Lone Wolves Stick Together Ph.d.

Techniques for engaging and meaningful participatory storytelling in VR

Live action roleplaying (larp) is a playful and artistic practice rich with 40 years of experiments and theory in immersive interactive experiences, arguably making it the most advanced form of 360 storytelling. Building on techniques and knowledge from larp and video games conjugated to cinematic aesthetics, this research project investigates techniques for engaging and meaningful Virtual Reality (VR) storytelling.

More specifically, this project unravels the following questions: can larp and game techniques allow VR artistic experiences to improve participants’ real lives and social agency? Can we counter the seducing potentials of escapism in a virtually tailored paradise that audio-visual experiences - and more powerfully so, VR - seems to promise us? Can we use cinematic and musical aesthetics to reinforce interactive storytelling rather than to convey a railroaded artistic vision? Can we develop “immersion” as an artistic emotion while offering a meaningful experience to the participants?

Research fellow Nadja Lipsyc's project argues that the engaging and transformative potential of VR comes from human connection and nurturing social and creative agency. Through the design, playtesting, development, and production of VR live action roleplaying projects 'Lone Wolves Stick Together' and 'The Space Between Us', this research aims to develop methods for meaningful and participatory 360 storytelling.

Lone Wolves Stick Together is a live action roleplaying game for 6 participants, inspired by Andrey Tarkovsky’s movie 'Stalker' (1979), which invites participants to go on a journey in mysterious Woods in hope of finding a wish-machine, capable of making their most intimate desires come true. Relying on a physical and metaphorical journey, this piece explores our relation to introspection, success, and love; what we prioritize and how “real” we truly need it to be. By guiding the participants into creating a playful group dynamic, and by encouraging them to push their characters into different directions during the five acts and through flashbacks, this journey aims to fuel social agency and collective co-creation.

The Space Between Us is a VR live action roleplaying adventure for 2 participants, staging a near future, where two siblings get separated between a flooded Oslo and an exoplanet. Through building a sense of siblinghood and of accelerated time, this piece explores our relation to comfort, will to power and family, in the context of the ecological and social crisis. This piece goes deeper in exploring how to turn game design techniques around to create gratifying experiences that are not based on mechanisms of addiction or of accelerationist accumulation of resources.

Principles of environmental design, explored physically through production design and ambisonics, and virtually through a highly reactive virtual environment, are used to provide inspiration and lead the participants’ roleplaying. The “Woods” in 'Lone Wolves' and the flooded Oslo in the 'Space Between Us', much like the "Zone" in 'Stalker', behave like an omniscient character that pushes the players to question one another and to introspect.