Restorative Justice practices are an alternative form of justice that’s a victim-centered that creates a space for offenders to own the harm done, and for victims to tell the story of their experiences of that harm directly to the offender. It’s a set of indigenous restorative practices that try to restore a sense of balance into the entire community, and it can be used as an complete alternative to existing retributive justice systems or as a supplement. Tyler Musgrave has worked with the organization of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, and then participated in Mozilla’s XR Studio to learn more about how she can bring some of these restorative practices within the context of VR in her Restorative VR project.

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Music: Fatality

There’s a lot of intensity in the world right now, and it reminded me of a short excerpt about VR shooters from a longer conversation that I had with Danny Bittman back at Oculus Connect 4 in 2017. I think it speaks to some of what’s happening in the world and how VR can play a part.

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I’m about to head to Laval Virtual in France focusing on enterprise and medical VR while a lot of the rest of the VR industry will be focusing on the news and announcements happening at GDC. I will return to the States next week and start publishing more of the nearly 100 interviews that I’ve recorded this year from Sundance, the Immersive Design Summit, the Symposium on the Immersive Internet, SXSW, and Laval Virtual. More coming soon!

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Music: Fatality
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

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blake-harris“The History of the Future” book was published on February 19th, and it’s a storified non-fiction account of the modern resurgence of virtual reality through the eyes of the founders of Oculus. Author Blake Harris was able to cultivate some extraordinary access to the founders of Oculus to tell many of the behind-the-scenes stories of the major events from the founding of Oculus through past the launch of the first consumer Rift (aka “CV1″).

Harris was also able to secure thousands of emails that are cited in throughout the book, which helps to fill in many gaps of knowledge between the collaboration between Valve and Facebook as well as how the open source ecosystem cultivation of Oculus was slowed shifted towards strategies of platform ownership pushed by the leadership of Facebook.

Harris was able to craft a super dramatic human story of innovation and risk that starts with a dream of virtual reality and slowly evolves into a full-blown start-up team, and eventually a unicorn acquisition that catalyzes the next phase of an entire spatial computing revolution. It’s a story that’s packed with dramatic tensions between logic versus intuition, pragmatism versus idealism, engineering versus marketing, and open ecosystems versus closed platforms. It’s integration of these different polar extremes that makes for a magical team combination of being at the right place at the right time with the right amount of passion, drive, vision, money, and luck.

While the narrative is super engaging and helps make this story a super fun read through the key moments and technological landscape of the history of the modern resurgence of VR, the problem is that from a historical perspective it’s very difficult to source where exactly the information is coming from. Harris chose to obfuscate the precise sourcing of information in order to build trust for engaging with employees within a publicly traded company.

This obfuscation actually makes for a more immersive and engaging story through artificially re-constructed dialogue, but it’s difficult to know precisely where the information is coming from and whose perspective is being preferenced whenever there are inevitable differences of opinion. In the absence of being able to triangulate different perspectives, then it ends up being a mysterious fusion of perspectives that ultimately is Harris’ unique perspective on the story.

I actually trust that it’s likely he gets many of the fundamental points correct, but this methodology is almost by definition going to be limited in trying to capture the full nuances of complexity and paradox that comes with any sufficiently meaningful human endeavor.

But with all of that said, there are aspects of this story that would have been impossible to tell had Harris tried to preserve the complexity of every nuanced disagreement, especially when Facebook allegedly deliberately tried to spread misinformation through Harris. Ultimately Facebook’s cooperation with Harris broke down after Harris suspected that Facebook was tried to mislead him for the reasons why Palmer Luckey was no longer working at Oculus. Harris claims that Facebook was insisted to him that it was Luckey’s choice to leave, but Harris was hearing contradictory information from multiple sources that led to Harris to believe that he was being systematically lied to. This eventually came to a head about a year after Luckey was fired when Facebook ultimately cut off access to Harris in the spring of 2018.

Harris alleges that Luckey was compelled to sign a non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreement with Facebook as part of his departure. If this is true, then Facebook is using it’s power and authority to suppress aspects of the truth that they want to keep secret. To me, this fosters an unethical relationship to the historical record through compelled suppression of deeper truths. Rather than handle difficult questions in a direct, authentic, and embodied way that would encourage retrospective contemplation and self-reflection, then Facebook chooses to deny and suppress the truth through tactics of silence, ghosting, and the explicit suppression of open dialogue through NDAs and non-disparagement agreements. They blindly march forward continuing to build new solutions that focused on the future while denying opportunities to be held accountable or learn lessons from retrospectively reflecting upon the past.

If there’s any set of questions that I have for Facebook, then it’d be “Did you have Luckey and/or Iribe sign an NDA or non-disparagement agreement? If you truly believe in transparency, then why do you have former employees sign NDAs and non-disparagement agreements? What are you trying to hide? Why are you using your power and money to promote secrecy and the promotion of incomplete narratives in the historical record?”

Harris sent me an advanced copy, and so I was able to read the book ahead of release and then conduct this interview with him the day before the book’s official release date. We talked about many of the topics above, and he game me additional context about his journey in writing the book, some of the topics that didn’t make the cut, additional insights and quips from Carmack’s emails, and more about the challenges he faced in covering Luckey’s cultural fallout.

“The History of the Future” is a huge contribution for helping to document how far virtual reality ecosystem has evolved over the past eight years. It’s a monumental effort to focusing so deeply on a single story that represents a major turning point in the evolution of immersive and spatial computing. But I also see it as a first draft, as there are many more perspectives, more stories, and more history to be told. Hopefully this book will become a center point of conversation that allows even more stories and perspectives to be shared.

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Music: Fatality

women-in-vr-mozilla

Disclosure: Mozilla is financially sponsoring the Voices of VR podcast to collaborate on four different events in 2019, and our first collaboration was this conversation featuring the work of seven women within the XR space. Mozilla curated these seven participants and coordinated the logistics for this conversation to happen during Sundance, but it was up to me decide what to talk about and how to facilitate the overall conversation. I feel that the educational mission of the Voices of VR podcast aligns pretty closely with Mozilla’s mission of promoting an open and inclusive web, and so I’m excited to see how our three other collaborations evolve this year.

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This conversation featured the following participants:

Some of these women are working directly with Mozilla with specific projects, but not all of them are directly connected. One of Mozilla’s key initiatives is to promote diversity and inclusion with the XR industry, and they created the XR Studio in San Francisco, which was a physical location that provided “mentorship, collaboration and equipment for 30 women to develop work in machine learning and mixed reality in San Francisco from May to August 2018.” Mozilla sponsored two of the XR Studio participants of Tyler Musgrave and Anastasia Victor to attend Sundance and network with other industry leaders, and they also sponsored Jacqueline Bošnjak’s Mad Women Breakfest club networking gathering at Sundance. Mozilla is also sponsored some of Nonny de la Peña’s work on Reach, which was debuting at Sundance New Frontier.

We ended up exploring the work that each of them are doing, their deeper intentions for why each of them are the XR space, some of the biggest challenges that they face within the XR industry, as well as what they think the ultimate potential of VR is.

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Photo courtesy of Sandra Persing

Music: Fatality

sundance-storytelling-ar
I moderated this 90-minute Sundance New Frontier panel discussion about immersive storytelling in AR and the role of virtual characters and conversational interfaces. It included Alice Wroe, who is the creative director of Magic Leaps digital human named MicaPeter Flaherty, who is the director of The Dial, Artie’s co-founder and CEO, Ryan Horrigan, and Ted Schilowitz, who is the Paramount Pictures Futurist in Residence.

We had a wide-ranging discussion about spacial storytelling, the importance of moving your body through space as a fully-engaged participant, the differences between VR and AR in storytelling, the differences between phone-based AR and head-mounted AR, the ethics of AR storytelling, the future trends and challenges for AR as a utility vs AR as a storytelling medium, the role of context for story in AR, the role of emotional context and body language in AR, and finally how virtual characters and conversational interfaces will be a part of future of interactive storytelling.

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Photo courtesy of Anastasia.

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Music: Fatality

traveling-while-black2

roger_ross_williams_by_marc_yankus_copy_400x400Traveling While Black is the most powerful piece of virtual reality that I’ve ever seen. Director Roger Ross Williams in collaboration with Felix & Paul Studios and co-director Ayesha Nadarajah were able to capture a powerful story of the Green Book through the lens of Ben’s Chilli Bowl restaurant in Washington D.C., which has served as a refuge for the African American community for over 60 years.

They were able to tell the story of this place, but also create a very specific context of conversations that allows you to listen into the sharing of deep truths and direct experiences of what it means to be black in America. Some of these conversations only happen within the context of a safe container and having enough people with a shared experience together. VR is able to give you an inside seat for some of these conversations that would otherwise be inaccessible for most people. So this experience has facilitated the sharing grief and trauma that’s allowed for a level of emotional catharsis throughout screenings at Sundance New Frontier. As such, it’s served as a sort of healing ritual by providing access to these types of restorative practices of gathering people to be in conversation about their shared experiences, and it’s starting to reveal some of the deeper potentials of immersive documentary as a transformative artistic medium.

I had a chance to talk with Academy-award winning director Roger Ross Williams at Sundance where he shared his journey of creating Traveling While Black, how it received support from Tribeca, Sundance, Oculus the New York Times, and the MacArthur Foundation, the overwhelming emotional reactions that this piece was receiving at Sundance, and his own peak emotional experiences of discovering the power of the virtual reality medium throughout the production of this story. Williams is an elected member of the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for documentary, and so he’s a leader in the larger field of documentary and it’s likely that Traveling While Black will serve as a turning point to get more documentary filmmakers interested in exploring the new immersive storytelling potentials of virtual reality.

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Here’s a teaser trailer for Traveling While Black.

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Music: Fatality

cycles
jeff-gipsonDisney Animation was showing Cycles, which is their first narrative VR short film that they produced during private screenings in Park City during Sundance. It’s a beautifully-produced piece that explores the connection to place, memories and nostalgia in a way that only VR can. It was a part of an internal innovation initiative within Disney where lighting artist Jeff Gipson’s pitch was greenlite allowing him to direct the piece.

jose-gomezI had a chance to talk with Gipson as well as with senior software engineer and technical director of Jose Gomez. Gomez mentioned that he’s also working on other virtual production initiatives within Disney meaning that there are many ways in which VR technologies are changing the production pipeline within Disney. They wanted to use production quality formats within real-time game engine of Unity, and start to do the types of hand-crafted flares that are hallmarks of Disney animation within this project.

Gipson and Gomez shared their creative journey and challenges of the project, and this will no doubt be one of many more immersive projects and experiments from Disney. It’s also going to get Disney to think about how to distribute these types of immersive experiences.

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Music: Fatality

SPHERES: Songs of Spacetime - Still 2
colum-slevinColum Slevin is Facebook/Oculus’ Head of Experiences, and I had a chance to talk about how they’re supporting independent storytellers in a quest of trying to discover some of the fundamental components of an immersive story. Slevin says that the production pipeline and iterative development methodology of real-time, interactive games has made it easier for the gaming community to adopt virtual reality technologies. The film industry has not only had to learn an entirely new set of tools but also they’ve had to figure out how to move to a more agile development process from the normal storytelling and character development process, and storytelling is a time-based medium where it’s harder to give up authorial control of the building and releasing of narrative tension. So we talk about how VR is a transcendent and transformational medium that has inspired Facebook to support more avant-garde storytelling experiments like The Under Presents, which features live theater actors that will be paid to interact with participants within this immersive theater virtual reality experiment. So I had a chance to chat with Slevin in Park City during Sundance after getting a sneak peak of The Under.

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Music: Fatality

the-under-presents

tenderclawsTenderclaws debuted The Under experience at Sundance that features live immersive actors from the Piehole theater troupe. Actors embody different characters within a storyworld that has free roaming, non-verbal participants, who need to use their body to communicate with the actors and each other. Participants can either roam around trying to discover actors to interact with one-on-one and receive fragments of the story of the world, or hang out in the central hub where there are a series of performances.

They’re planning on having a bit of a looping structure to the narrative, but with a twist where participants can time travel to different points of the evolution of the story. It’s produced by Oculus and is slated to be a release title on the Oculus Quest later this year as it uses the affordances of the 6-degree of freedom controllers.

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I had a chance to run through the preview of The Under a couple of times at an offsite location from Sundance in Park City, and then talk with Tenderclaws co-founders Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizzaro and Piehole founding member Tara Ahmadinejad. We talk about how this project came about, some of the backstory of story world they’ve created, the challenges of fusing live immersive theater actors within VR, some best practices for dealing with trolling behavior, and some of the special tools they had to create that gave the actors moderation powers but in a way that concealed the usual body language VR users have when interacting with spatialized user interfaces.

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Here’s the announcement trailer for The Under

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Music: Fatality

imverse

javier-bello-ruizThe Swiss-based company Imverse built a Voxel rendering engine that can do real-time volumetric capture. It powered the Elastic Time experience at New Frontier last year, and this year they collaborated with artist Maria Guta on Interlooper that allowed you to record and loop segments of your embodiment. I had a chance to talk with Ruiz about their real-time volumetric capture solution, some of the neuroscience inspiration for their project, and why he thinks voxels are the future of volumetric capture.

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Music: Fatality