Pivot(al) Conversations Part 3

Yesterday Simon and I met with Ana Tudor who is the Head of MA VR. It was a really brilliantly helpful meeting, and another one of those important conversations which once again made us rethink the direction we’ve been exploring.

We showed Ana the visuals through this video capture:

And also some of the very rough story development on Twine (this link must be copy & pasted to work): file:///Users/larabarbier/Dropbox/Fractus/Story/Scripts/A.L.I.A.S_draft1.html

Her biggest piece of feedback was that although she liked exploring the concept of A.I by using live actors, this isn’t something that UAL could do in an exhibition space, and that it would be difficult for us to produce in the way we wanted to. She recommended we refocus back on the Fractals and use a voice over to tell the story.

My big take away from this is that I think I’m very interested in location-based VR, and the inter-play between actors and VR technology and that this is something I should continue to explore, but that it’s not possible for this project!

For Simon, I think his concern now is that we’re running low on time and we are going into a third story phase.

My gut feeling is that we possibly don’t need a narrative for this project – at least not in a traditional sense. The fractals are interesting in themselves. I wonder how it might be if we just allow our users to manipulate them along with some very lovely ambient sound. Do we need voices?

However, Simon does really want this narrative element, and it’s been one of the major challenges in our project to find it.

So…it’s my job now is to come up with a story that uses the fractals, still explores our relationship to AI in an interesting way and offers a different interaction other than speaking. Back to the drawing board…

Pivot(al) Conversations Part 2

One of my LCC Screenwriting lecturer’s once said to me that often as a screenwriter you won’t be clear on what your theme is until several drafts in to a script. However, she also said that you’ll find that no matter how much you think you’re writing a unique story each time, writers often have one or two themes they spend their whole lives writing about, and you can see it crop up in their work time and time again.

It makes sense to me – part of why I think many of us do creative work is about trying to understand ourselves and the human condition. For some artists their themes may always be about abandonment, others about injustice and so forth. I think it goes to the heart of what your own “character wound” is – what is that key event or maybe several events that created that deep dark point in your soul that you’re constantly trying to unravel. The question you shout out to the universe, and keep searching for an answer to which you somehow believe will heal that existential crises in you.

So when Avril asked us the other week – what is the story you want to tell? I was at first a bit of a rabbit caught in the headlights. It wasn’t until after that conversation that I sat down to think about my work and what I tend to write about and what interests me at a subconscious level. Once I’d had time to reflect I found that the kind of themes that crop up time and again in my own work are often about death and loss. I tend to focus on human stories, on the intimate reality of the everyday in the extraordinary, to be fascinated by how others live and love and die. Part of why I became a writer was so I could live 1000 lives (plus time travel)!

For Simon, his interests tend lean more to science fiction and he enjoys in-depth world building, in particular explorations of alien “other” like Ian M. Banks “Culture.” He isn’t scared of the future – but believes that technology and machines will save us from ourselves, as such his art work and stories often tend to lean towards these areas. His fascination with creating 3D fractals is a huge motif that has been driving this project: He loves strange and alien worlds, and the 3D fractal landscapes he’s producing are a wonderful reflection of this.

Copyright: KnowYourMeme

But as we’ve continued to talk through August and September about “what we’re trying to say,” it has felt really difficult at times to hit on what the right mix that reflects both of us – how to marry a “human” story to such an alien visual.

Finally Simon proposed that a good “repeating” theme to explore exactly this juxtaposition between us was maybe “humans being replaced by machines.” It’s a very topical subject, and so we began to think about how we could create a story in VR exploring this.

One of the other ideas we had was tying voices into the Fractal movements. We then started to ask ourselves, could an interaction be that our VR user “speaks” into our fractal world and that’s affects the fractal movement? What would voice/fractal integration look like? What if our Fractal landscape answered back? What would it say?

This also lead to a conversation around the difficulty of having a “silent protagonist” in VR, where you are both extremely intimate and embedded in the world, and yet the primary interaction you would anticipate having (conversation) is still not yet technologically possible.

So then we asked ourselves…could we use VR and an actor to allow for this kind of interaction? Ambitious yes, but something we felt we wanted to explore. After all, this is what this residency is about – exploring the possibilities of storytelling in VR.

And so, to this idea:

A.L.I.A.S – Artificial Lifeform (AL) – Intelligence Articulation System

Theme: Humans replaced by technology, 

Concept: Over centuries humans have been replaced by machines and technology. eventually we will replace humans with digital versions of themselves. But what happens when the digital version is replaced for an upgrade? 

Players find themselves inside the I.A.S, conversing with an Artificial Lifeform (played by a live actor, hidden from view) nicknamed AL, and must answer a series of questions to prove their worth, otherwise you will be deleted for your upgrade. 

Some considerations we’re already mulling – how to ensure this isn’t just a “machines bad/humans good” paradime. To include justifiable arguments from AL as to why humans were replaced in the first place. Some of which will involve offering historical context i.e Gutenberg Printing Press democratised reading by replacing the creation of books from being a hand craft by a few to mass produced by a machine. Another consideration is the environmental impact of humans. Finally this also touches on ideas around phenomenology – a huge research topic to dig into.

I’m already slightly nervous about how to structure/ write a template for what will essentially be a live improvised performance, but I’m curious to have ago and see how I get on…