the death of her Japanese exchange student brother, Taro, and the impact his suicide had on the people around him.Taro’s World will be released in 2016 for mobile VR — Google Cardboard and the Samsung Gear VR.

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