#292: The Four Different Types of Stories in VR

devon-dolanFor the past year, Devon Dolan has been trying to make sense of the interactive storytelling landscape that’s possible within virtual reality. He comes from a world of story where he’s currently an associate at Cinetic Media, which is a well-known and very respected strategic advisory company within the world of independent film. Cinetic has brokered distribution deals for Sundance hits ranging from Little Miss Sunshine to Napoleon Dynamite. Devon recently collaborated with Michael Parets on an essay that proposes a framework to categorize VR stories into four distinct categories. Their original Medium piece was recently expanded upon in Techcrunch, and I had a chance to catch up with Devon at Sundance where we further elucidated and simplified their 4-quadrant framework for VR storytelling.


There has been a debate within the virtual reality community around the validity of 360-degree videos, and whether or not they should even be considered a legitimate part of the virtual reality landscape. This sentiment has been vocalized by Valve hardware engineer Alan Yates, who declared that spherical videos are not VR & that they “basically suck.”

I understand the technical complaint about the limited stereoscopic effects of 360-degree video, as well my personal experience of them not being as immersive or interactive as a completely computer-generated VR environment. Some of my deepest experiences of presence have come from CGI experiences with stylized art and highly dynamic and interactive environments. But just because I might prefer computer-generated VR experiences over a lot of the more passive 360-video that I’ve seen, then should that mean that a whole range of immersive video experiences shouldn’t be considered as valid VR? How should we think about all of these passive narrative video experiences that are being created? What are the critical components of what is a VR experience and what isn’t? How can we make sense of this emerging landscape taking that makes sense of all of the different levels of interactivity and storytelling potential within VR?

These were some of the questions that Devon Dolan sought out to answer with his thought-piece on “Redefining the Axiom of Story” co-written with FilmNation Entertainment’s Michael Parets. They propose a four-quadrant system that categorizes stories told within VR on two different axes.

One one axis they are determining your level of existence within the story, and so in other words whether you’re a character within the plot who is integrated within the story or whether you’re just an omniscient ghost who is observing what’s happening around you. The other axis is the level of influence that you have on the story and whether you have an active impact on it or whether you’re passive and have no real impact on the outcome of the story.

Here’s an image of the original grid that they used in their essay:

I personally find their original language to be abstract and confusing, and so Devon and I came up with a new iteration of this grid that’s a little bit more concrete. Instead of “Observant” or “Participant” Existence, we changed it whether you are a ghost or a character within the story. And instead of having “Active” or “Passive” Influence, we changed it to whether or not your character has any impact within the story or within how you experience the story.

Here’s our updated grid detailing the four different types of story in VR:

We go into more detail about each quadrant within the interview, and unpack some different examples and insights in trying to figure out the boundaries and differentiations within each category.

We start with the least amount of agency, which is the “Observant Passive” / “Ghost without Impact” quadrant. This is where most of our existing media and many of the current 360-degree videos exist. Then we move towards the quadrant with the most agency, the “Participant Active” / “Character with Impact” quadrant, which is where pure interactive fiction experiences like Facade or perhaps open world games like Grand Theft Auto might fit.

The level of impact can be confusing at first. For example, what does it really mean to be a ghost but to still have impact on the story? One way that I found it helpful to differentiate between these quadrants is to determine whether you have either local or global agency within the experience. Local agency is where you could control the outcomes of your own experience in small ways, but these small actions many have no real impact on the overall outcome of the story. In order to really change the course of the story, then you’d need to also have global agency. Most interactive VR experiences will probably have a dimension of local agency, but that doesn’t mean that you’re actions will necessarily have any consequence to the overall story that’s unfolding.

In order to help explain the different between local and global agency, then I’d highly recommend watching this excellent talk by Nicky Case from the 2015 XOXO Festival where he talks about the different small decisions that end up “flavoring” his life experience versus what end up being huge decisions that completely change the course of his life sending him a completely new branch. The amazing thing is that we often have no idea whether or not we’re making a big or small decision in any given moment, and I think Nicky’s story and how he structured the Coming Out Simulator 2014 is a great example of this concept:

Let’s apply this concept of local and global agency to this grid of four different types of VR stories. In an “Observant Passive” / “Ghost without Impact” experience, then you would not have either local or global agency. You may be able to look anywhere around within a 360-degree video, but where you look has no impact as to how the story ultimately unfolds. It’s completely on rails, and none of your actions can really change anything about your experience.

Adding gaze-based triggers within an experience could turn it into an “Observant Active” / “Ghost with Impact” experience. Or perhaps you might have limited interactivity with being able to explore an environment, but your interactivity has no real consequence to the story that’s unfolding. Exploring an environment would impact how you personally experience the story within the constraints of your local agency, but if this doesn’t change the story at all then you have no real global agency as to how the overall story unfolds.

The immersive theater piece Sleep No More is a really good example of a “Observant Active” / “Ghost with Impact” story since you are able to explore 100 different rooms and choose which of the 21 parallel stories to follow, but your choices aren’t really impacting the overall arc of what the actors are doing. While some characters may have some limited one-on-one interactions with participants, for the most part the audience is ignored as invisible ghosts within the realm of telling the story of MacBeth through interpretive dance.

On the extreme end of interactivity is a “Participant Active” / “Character with Impact” experience where each of your small actions would both cause something within story to respond to you, but also your participation would be crucial to how the overall story ultimately unfolds. The holy grail of VR experiences might eventually be where you’re interacting with convincing artificially intelligent characters, and the nature of these small interactions would be contributing in some way to a range of vastly different outcomes.

I think that the interactive fiction game of Facade is probably the best example of an experience that has a true combination of both local and global agency. Tomorrow I’ll be featuring an interview with Facade co-creator Andrew Stern and one of his current collaborators Larry LeBron. Here’s a trailer for Facade that gives you a taste of a “Participant Active” / “Character with Impact” experience:

The “Participant Passive” / “Character without Impact” quadrant is probably the most confusing one. You’re not really given any choices to change the outcome of the story, but yet you’re addressed as if you were a character within the story. There were a number of examples of this quadrant that I’ve saw at Sundance, and most of them were shot within the first-person perspective. These are experiences where you have actors who are directly addressing your character and provide a voyeuristic experience that can transport you into the shoes of another person, but yet you’re essentially a mute with no way to respond or react within the story.

Three examples of “Participant Passive” / “Character without Impact” experiences at Sundance New Frontier are Defrost, Perspective Chapter 2: The Misdemeanor, and Across the Line. Defrost is a 360-degree video that was shot in the first-person perspective of a woman who’s been cryogenically unfrozen and you have a discussion with your family who is suddenly many years older than you’ve last seen them. Perspective Chapter 2: The Misdemeanor cuts between four different first-person perspectives in four segments where you witness a police shooting from the perspective of two cops and two black adolescents. Across the Line has a portion of the experience where you’re walking by a line of pro-life protesters on the way to walking into getting an abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

I do notice a big difference between a 360-degree video where I’m a character in the story and one where I’m just a ghost and observing a scene. There was a moment in Defrost where I kind of felt like this what it must feel like to come out of being cryogenically frozen after a few decades, and it was definitely a surreal moment. But the pieces where I felt the most empathy were ones where I’m merely witnessing a scene unfold as if I were a ghost because there’s a different quality of experience when I’m being directly addressed as a character in the story. This seems to reinforce Eric Darnell’s thoughts that there is indeed a tradeoff between interactivity and empathy. Not having my ego involved in the story does indeed allow me to receive the story of other characters without worrying how I should respond. There’s nothing to do but just receive the story in an “Observant Passive” / “Ghost without Impact” experience.

As with any model that’s trying to describe reality, there are going to be imperfect mappings of the complexities of the full landscape of VR. I found myself having to add additional qualifiers about local and global agency to really flesh out what having “impact” really means.

I also found that the line between whether or not you have “impact” or “influence” on how the story unfolds can actually be blurred even within the constraints of a 360-degree video. One could argue that what you choose to look at within a spherical video can impact your experience, but the video is still on rails. Rose Troche’s thoughts about the vulnerability of the first-person perspective illustrate how my own biases and pre-existing narratives can shape how I experience Perspective, which is essentially an simulator for how flawed eye witness testimony can be.

But it’s possible to use positional audio to vastly change your experience in an otherwise completely on-the-rails, “Observant Passive” / “Ghost without Impact” 360 video. For example, the live action VR experience Hard World for Small Things has a portion of the video that has multiple conversations happening that are about 90 degrees apart. Depending on whether you’re looking at the conversation to your right or in front of you will determine which conversation you’ll be able to hear. So even though the video will be the same, you could get an entirely different experience of it based upon what audio you hear. You could feasibly choreograph a 360-video with four or more different audio tracks that could be triggered when looking in one of the four cardinal directions. Using audio alone could essentially transform an experience from a being an “Observant Passive” / “Ghost without Impact” into a “Observant Active” / “Ghost with Impact” experience.

Some experiences will cross over in being categorized into different quadrants, and I don’t think that need a model that’s able to fit existing experiences neatly into a box. It’s more about creating a tool that can help storytellers figure out the strengths and weaknesses of telling a story within the medium of VR.

Devon thinks that ultimately content will prove king in VR, just as it has in every other medium. So why not look at and understand what type of unique opportunities that VR provides for storytellers to be able to tell new and different stories? I can see storytellers would find it useful to use this framework to plan out the best way to tell their story within VR.

This “Dolan Parets Framework for VR storytelling” has also helped me understand and contextualize where 360-video fits within the overall landscape of storytelling within VR. Before Sundance, I was actually fairly skeptical about the validity of passive 360-degree videos within the VR landscape. But after watching all 37 VR experiences within the Sundance New Frontier program, I discovered that 360-videos do offer a very unique storytelling medium that does use enough of the essential components of what we define as being “virtual reality.”

It’s true that some passive 360-videos may appear to just be replicating the film medium without really adding anything new to the language of VR. These may end up feeling flat or boring to people. But ultimately, it will be a process of figuring out the strengths and weaknesses of the language of storytelling within the VR medium and as a result some boring videos and stories will indeed be created. But take a look at Sonar or Perspective to see where narrative in VR is going.

Baobab Studios’ Eric Darnell made the distinction to me that that film is a medium where someone can share the story of an experience, whereas virtual reality is a medium where you can give someone an experience that they can generate their own stories from. This is a powerful insight, and it’s something that’s gets a lot of independent film storytellers really excited about the potential of VR.

The Dolan Parets Framework for VR storytelling should caution us that these “Observant Passive” or “Ghost without Impact” type of experiences still have a valid place within the ecosystem of VR storytelling. And we may discover that it’s this currently discounted quadrant that provide some of the most powerful explorations of empathy within VR, and unlock new genres of immersive stories & 360-degree videos that help kickstart this VR revolution.

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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast.

[00:00:12.038] Devon Dolan: Hi, my name is Devin Dolan. I'm an associate at Synetic Media. I really took a deep dive into VR about a year ago. I have been ideating quite a few ideas about it and how it applies to the story. Synetic Media is where I work. Independent film services company where we represent filmmakers, financiers, media companies, and what we really do is help the creators create. We help source and structure financing for their projects, be it studio or independently financed. If it's independently financed, we'll come to a festival such as where we are now, Sundance, sell the film, where we've garnered quite a few headlining sales such as Little Miss Sunshine, Napoleon Dynamite, and Years Past.

[00:00:55.995] Kent Bye: Yeah, so just to kind of flesh that out a little bit, you know, from the world of independent filmmaking, when Synetic or John Sloss is associated with your project, that's like basically a golden ticket into Sundance. And, you know, but also for selling projects, because you're kind of like one of these firms that is pre vetting a lot of these projects. And if something is on your radar, then people know that it's going to be pretty good. How is it that, you know, Synetic is cultivated this sense of what makes a good story?

[00:01:27.068] Devon Dolan: First, yeah, John Sloss, he's established many great relationships with filmmakers, tastemakers. He's a multi-hyphenate of multi-hyphenates, multi-hyphenates being writer, director, producers. So if it comes to a festival with the cinematic stamp of approval, it'll definitely be kind of an elevated piece of content. a lot of times prestige, independent film, be it narrative or documentary. And when it comes to story, there's kind of an intensive vetting and reviewing process that we implement at our firm. And we'll get many eyes on it. We'll kind of discuss it as a collaborative group. It's really kind of great forum for us to explore story. And I've applied what I've learned there and over the years in film. to the VR model and all these different permutations of story, which VR creators, both the engineers and the storytellers, can utilize. So I wrote a piece recently with my really good friend Michael Peretz, who's at FilmNation. We defined it using this Punnett Square, where we explored these metaphysical qualities of influence and existence. and apply it to virtual reality, existence being either an observant or a participant in the medium that is virtual reality or a 360 degree video. And then your level of interactivity with that piece of content, whether you are an active or passive influencer. in which you'd be able to kind of choose your own destination or just totally witness the piece and how the filmmaker wanted to put it out there for the world to consume and digest and apply their own ideas and opinions to it.

[00:03:03.139] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I think that from all the different models that I've seen, I think this one kind of nails the heart of the matter. When you look at your grid, I think it really describes like, are you going to have any sort of interactivity, a hand presence? Or is this something that you're just going to be a mobile VR experience where you're just watching? Or is this something where you're going to actually have an impact on like subtle things that are going to flavor your experience, but are you going to actually be able to change the outcome of the story? And so maybe you could kind of walk through each of these quadrants, you know, talking about each one, kind of starting at the one where you're have the least amount of agency and you're just kind of watching and then to that other extreme where you have like the most amount of agency to be able to actually determine the outcome of the story.

[00:03:46.200] Devon Dolan: Definitely, that's a great way of putting it. So beginning with the observant passive, this is the most traditional form of media that we've seen throughout the ages. You go to a multiplex, watch a movie, you're observing that film as one in the audience, in their chair in the theater with hopefully a collective of like-minded individuals. And you don't have influence of any sort of the story, it is how the filmmaker presented it to you. So yeah, that would be Observant Passive. Then we can go to Participant Passive, which is, I find, a very interesting and complex quadrant, if you will. So the Participant Passive quadrant is where you're a participant in the creator's world. Our example in our thought piece that we wrote, we thought of the idea of, say, You're on the jury of 12 angry men, and you kind of lack free will, where you don't have, say, a final say over the story, but you're there. You are addressed as a character in the story. You might have a name, or you might not. It is all how the filmmaker or creator presents it to you.

[00:04:54.502] Kent Bye: So just to kind of elaborate that on a little bit, because you may be able to move around and engage into a virtual environment, but you're not able to actually impact the story at all. Is that correct?

[00:05:05.962] Devon Dolan: Definitely. Yeah. It's where you're a character in the story or a plot device where you're dressed in the narrative of the piece. And there's definitely a component there where there is this interactivity in an environment, but lacking influence, interactivity, where you feel as if you're totally within the story and aren't able to influence the outcome of such events.

[00:05:32.118] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think another way to kind of state it is the difference between local agency and global agency, where you have some sort of like small agency around your own experience, but your experience isn't able to change the outcome of the overall experience. So you have no global agency. So you have some sort of like local agency. And I think that a lot of interactive fiction stuff that's out there has that local agency, but yet it's sort of on the rails in terms of like, you're not able to have any sort of branching. change or impact on the story. So let's move on to the third quadrant and talk a bit about, was it observant active?

[00:06:08.133] Devon Dolan: Correct. So yeah, this quadrant, you are a complete observer, bystander of the story, lacking digital or any sort of identity within the story. This is just like any form of say, traditional media, except you have the power of influence where you have this active aspect where, like you mentioned earlier, there's global agency and local agency. So global agency is where, say, the filmmaker, the creator, has established this world. There's, like, all the different options for the consumer, the viewer, to choose have been explored by the filmmaker. And the answers are all there. There's a certain chart of nodes that you can fall down. you have the illusion of influence by being presented different nodes, let's call them. But there's this structure within the story, just like any other, that the filmmaker, the creator, the storyteller, however you want to put it, has already defined. And this is where you're just an observer.

[00:07:06.521] Kent Bye: Yeah, just to kind of elaborate that. I think something like a Sleep No More where you are able to go into a warehouse with 100 rooms and have 21 actors running around all over the space and you don't have any impact on the story at all, but you do have an impact as to where you're going to go and experience what part of the story. So it sounds like the observant active quadrant is a little bit like you can make choices that are small about your own personal experience, but yet those personal choices aren't really changing the overall outcome of the story. So the story's kind of on rails. You don't really have any impact on global agency. The only thing you have is the impact of your own experience.

[00:07:46.561] Devon Dolan: Definitely. Yeah, I've never been to sleep no more. It is literally just two streets up from our office, so I can't really speak to that. But yeah, there's definitely a component there. I don't think you're a character within the story or a plot device. You're an observer. You're kind of taken by hand. which is what filmmakers will do in these experiences in the context of virtual reality. So the filmmaker will take you by hand and then say there'll be a stop sign. There'll be a fork in the road. You go right or left. There is local agency in that aspect, but you are still holding the hand of the creator as he's already explored all the different routes to your destination.

[00:08:25.393] Kent Bye: Yeah, I don't know if a distinguishing factor would be that, would there be two or three endings or two or three major splits where it's completely different experience of the plot? I don't know if that's the point at which like, how do you determine, you know, what defines global agency? Does global agency mean that you change the outcome when there's more than one outcome.

[00:08:45.722] Devon Dolan: These are all questions worth exploring. And yeah, there definitely could be multiple outcomes. But this quadrant, there are these just pre-set routes that have already been explored by the creator. And your experience will vary on each one, but you have that local agency in terms of choosing which route you want to take within that story. But I don't think there is global agency in that regard because the filmmaker knows what's going to happen.

[00:09:14.936] Kent Bye: So let's move on to the final quadrant here, which is this active participant story.

[00:09:21.553] Devon Dolan: Yeah, another one that Michael and I touted upon in the article is, say, Grand Theft Auto. You are a character. You can kind of go off on your own journey and make certain decisions. Sometimes, you know, you play to see how many stars you can get and you're chased by the cops and then, you know, the game's over and that's that. But then there's the other campaign and goals that you have where you're a detective, where you're like this like a conflict journalist almost, like where you're kind of researching, identifying certain key components of the world, of the city you're in, and then you navigate it and use that knowledge within the context of the story. But there could be, you know, so many more examples of this participant active quadrant.

[00:10:00.335] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I think that there was this presentation by Nicky Case at XOXO back in 2015, and when he was a kid, he wanted to either be a kingpin of bubblegum, since bubblegum was illegal in Singapore, that was one career path, or he was going to be a lawyer and a doctor at the same time. Those were two kind of extremes of his ultimate path, but he ended up being a game designer. And he sort of was talking about his life where he was making all these different choices. So some choices were like a little side project that he would do, and it would go nowhere. But some of these side projects would blow up and completely change the course of your life. So whenever we're making a decision, we don't know whether or not that's going to be something that's going to change the rest of our life, or it's just something that's going to flavor our experience of life. So that's kind of one way that I think about like the local agency and global agency in some ways is that when you're talking about a film like that goes into this ultimate control where you can actually make an impact on the final outcome, but you don't know that when you're making that decision. And I think that's what's interesting about Facade is because they're kind of blending this combination of local agency and global agency. you're interacting with this couple, you're trying to prevent them from breaking up. And so the way that it's structured is that you're either showing affinity for the man or you're showing affinity for the woman. And if you're showing affinity for one, it's like a zero-sum game, you're disliking the other. And so You're playing this game of trying to balance your relationship with each one, but get them to kind of get to the point where they confess their sins and clear the air and ultimately save their marriage. And there's a number of different global agency outcomes to that, whether or not they stay together, whether or not, you know, man leaves, the woman leaves, or whether or not they kind of leave. and different where nothing changes. It's like the butterfly effect.

[00:11:44.564] Devon Dolan: Yeah, exactly.

[00:11:45.104] Kent Bye: It's sort of like you don't know some of these choices. But one example of the local agency would be like, they talk about one specific branch of discussion that was influenced based upon your interactivity of showing affinity or not with one character at any given time. You go through the experience and there's like 2,000 segments of dialogue. And for any given run through, you only go through like 20% of them. You're kind of exploring these different branches that go off, but yet some of those branches that go off just sort of get referenced later. Like when the scene blows up, then he's like, you did this and you did this. It's fodder for that moment where he's getting really pissed off, but it only comes up from those small choices. But being able to make some of those bigger choices, you're actually changing the outcome.

[00:12:29.085] Devon Dolan: Yeah, it sounds like you're a participant in that framework where you're addressed as a character or a plot device. So that would lead towards the participant active model of storytelling that Michael and I have explored. Since you are a character or a plot device, you're addressed, this gives you intimate, intrinsic feeling towards the other characters around you in the space. So you do have digital identity. There is both global and local agency, but the global is much, much larger. Say instead of just in the observant active, we can wrap it around to the earth. In the participant active, it could be the universe. But yeah, there could be all these different journeys that you can take depending on the moods and feelings that you output to the characters in front of you and the choices that you make.

[00:13:18.436] Kent Bye: It sounds like the observant active is, you're kind of like a ghost, like you're not really there in the story at all, you're not really addressed, you're just kind of watching, but yet you still have some control over how you experience it. Exactly. And also with the other active participant, you're actually a character and you have both local and global agency and you're able to basically change the outcome of the entire story. So in one case, you are able to kind of control your experience, but you're not really there in the story. And the other is that you're able to kind of both be there in the story and you have an ability to change the outcome. Exactly. That's a very perfect way of putting it. So this participant active sounds like the kind of dream of virtual reality that everybody's kind of been hoping for, in some ways, in terms of a story construct at least, and where you're able to kind of go into this world, interact with these artificial intelligent characters, and you're able to interact with them, it feels real, and you actually kind of change the outcome of the story. It's kind of like the ultimate direction of storytelling that, you know, I think Facade's probably the most fleshed out version of that right now in any type of game that I've seen at least in terms of narrative storytelling and interactive game environment. And yet, you know, sort of moving towards this ultimate sort of going to VR and be able to kind of like feel like you're there interacting with these characters. They feel real and you're able to actually change the outcome of the story.

[00:14:35.766] Devon Dolan: Yeah, precisely. Now I need to go experience Facade tomorrow. But yeah, it sounds like it fits the mold of this participant active quadrant.

[00:14:46.643] Kent Bye: So with Grand Theft Auto as an example, you know, when I did this interview with Andrew Stern, his take at that point was that he was the only real example of a narrative fiction story where you had both local and global agency. And I guess, you know, you could look at Grand Theft Auto as a open world exploration game where you're able to kind of choose your own destiny, but is there really a narrative element there? I guess from the computer programmer's perspective, they're kind of, you know, creating these limited set of experiences that you can have. And so in that respect, you're not able to do really anything, you have what's only been programmed by the computer programmers. But yeah, I don't know, when you're looking at this and you're thinking about these experiences, if you still think Grand Theft Auto kind of fits this mold.

[00:15:28.878] Devon Dolan: I'd say it does in a bit, but it's, say, a role-playing game. Or perhaps this might not have an intrinsic story to it, but there's, you know, MMORPGs where, you know, you choose a character and then you, you know, build a construct around such character. But I don't think there's an overbearing story. So yeah, I don't think we've seen a complete comprehensive example of this participant-active model. I'd love to. It would be a very expansive and a... challenging undertaking, but you know, it sounds something like, you know, you could get completely kind of addicted to or lost and yeah, hopefully soon.

[00:16:05.221] Kent Bye: Yeah, if you look on YouTube for facade, you know, you have all these different playthroughs of people and I think it is so popular with people because they do have that sense that they have small choices, but able to kind of control the overall outcome, but also this, the kind of fun being able to type in just raw text and see how they interpret it, you know, and just see if the AI is able to get it or not. It gets at about 25% at a time, you know, another 50% just makes a guess and then 25% is just like completely off or whatever that ends up being. It's just sort of this range of, you know, this joy of surprise of not knowing whether or not they're going to be able to Understand you're not and when they do then you get this sense of like, oh my god This is like amazing that I'm able to actually interact with these characters and you know The thing that Andrew said is that it's not true AI in that sense that it's within the constructs of a story But given that it was actually able to do things with it that were more sophisticated if they were trying to solve the hard problem of AI which is something that's going to be years and years and years and But I think within the construct of a story, this is an interesting thing where you're able to kind of give the illusion that you're able to actually sort of interact with these characters and see that you're actually being understood and that it's actually changing the story.

[00:17:16.192] Devon Dolan: Oh, gosh. Any conversation I've had over text, say, with my girlfriend or mom, there's tonality that could be missed. So that's something that I don't think AI will ever read unless they have facial recognition software while you're typing the text. And that way, they can potentially read what you might be thinking, how you might be feeling. But yeah, there's been many missed points in conversations past that I've had with friends, family, just over text. So that's crazy to think about.

[00:17:48.114] Kent Bye: Yeah, and you know, this also, as we take a step back and think about this model and what it's useful for and what it's not, for example, is it really important when we find the exact quadrant for Grand Theft Auto? And I don't think it necessarily is. And I think what is important with a model like this is it starts to help you make decisions as to what type of game you want to make and what type of genre that it may fit in, which of these quadrants, because, you know, the map is not the territory. But this could be some way of just helping understand the space and what people are actually doing. And so for you, where do you see this going? Or how do you plan on using this model?

[00:18:25.502] Devon Dolan: So yeah, when Michael and I wrote this piece, originally we put it out on Medium and then TechCrunch picked it up and we elaborated further on it. But what we really sought out to do was to loosely define different aspects of story for both 360 video and virtual reality. Because in everything that we've seen and read prior to that and listened to on your podcast, there was no, say, guideline. Not saying that this is a guideline, but this is kind of a framework or a roughed up blueprint that hopefully creators, filmmakers, storytellers, engineers can read and look at and, you know, they might want to grab aspects of it and apply it to their own story, but I think this helps them in their journey of discovering story because this is this strange hybrid of traditional storytelling with very intensive technical aspect to it. where there's this kind of marriage of both technology and story and the complete creative sense. We can get into the commercial sense later, but that's something that's still being determined. And, you know, content is king. It's the old adage of Hollywood and the publishing industry. It's all about the content. As long as you are identifying and seeking out and partnering with great filmmakers who make great content, which is subjective, but I think given my background at Snetik you know, the filmmakers and talent that we're affiliated with, this has helped me contextualize the story. And then, you know, growing up, I don't want to say I'm a millennial, but in this new millennia, I'm playing video games, online, desktop, mobile. There's just been so many inputs that I've garnered over the years that I wanted to just put on paper, and hopefully this can be used for future discussions for creators. Because essentially, all I want to do is, you know, help creators create. That's my passion.

[00:20:15.048] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think it's the model that makes the most sense. The one complaint I would have is that the language is a little confusing. So if there's an easier sort of shortcut name for each of the quadrants might help a little bit more of like a metaphor kind of understanding. And I don't know if the agency is part of it or, you know, your ghost, you know, these kind of like other ways that you got this sense, you know.

[00:20:36.458] Devon Dolan: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, when Michael and I wrote this piece, we had the thesaurus under our pillow. So yeah, it can be a bit tough to decipher. So in the existence, we characterize as being an observant or a participant. We can say you're a ghost or you're a character. And the other one, we have influence, which we defined as active or passive. And we can call this a level of interactivity. But it's really your power to choose different aspects of the story that are presented to you. So I guess it's your touch as a consumer, either as a character or as a ghost, if you have a touch or if you don't.

[00:21:16.851] Kent Bye: There you go. That's better. Maybe there'll be other iterations too, you know, because, you know, sort of touch could be agency, free will, it could be any sort of like, well, I think it's like, because you have hand presence, or in academic terms, they talk about immersion would be the sense of location as a shortcut way of talking about presence if you're immersed. And then coherence. Again, these are academic terms, they're not sort of getting to a physical metaphor, but that world is coherent, meaning that you're able to actually participate and have agency and do things in it. So whether or not the ghost can touch things and interact or not, maybe that is the best, or maybe you thought of something else.

[00:21:57.334] Devon Dolan: touch or choose, I'd put it, or just so that you have a voice, then the story's response might be totally different, dependent on the storytellers, the creator's vision. But yeah, going back to, what is it, coherence and immersion, immersion being location-based, I'd like to think that virtual reality 360 degree video is total immersion. your location based wherever the camera is put, right? That's my general understanding of virtuality and all the different experiences that I've seen so far in this kind of nascent industry. And the other one was coherence. If you could perhaps elaborate on that a little bit.

[00:22:37.429] Kent Bye: Well, I think that, so they talk about presence in terms of places that you're actually there and you feel like you're there. It's the illusion that you're there. And then the next illusion is that you are actually, your body's there and you have an impact onto the world. And so with the touch controllers, with the Oculus toy box demo, for example, that was like the first time where people were able to get into a world and have a highly dynamic environment with like accurate physics and another human being there. But In terms of the coherence, you have this ability to pick up objects and throw them, and it feels like you're actually picking up objects and you're throwing them, and you're actually able to change the world. And so coherence is like, you create a world that completely feels believable. If there's anything like the uncanny valley, if somebody glitches out, they start to walk into a wall, or if you pick up something and the physics aren't quite right, or if it doesn't feel right, then it's like a house of cards, it just collapses. And so it's the most kind of sensitive aspect of presence is that, When you lose that possibility, you're like, God, no, this isn't real. The magic's over. It's sort of deflated and it's really hard to get back.

[00:23:37.805] Devon Dolan: Yeah, in filmmaking, it's the suspense of disbelief, right? So when you enter a theater, you watch a superhero movie, you watch robots fight, there might be a general understanding that, yeah, you're going to see a robot fight, but you get totally immersed, but say if there's some general plot hole or an inconsistency within the story, you drop out of it, you're taken out, your level of engagement just kind of drops substantially. But touching back on touch, I really liked how you framed it as impact, because that's how I kind of envision this level of passive and active influence is your impact, either to choose or to change the story.

[00:24:22.999] Kent Bye: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And, you know, when I take a look at, you know, Sundance, you know, there's a lot of the stories here. The only real experiences we have any sort of touch or impact really at all, there may be sort of subtle ones, but like Job Simulator, you know, that's been something that was released at GDC in 2015 and one of the most popular games because for the first time it gave people a sense of being able to be there and have a highly dynamic environment where they're able to actually engage with everything. Another one being the Leviathan project where you have like this mixed reality where you're kind of moving things around and then the story is kind of changing around you. And then the Martian VR experience where you're kind of flying around a ship and you're impacting your experience with your hands and you're kind of controlling it. With some of these I think that most of the stuff has been pretty passive here at Sundance But I see that these storytellers and content ultimately I think you know Like you said content is king and so people that are able to go beyond just a tech demo That's kind of fun or interesting and really tell a compelling story. I think in the end of the day that's what's gonna make these breakout hit virtuality experiences if they figure out a it's almost like you have to pick one of these quadrants and say, I'm gonna do this because once you jump into one, you're that one now and you're not the other one. So, or there could be phases where, yeah, who's to say, maybe you have a mixed reality experience where you go through all four. So yeah, maybe it's a progression where you start with just passive and then all of a sudden you're able to change the outcome of everything.

[00:25:52.189] Devon Dolan: You could jump into a character, who knows? That's the beauty of this evolving landscape. Like, I just can't wait to see what the future has in store.

[00:26:01.100] Kent Bye: And so for you at Synetic Media, you know, you've got a pretty strong lock of the independent film industry. Is virtual reality something that you're looking into expanding into and sort of helping either represent or distribute or, you know, be associated with working with your content creators to be able to generate these immersive experiences?

[00:26:20.044] Devon Dolan: The short answer, most definitely. We've had a few filmmakers, some of our talent management clients have come up to us and John Sloss and they've kind of fallen into, I don't want to call it a trap, but they've done one of their first VR experiences and they're like, we want to do something. So yeah, they're calling upon me to help them kind of define and navigate the industry. And yeah, it's definitely further potential out there for us to represent, manage both media companies, technology companies, and creators, and filmmakers, because that's where our bread and butter is, and just representing their best interests, and telling stories, and passion stories that really resonate across the world.

[00:27:00.166] Kent Bye: So what type of experiences do you want to experience in VR then?

[00:27:04.237] Devon Dolan: There's not one I'd like to say captures all of my interests and curiosity. I just can't wait until I'm totally and completely, like the first time I put on a headset, my hair was blown back and I was being much more assumptive based rather than predictive and believing that this is the future. And I know many other, you know, Mark Zuckerberg, Mike Rothenberg, there's a million other VR companies, both hardware, software, content players, Chris Milk. who have totally jumped into this ocean. So there's not one, I'd say, defines all of my interests. I'd like to experience them all. I'm really looking for an experience that I tell all of my friends about and say, this is your first one, even if they haven't worn a headset, if they've never experienced virtual reality, where I can point to one piece and it could fit into any of these quadrants. Some might be much longer than the others, but I think short form is where it's at. at current, but I'm still looking for the one that really resonates with me.

[00:28:05.657] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you see as kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[00:28:13.849] Devon Dolan: Yeah, there's limitless potential, really. I know that's kind of a non-answer. But what it can unlock or achieve within the viewer is unparalleled. Like, say, an independent film or a pseudo film, any film, be it narrative, documentary, it will elicit emotion. But one thing I think Chris Milk has said it many, many times is that virtual reality is the empathy machine because there's complete immersion. There's just a range of applications that I know you've spoken with other people about, be it hospitality, education, science, entertainment. There's so many different things that virtual reality could achieve. I'm just looking forward to seeing what the future has in store for us, really. Great. Well, thank you. Thank you so much for having me, Kent. This has been amazing.

[00:29:07.850] Kent Bye: And thank you for listening. If you'd like to support the Voices of VR podcast, then please consider becoming a patron at patreon.com slash Voices of VR.

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