Ida-BenedettoIda Benedetto is an experiential designer who has developed a framework she calls “Patterns of Transformation: Designing Sex, Death, and Survival in the 21st Century. She started curating Trespass Adventures, which were private & exclusive one-off immersive theater experiences at abandoned properties. The tension that came with transgressing boundaries carried a level of risk that proved to be a key ingredient for participants having some profoundly transformative experiences. If she started to remove these risks from the experiences, then they weren’t nearly as tantalizing or charged with transformative potential.

Benedetto was most interested in the aspects of human enrichment that came from these experiences, and decided to explore and conduct an anthropological study of other transformative experiences including sex parties, funerals, and outdoor adventures. She discovered that each of these experiences have some dimension of risk, whether it’s the physical risk of an outdoor adventure, the emotional risk of grieving the loss of a loved one, or the social risk of shame and humiliation of being rejected for expressing your desires at a sex party. She also found that transformation doesn’t happen unless you are able to let go of control in areas where you usually have control, which is a similar finding that Robin Arnott discovered with SoundSelf. Analyzing the risks associated with these different experiences is insightful for exploring the limits of how far how equivalent experiences in virtual environments will be able to go, especially when it comes to situations where our physical safety is threaten by the forces of nature.

I had a chance to talk with Benedetto about the components of her experiential design framework, how these design concepts apply to virtual reality, the relationship of awe to transformation, other models of transformation, how to handle trauma in intense experiences, and the primal insights that come from contemplating sex, death, and survival.

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