Hamlet on the Holodeck: NFF Interactive Storyspace Symposium (Conference Report)
This post summarizes our visit to the NFF Interactive: Storyspace symposium, taking on the question "What is real?" in the current society surrounded by digital technologies, as well as current tactics and strategies to cope with it.
"Virtual reality experiences should not reproduce reality, but represent believable reality”, asserts Janet Murray, author of the books “Hamlet on the Holodeck” (1997) and “Inventing the Medium” (2012). Murray was the keynote speaker on the second day of the NFF Interactive Storyspace event, a symposium at the Dutch Film Festival looking at the how the arrival of new technologies challenges the way we tell and experience stories. Serving as inspiration for the Visual Navigation Project, we attended this symposium to learn more about new ways to provide interaction and tell stories in the digital realm.
In her fascinating keynote, Murray introduced unproductive attempts of applying conventional storytelling techniques to the digital realm. In her presentation, she showed how the fictive Holodeck from Star Trek (a holographic simulation) was aimed at reproducing reality, an assertion which in real life may be impossible to achieve. However, it has been taken at face value by technical developers, trying to create this experience over the years. This is represented by hollow “the Holodeck is here” claims with respect to virtual or augmented environments. Janet Murray showed that the Holodeck is not here, since there are issues with the use of controllers, limited interaction space, mobility and physical presence within virtual reality. Moreover, our artificial intelligence is not in a state in which encountered virtual characters are as responsive and life-like as in the Holodeck.
Still, Murray showed that the arrival of new and promising technologies allows for a variety of engaging new ways to tell stories. However, the evangelists of new technologies often make hollow claims, and initial virtual and augmented reality (AR) apps have depended on the thrill of novelty. Subsequently, Murray made the point that there are no common conventions for storytelling in the virtual space, as in for instance the film domain. Applications should not try to reproduce reality, but “try to present a believable reality”, "provide a coherent substitute for direct experience”, and “reinvent the fourth wall”, the invisible division between spectators and actors as common in theatre and film. Janet Murray concluded that we are highly dependent on design to inform us what is “real”. Novelty creates excitement and confusion about what is real or not in virtual spaces, while developing genre and format conventions can create a fourth wall in the digital realm, thus reducing ambiguity. Therefore, interaction design should formulate genre and format conventions, and thus tell us what is real.
An inspiring programme
Janet Murray’s keynote was but one of the interesting talks in a two-day programme at the NFF Interactive: Storyspace symposium. Other notable talks included Zachery Lieberman of the School for Poetic Computation, presenting a variety of novel projects combining interaction, augmented and virtual reality. Also, Annelies Termeer of presented the Dutch VPRO’s Medialab, which researches how media can be produced and watched in the future. Their hackathons have engaged artists, researchers and programmers, and have resulted in a variety of novel concepts, such as bots suggesting users interesting materials from broadcast archives, or an app enabling an interactive reading club.
All in all, the event, as well as the impressive demos scattered around the conference building showed us the possibilities of novel techniques such as VR and AR to engage with our audiences, but also provided a critical view on issues occurring when designing for such technologies.