#624: Exploring Near-Future Moral Quandaries with INVAR Studios

vincent-edwardsRose Colored by INVAR Studios & Adam Cosco won the award for best live-acton VR experience at the Advanced Imaging Society’s Lumiere Awards on February 12th. I previously interviewed Cosco at VRLA last year, and I had a chance to talk with INVAR’s co-founder & chief creative officer Vincent Edwards & creative director Austin Conroy on their thoughts on the future of storytelling in VR at Kaleidoscope VR’s FIRST LOOK VR Market.

austin-conroyRose Colored is a near-future speculative sci-fi in the same cautionary tale vein as Black Mirror, but with a little bit more of an optimistic bent. Edwards identifies as an inveterate optimist, and enjoys the process of world-building potential futures in VR and exploring the moral quandaries of the logical extremes of how AR & AI technologies will impact our lives and romantic relationships. Conroy identifies as a storytelling geek, and is really interested in VR’s capability to allow you to embody a character using the visual storytelling affordances cultivated by cinema. It’s an open question for how you can get the audience inside of a fictional character’s head, which he compares to building a mind.


Edwards says that VR storytelling reminds him of the early days of the DIY punk rock scene in Los Angeles where there’s a lot of experimentation and a willingness to forget everything you know. There are a lot of lessons about visual storytelling that will come from film, and the interactive storytelling innovations for VR are more likely to come from game developers.

As far as where VR & AR goes in the future, both Edwards and Conroy take inspiration from Buddhist and Hindu concepts. Conroy cites a passage from Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Dhammapada saying that our experiences could be thought of as projection similar to how we experience continuity of a story when a movie projects 24 frames a second onto a screen. Edwards says that if that’s true, then perhaps VR could provide us with training wheels to be able to cut through the matrix and “awaken from the dream that is Maya.” They acknowledge that these are some dense philosophical and metaphysical ideas, but that it’s part of the deeper motivations for INVAR Studios to create multi-platform stories that help reflect on our identity and experiences in life, and to give us stories about potential futures that help us reconcile with the nature of reality today.

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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. My name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So this past week was the Lumiere Awards by the Advanced Imaging Society. And they put together these awards from within the film and entertainment industry there in Hollywood. They want to start to recognize advances when it comes to virtual reality storytelling. So the winner of the live action VR piece was Rose Colored, which I saw back at VRLA last year. I did an interview with the writer and director. Adam Kosko back in episode 547. And at the Kaleidoscope VR's First Look Market back in September, I had a chance to talk to the producers of Rose Colored from Envar Studios. And so they're a studio that's trying to create multi-platform experiences. So to have some experiences that are in 2D, but with all the digital assets, they're going to then apply to creating virtual reality experiences as well, and have this whole ecosystem of multi-platform content. So I had a chance to talk to both the creative director, Austin Conroy, as well as the co-founder and chief creative officer, Vincent Edwards, to talk to them about the future of storytelling within virtual reality. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Austin and Vincent happened on Wednesday, September 20th, 2017 at the Kaleidoscope VR's First Look Market in Los Angeles, California. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:36.802] Austin Conroy: My name is Austin Conroy. I'm creative director for Invar. And I come from a film background and have always just loved deconstructing story and seeing how they work in different mediums. But I jumped ship to VR as soon as I found it because I love that everything's an invention and everything is figuring it out. And we don't even know exactly how stories will be told in the future of VR. And I'm excited for it.

[00:02:01.018] Vincent Edwards: OK, well, I'm Vincent Edwards. I am the chief creative officer of Invar Studios. We are a VR and multi-platform content creation company. Simply put, that means we like to tell cool stories using new mediums. So I fell down the VR rabbit hole about five years ago when I went to my good friend Nani de la Pena's lab at ICT Annex of USC and put on HMD for the first time to see Hunger in Los Angeles. She and I have been friends since we were 11. But as soon as I was in the digital world, you have to understand for 25 years I've been making CG animated content for broadcast. So as a director, producer, telling film stories using digital assets, I've been in these environments in my head for years. But the experience of actually seeing, being in the set, I was like, oh my gosh, wait, I could tell whole new stories this way. And wait, what would I do without a 16 by 9 box about it? And obviously, that's a very, very deep rabbit hole. But the questions that one is forced to ask about how to tell a film story have intrigued me ever since. And that's where I kind of got into the bug, as it were.

[00:03:05.295] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I had a chance to see Rose Colored at VRLA and I just absolutely loved it. I mean, I think it was a piece that is, I guess, in the vein of Black Mirror in the sense of a cautionary tale of looking at technology and how it affects our lives. But I guess with a little bit more of an optimistic and hopeful take, I guess, in your presentation today is what you're trying to differentiate yourself from some of these other cautionary tales in the sense that it's not to add on to the additional amounts of depression that we have already in the state of the world today, but to try to maybe give us these stories that can allow us to project ourselves into these imaginal futures so that we can think about the deeper ethical questions. And so I'm just curious to hear from your perspective what the story that you tell yourself is of what it is that you're doing.

[00:03:52.038] Vincent Edwards: Yeah, it's really, I'm an inveterate optimist. I look at the world, I see all the problems that it has, but I see people focusing on the negative. I see that actually there's less barbarity, there's less senseless death and sickness and starvation than there ever has been. And I think that if we made smart choices, that could be the norm that can continue, right? So, if your focus determines your reality, and focusing on the dystopian and the negative is that's where it's going to take us, you know. I don't want to get metaphysical on you, but obviously if we're believing that we can win, that we can emerge into a better place as a species, as a civilization, then we're more likely to. But if we want to spend all of our time sitting in the doldrums of, you know, the Twilight Zone or, you know, these horrible Matrix-like futures, then that manifests too. So, I'm from the other side of that equation.

[00:04:42.950] Kent Bye: So I guess another thing that I see with the medium of virtual reality is that there's a powerful component of world building that you can do. And part of the story is that you can put people into that world. And I think the interesting thing about Rose Collared is that it's like a speculative sci-fi in the sense of that it feels like it's short-term but also long-term in the sense of a lot of these immersive technologies, artificial intelligence, augmented reality. Virtual reality, of course, is a medium in which you're watching it. All of these things are allowing us to kind of step into the future and to see some of the moral dilemmas or ethical questions that come up. And I guess what I see is some of the traditional storytelling mechanisms is that a lot of the conflict and drama maybe in the 2D medium has maybe a trajectory that maybe a dystopians are just more interesting to watch. in the 2D film, but maybe in VR we can start to see maybe some more optimistic world building experiences that just the reception of that world, of the world that we actually want to live in rather than something that we don't want to live in. I'm just curious to hear about that process of world building and how virtuality is different than being able to tell this same story in 2D and what is enabled by being able to actually step into these worlds.

[00:06:00.642] Vincent Edwards: Somebody told me that Starbucks, their vision was three words, the other place. Work, home, other place. And that's really what they've become. And I think in that same mode, the vision for Invar is watch from within the movie, okay? Not just watching some other place which is subjective, but being in that movie obviously has a more visceral level of impact. It has a greater level of immersion that makes it feel more real. If people were really immersed in a truly scary horror movie, they wouldn't like it, especially if there was enough haptic feedback to where there was some pain. That would stop being entertaining really fast. So I think in terms of world building, it's important to build a world that has coherent rules, that kind of express some of the quandaries and paradigms that we're likely to be encountering, and then present a range of possible solutions that we can see that there would be a possibility of making a wrong choice. but not dwelling on that, but like kind of coming out of the dark and into the light and making a better choice. I think that the possibility of a person having a beneficial experience as a result of that and becoming more optimistic in their life is higher.

[00:07:09.437] Kent Bye: For you, I'm just curious to hear from your perspective, the storytelling and what the medium of virtual reality affords.

[00:07:16.685] Austin Conroy: Yeah, I'll answer your question through that, that obviously we can't escape the word immersion and how strongly you can get a sense of presence. And regarding what you were just saying about horror, if you take like the Resident Evil 7 experience where you are completely in this horror movie, I was utterly terrified, but I also thought back to when I was a kid and I played Resident Evil on a really, like, tiny box television in somebody else's apartment, and I was just as terrified, but it took more to get me in there. You know, it took a full suspension of disbelief where, in VR, I dropped in and I was there. I didn't even want to go in that first door. People all talk about that, right? So it affords you this incredible power to put people to feel like you're there in the thing But what does that quality add to storytelling that a novel doesn't have or this doesn't have it's it's not the great new answers I mean, it's a it's another really beautiful tool and I think one of my favorite things about the VR community is the different approaches that are being taken to it. So like I What I love about VR people these days is one, everybody will admit that nobody knows where it's going. There's no ego about it. So it's very inclusive. And I switched from film and people were so, you know, just excited to talk and other people who are passionate. And I think of it a little as like, you know, like the cafe scene in Paris where they were like, okay, you don't have to paint the way you had to paint before. So how do you paint? And at the time they probably were debating and each of their different philosophies were like, well, this is the future of painting and this is, but really, Like, Brock was perfect for Brock and Picasso was perfect for Picasso and the impression is that I'm seeing people that have very different philosophies and embrace them and run with them. So like, I know somebody who's insistent that he never wants the camera to be addressed and he never wants you to have like a body. You are a ghost and it's not a thing, right? And then other people, it's very important that you're a character in the story. And all those little dynamics, like how a little phrase like, oh, we, and while looking at the camera, we'll change everything about you. Different people have different visions for that. And I'm so excited to see them all explore that there's not one answer, that they're all going to go in different directions. And it just makes the whole thing better.

[00:09:31.749] Vincent Edwards: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I agree with that completely. It's a spectrum of possibilities, and none of them are mutually exclusive. I was a year ago at Control Collective, a Kaleidoscope event, and I had a time warp. The atmosphere there was so kind of pioneering. It was so, let's just make up some shit and see what works, you know? And it was so community-based. There was no competition. It reminded me, honestly, of the early days of punk rock in Los Angeles. where I would go to, you know, warehouse shows where five bands are playing with names like The Urinals or The Suburban Lawns that nobody's heard of since, you know, but there was this DIY kind of attitude of there are no rules. Let's just try everything and see what we like. And I love that feeling of experimentation, the willingness to say, let's just forget everything we thought we knew and see what else can work now in this new modality.

[00:10:21.608] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I think that's what is really exciting for me as well is just to talk to the creators and to see what they want to experience in VR. And so it's a question that I've been asking a lot of people of like, what do you want to experience in VR? And I guess in your case, you're trying to actually create those things that you want to experience. And so I guess from that frame, what is it that you actually want to experience in VR?

[00:10:42.438] Vincent Edwards: Like I say, if I could go and see Avatar 2, instead of looking at a big screen with seven planes of faux depth of field, I could actually be on the jungle floor of Pandora and the big blue people are behind me and the space marines are in front of me. That would be the dream. Now, how does that reflect in directorial choices like camera cuts, camera movements, and so forth? I think that, if nothing else, what we're seeing with Rose Colored is that traditional language of film works great in VR, as long as you don't do too much fast motion camera type stuff. Because human brains have evolved in 100 years of watching film. I always laugh about the audience in Paris that jump out of their chairs as the train was approaching them. Everyone speaks to that example. Honestly, we understand that it's a virtual world. We understand if you're in VR and the camera cuts. The real trick we learned on Rose Colored, and I give Adam Kosko full props for it, is you motivate the viewer to pan his camera, to turn to follow an action, and he ends up looking 90 degrees to his left. Then when you cut to the next scene, the thing you're there to see should also be sitting right there for him to discover without having to look around and go, where's the thing, right? That's an art form in and of itself. It's a new element of the film language. But yeah, I just think being in the movie is the coolest thing. Branching narratives, fair game. Choose your own adventures, fair game. I personally am a big fan of linearity, because human beings, constrained as we are by time, experience things sequentially. And a story is generally a journey. So being able to show different paths along a basic journey is cool. But for me, if you remove linearity, then all you've got is a game map of triggers and possibilities, and it stops being as much of a story. Which isn't to say it can't be fun. It's just not a story.

[00:12:21.120] Kent Bye: Yeah, definitely heard that and talking to a number of different people just in looking at how the virtual reality medium is kind of bringing together the different dimensions of gaming with interactivity and making choices and taking action on those choices, even if it's in a 360 video, you're deciding what to look at and just in terms of your attention and your gaze. But in film, it's much more of a time-based medium that you can construct that traditional three-act structure and tell a story that has that tension that is maintained by being able to control the pacing and everything else of the rhythm of the story. And that, you know, the thing that's new in VR is that you're putting your body in the experience, and so you're kind of tricking all of your sensory-motor contingencies and actually believing that you're there. But it does seem like that there's the traditional film world as a first take as to what these stories are going to be, or these 360 videos, which are not interactive and have that tighter control over that narrative. But also they fit great with mobile VR as well. And so I do say that there's the different branches of the interactivity from gaming, but also the story that comes from the traditional mechanisms of storytelling. But as you move forward, I'm just curious if you've thought about ways to have that interactive agency or if you are just trying to have that dimension of using the lessons of film.

[00:13:43.490] Vincent Edwards: Yes. The next trick I want to try is gaze-based teleportation to different video spheres. There's a company called Scene there that we met at an upload event in San Francisco. They've got a great, you know, look at a little spot over there and suddenly you're teleported to what the camera sees there. Now in a story perspective, how about this? Here's a quick little story example. I'm in Los Angeles. I'm talking to my wife who's in Tokyo on business. It's a strange conversation, but you only see my end of it. But there comes a point in the story where you can look at a little blue dot and then suddenly you're over in Tokyo with my wife and you see that she's in a hotel room with another man. Suddenly the story takes on a different dimension that you wouldn't otherwise have. Now in film you could cut to that, but using this device there's many opportunities for the viewer to choose when they do or don't find that additional information that puts a different spin on the story. I think there's a lot of different ways that that could be employed as a device.

[00:14:36.076] Austin Conroy: For all the power of VR, there's a lot of tools that you're missing, essentially. Like, I tend to compare it not just to film, but I'm just a story nerd, and I think I've read more than I know about film. So in novels, you don't have the authorial voice to guide your mind through it, and you don't have the suturing of a single sort of lead character that's as easy in VR. I mean, it's possible, but, you know, when that happens, you also feel like you're missing out on something about your own identity. And I think I'm really interested in challenging that. Like, what I want from VR is more emotional experiences and more complex crises. that you're going through on a story level and challenging identity I think is really exciting and like being somebody that you've never been or even switching between different characters I think that with the sense of presence there's a lot of potential for that and in terms of branching narrative I think that it's kind of like the sky's the limit I think everybody can sense that there's something else there that maybe By creating a world and a lot of interactivity, once it's complex enough, you really don't have to be a linear narrative. But you could still learn things, or you could have different consequences and re-experience them. And I'm just excited to see it happen.

[00:15:53.408] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm curious to hear just a little bit more in terms of what's next in terms of some of the projects that you have that you're, I guess, you're at the Kaleidoscope First Look event asking for funding and resources to be able to move forward with a continuation of kind of like the either the first episode or the pilot episode through Rose Colored. So, I guess, how would you kind of characterize what your next series is and what that story is?

[00:16:17.380] Vincent Edwards: Well, Rose Colored is not the series. It's a standalone episode that introduces a world five years, eight years from now. I think that there's a lot of different stories I'd like to tell in that world that center around different professions and the kind of moral quandaries that new technology will cause them to have. Like, how about a teacher who teaches 3D printing, who has a troubled student that starts 3D printing guns? graffiti artist who hides QR codes that trigger people's contact lenses and give them propaganda information of the sort of like anonymous hacker guys saying open your eyes and see the truth see the they live people you know. There's a lot of different ways that we can present different protagonists coming up against those kind of technological quandaries and then show how they resolve them. Now that's just one project we've got a number of other projects on our slate some of them are traditional media but they all have a VR component. If we create Mughal-era India, then we can shoot the Taj Mahal digitally as it existed in its heyday, not as a ruin. We can recreate these worlds digitally and shoot them green screen in real time. And at the end of the day, we've made a great-looking TV show or film project, but then we have those environments that we can create additional VR adventures that people can have. They can uncover new information and so forth. So I see them all as being kind of component parts of a larger franchise. And instead of it being kind of a, okay, let's make a movie. Okay, that works. Now let's make a TV show. Okay, that worked. Now let's make a video game. Conceive them all at the same time and make them of the same stuff. So you're not porting assets between platforms and having issues with brand continuity and so forth. And it also becomes a more immersive world that's true to itself and the fan base. I mean, if I was a Harry Potter fan, I would love to wander around a virtual Hogwarts school and open up magic books and see spells and unicorns and ghosts and stuff. But that's there, I think.

[00:18:11.640] Austin Conroy: Envira Studios is designed as a multi-format company, so everything we're thinking about, all the different mediums people are going to experience it down to mobile or theatrical entertainment. And we're really excited in some of our future projects about, like he's saying, conceiving that relationship in advance. So a lot of the times with VR you get Spider-Man the movie and Spider-Man the VR accessory, where it's a very cool experience but it's not a key element to the story. We're very excited about integrating these things where it's all pieces of the puzzle and people are being guided to an expanded world.

[00:18:44.313] Kent Bye: Yeah, and from a story perspective, I'm just curious for you what some of the biggest open questions that you feel like are unknown in terms of the frontiers of immersive storytelling.

[00:18:54.955] Austin Conroy: That's a big question. I think about that a lot. The biggest questions in the frontiers of immersive storytelling How completely can someone get in a fictional character's head? I mean, that would be the dream, essentially, that it's almost like if you've taken this magic pill and you are that character. That seems to be the allure of VR, because right now we certainly, in every experience you have, I'm there, I'm in this place, and there's a million fun ways to toy with that. But to me, the essence of storytelling is that human beings are inherently sharing our experience. So until monkeys could talk, you didn't quite know that you were all going to die. And then you started talking and now we all have a death complex, right? So the complexity of humanity is based on our ability to share experience. And it's so ingrained in us and in the way we think and feel and imagine the future. And I've always been a believer that the more you can expand into other people, the more potential you have as a person, the more peaceful the world is. So if VR at its best is this ultimate tool to get you fully into someone else's mind, how do you do that? Like right now, we're still toying with if you look down and you see a body that's not yours, I think it's super cool when it's like a woman's body and I'm somebody I never could be. And they take that to a limit. And some people hate that. But like, what are the devices that will make you feel like this is really happening to me? And then create a whole experience you could never have in life on an experiential level that relates to your own experience. Yeah, yeah.

[00:20:31.090] Vincent Edwards: Further to that point, you know, a couple of examples spring readily to mind. One is the Chris Milk piece he did in the black and white stuff, where you're in this bar in New York, right? And you're various characters for 90 seconds, where you're the boxer being interviewed after the fight. And behind you, there's your manager who's like drinking and going, Oh, my God, they're good. and the reporters are all harassing you, and you're in that position, you kind of feel what it's like to be that character, or when you're sitting opposite the woman who's about to dump you, and she hates you even though she's pregnant with your child. Like, in film, it's just a POV shot, okay? You cut to someone's POV, you understand that you're seeing it from their perspective. It's more impactful than just showing it subjectively. In VR, that's a much more powerful experience, but again, it can be overused. So I think it's going to be a trick of finding when it's appropriate to do that and when it's just kind of going for the novelty value, right? There was a film called Hardcore Henry, where you spend 90 minutes as this, you know, mute, super cyborg assassin guy stumbling through trying to remember things while people are trying to kill him. And after like 20 minutes of that, I was completely disengaged. You know, so there's obviously too much of a good thing, and I think it's going to be like making music. Well, you could get 120 symphony musicians, but if they're not playing the same tune, then it's just noise.

[00:21:46.770] Kent Bye: Yeah, I just recently did an interview with John Booker who's written a book on storytelling and virtual reality and one of the things he said is that there's this return to the Greek chorus where there's a chorus that comes out and kind of narrates what's happening in I guess more of an abstracted way. I guess more of like on the Moth podcast if someone stands up and tells a story or the backstory or a narrator that's actually kind of a breaking that fourth wall in some way. And that the challenge of interactive narratives, when you're actually a character, if you're thrown into an embodiment and you have no idea who this character is, and if you're expected to know some level of backstory, then there's some, I guess, strategies that you have to bootstrap people into this world, describing that world, whether it's being introduced to this world, like in Inception, for example, someone who's new to the world, who's never seen the world, and then there's somebody there having to explain things, as they explain things to that character, then they're also explaining that to you. But just finding ways to say, are you a main character? Are you a sidekick? Do you not need to know all the details, but you can kind of pick up based upon the context? And I think there's all these interesting things about, like, as you embody these characters, how you kind of Get people ramped up into being able to embody that. I know there's a piece at Tribeca It's called draw me close where you play the son or daughter of a woman who is just recently diagnosed with cancer and so you have that archetypal role of stepping into that either son or daughter role and you get to have an experience with the archetypal mother within that context of that experience and so I It feels like there's that very thing that you said, how you get into the mind of a character within a novel, you can explain all that. But I think as we move into these immersive experiences, there's things to learn from film, but also new complications, especially as we move away from passive 360 video and perhaps move into a more holodeck interactive narratives where you actually have to make decisions and take action as these characters. If you don't know who the characters are or anything about them, then how do you bootstrap somebody into that character before they get thrown into the story?

[00:23:50.549] Vincent Edwards: I think gamers are going to be more naturally apt, adept at doing that. I watched my son playing Skyrim, you know, for hours on end. And you get invested in being a character, but you're seeing that person from kind of above and behind in that classic gamer tracking camera mode. Being in the eyeballs of that character, I think it's going to take a lot of technological advancement. to look down and see your body, your virtual body as a gargoyle and then being able to fly and like looking in the mirror and seeing your gargoyle face, like all that's a good way to get you to buy in to here's the character I am now, but I think that the level of ability to integrate your real body into the virtual world is going to have to improve. So we're talking about better tracking, we're talking about haptics, we're talking about any number of things that have to improve a lot, a lot before that level of buy-in is going to be effective, I think.

[00:24:36.057] Austin Conroy: But the story drawing can also get you, like, if you do Arkham Asylum VR and you're Batman, I'm so eager to be Batman that any flaws go right out the window. I'm like, I'm Batman! I'm in the Batcave! I'm so excited. So I think of it a little bit as, like, building a mind. Like, if you're going to make somebody a character that they're not, and not as a story experience but as almost as if they're being that person. Then there are all these elements that sort of have to be built together because really you're you and you think like you and but you can draw people into another space. There's a guy like called Eknath Eswaran and in his translation of the Dhammapada he's talking about all the Buddhas Ideas and he says that you know for a lot of philosophers they would say well imagine if life were like a movie screen and you were experiencing things and The Buddha would say that is what life is that you're being shown this reality. That's actually a complete projection and You put everything together and make it real So if someone were to live endlessly in VR, you know, like if you put on a headset and they never took it off, then you get a walls to the cave dilemma. Everything that that character experiences and does will inform who they are. So how do you compress that process if you did have like a two-hour VR narrative and you can somehow establish, like you said with Draw Me Close, that this is the relationship, this is the emotion you've just been through, which is very easy to imagine because we all know the pain of death. If you set up those things but then you set up making a horrible mistake and dealing with the regret of that and then seeing the same character again, that's the traditional film process that you've created associations and experiences. But this would be that I am that person and how can you challenge that while making decisions or when feeling immersed in something.

[00:26:25.605] Kent Bye: Awesome, yeah. It's rich stuff and it seems like there's many, I think, open questions in terms of how this is going to fold out. And I usually wrap up these interviews by asking a deep question about what each of you think about the ultimate potential of these immersive technologies and virtual reality and storytelling and what that might be able to enable.

[00:26:46.293] Vincent Edwards: Whoa. Well, either I'm going to wake up in a Matrix pod Or maybe I'll awaken from the dream that is Maya into my higher spiritual awareness self and realize that this is just... Somebody once said, all of this exists only because we perceive it. The tree doesn't make a noise if no one hears it, if no one's there. It doesn't even fall. It's not even there. It doesn't even exist. All of reality is contrived to serve our perception that it's there. Now that's a big philosophical idea to wrap your head around, but if you could wake up and find that that were true, I feel like VR would be the training wheels to help your consciousness be able to grasp that idea.

[00:27:30.094] Austin Conroy: I think the ultimate potential of VR is to become someone else or to have an experience that you could not have in the real world, which then informs your real experience and your real identity and brings more to your life, which is really the essence of all storytelling through history. And just taking it to a new platform and a new level in new and exciting ways is going to be what everybody who's involved in it gets to experiment with. And it's already a beautiful thing, I think.

[00:28:02.344] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say?

[00:28:05.366] Vincent Edwards: No, I'm good. I'm looking forward to continuing the journey. It's exciting times. And everything that's scary to everybody else is what interests me about it.

[00:28:14.491] Austin Conroy: Make sure to check out my MySpace page.

[00:28:18.709] Vincent Edwards: Still up and running.

[00:28:22.111] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much.

[00:28:23.171] Vincent Edwards: Thank you, sir.

[00:28:24.172] Kent Bye: Good talking to you.

[00:28:25.092] Austin Conroy: Thanks. Keep up the great work.

[00:28:27.173] Kent Bye: So that was Austin Conroy. He's the creative director of Envar Studios, as well as Vincent Edwards, who's the co-founder and chief creative officer. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, Rosecolored has been one of my favorite virtual reality storytelling experiences in part because what Envar Studios and Adam Kosko were able to do is to create this near-future sci-fi world that is completely plausible in terms of how technology could be going. The types of interactions and things that are happening within this experience, I could see how this is a type of world that we're kind of headed towards. And so there's these different moral quandaries and moral dilemmas and the deeper story of the trajectory of technology and our relationship to technology and how that's going to evolve and how that's going to change our relationships and the impact of being able to layer on different types of reality on top of your own reality. So I think that part of the things that I really enjoyed about that is that, you know, in this interview that I did with Monica Bieliskita back in episode 590, She talks about designing the future through sci-fi world building and it's this process by which what Vincent said is that wherever you put your focus is kind of what you're going to be creating or manifesting and so if we're only creating like these dystopian futures then we're going to be not having any inspiration to do anything other than to just kind of fall into that creation of a dystopian future and And so I think that while the types of black mirror dystopian cautionary tales are important, there's a bit of just feeling so hopeless about the potential of humanity. And I think that it's actually prophetic. And I don't want to live in a world where we keep making real all these black mirror visions of reality because that is not the world that I actually want to live in and so I think that's what Invar Studios is trying to do is to actually to create these sci-fi worlds but to actually maybe have a little bit more of an optimistic bent as to what's even possible and what kind of decisions that we can make and I think that is the value of storytelling is what Adam Conroy is saying is that you're able to kind of bootstrap people into a world and as a character and that you're able to give people an experience of what that world is like and that process of storytelling is basically trying to communicate the essence of these different human experiences so that if we're not in those situations right now we can imagine what type of decisions we might want to make when those conditions are actually there and in our world. A lot of this stuff about the speculative sci-fi in the near future hasn't been created yet, but we're kind of on that technological roadmap. And so what are these deeper questions that we need to be asking ourselves? And I think that that's what makes me so excited about where Envar Studios is going is to tell more and more of these types of stories, not only in virtual reality, but also in other mediums as well. So the other big takeaway that I got was that, you know, there is a lot more that's not known that is known and that you kind of have, from my perspective, two trajectories of immersive storytelling. One is coming from the film world where they're drawing all these different techniques of visual storytelling. And then from the other trajectory, you have from the gaming world, which is much more high agency, making decisions, taking action, how can you fully participate within the world. And I think that there's going to be a little bit of this blending of like, from the trajectory of the games, you're going to have much more of like, this is how you actually participate and take action in this world. And from the film and storytelling, this is The different techniques that have been proven over many many years for how you can tell a story what both? Vincent and Austin are saying is that there's actually a whole wide range of different philosophies of how to actually do that and that depending on the philosophical orientation of how to actually cultivate this dimension of immersive storytelling, there's going to be people who are either making a strong stance of, you know, you're not embodied in a character and you're a ghost, you're watching it, or you're actually trying to invoke this feeling of you being that character. And then how do you bootstrap somebody into believing that they're actually the character? And so there's all these different open questions for how do you actually do that? And finally, I think that both Austin and Vincent were providing some very interesting metaphysical perspectives about the nature of reality. And coming much more from Eastern religions, like either Buddhism or Hinduism, from Austin, he's talking about Eknath Asarwan's Dhammapada translation, where the perspective of the Buddhists is that this world is kind of an illusion, and it's really kind of a projection. Maybe you could think of it as a holographic projection, in that our sensory input is kind of constructing the illusion of this Euclidean world, which is actually, if you get at the higher levels of general relativity, it's a pseudo-Riemannian space, but yet, you know, at the quantum level, it's an infinite-dimensional Hilbert space, and so you have, like, these different mathematical structures, even within trying to describe the nature of reality, that isn't consistent between the two of them. They're still trying to resolve the large and the small, and try to come up with some sort of unified field theory to describe it all, and they haven't been able to do that yet. But yet from our own direct experience, it's all coherent and consistent and there's no paradoxes or any inconsistencies in that. It's all sort of one fluid world that we live in. But yet we know from just looking at the large and the small that sort of mathematically that's not the story. And so there's just this perspective of like whether or not we're going to eventually find the ultimate nature of consciousness. It is a bit of an open question as to whether or not consciousness is emergent from our physical neurology and our bodies, like a physical materialist perspective, or something that's a little bit more from some of these Eastern religions of Buddhism or Hinduism, where maybe consciousness is fundamental or primary. It's actually below physics. And it's something that, if that's true, then we may find out through using virtuality for long enough that we're able to then kind of train ourselves to say, well, actually, we can give all these digitally mediated input to our consciousness and to see that there is this sort of illusionary world that we're going into but yet at the same time we know that it's being created by this computer but it feels just as real as any other experience. Just last night I had a meetup for all of my Patreon supporters and we went through these three different worlds one was by Indie Rocktopus one was by PK and then we went into a couple of like more psychedelic experiences from the architect and so we went through all these crazy things that you could never experience before and I went with these group of people through all these different types of experiences and it was like we had this shared experience together and that to me that is just as real as anything else and And so I think that, you know, what Vincent said is that maybe if we do virtual reality for long enough, we're going to eventually be able to awaken from the dream that is Maya. And that perhaps we will find out that over time, the more that we do virtual reality, we're able to kind of cut through the matrix of the illusion of reality and be able to actually get to the heart of this underlying general awareness of being. And then maybe there'll be a larger feedback loop between creating worlds within the virtual environment that are kind of rapidly prototyping the types of worlds and culture that we actually want to have in the real world. And there'll be more of a seamless translation between creating these imaginal worlds of the future and creating systems and structures of society that can actually give us those experiences in the real world. So, that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member to the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon your donations in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So, you can become a member today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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