It’s always interesting to hear how people got into the field of Extended Reality. It’s not like being interested in medicine or journalism. It is inherently interdisciplinary, and because it is so often not offered in course curriculum for many schools, it tends to be something that people find themselves drawn to through an intense sense of curiosity. Last semester, I had the pleasure of listening to a talk by VR creative Samantha Gorman, who has won multiple awards for her work in both VR and other experimental digital mediums.
It was very fruitful to hear from and speak with Samantha Gorman; I learned a lot about how to approach both XR focused and general professional work from a business, technical, and creative perspective. I found it so encouraging that she came from a less STEM-oriented background. She wasn’t a self-proclaimed “coder” or “computer scientist” when she first started out. She was, however, very curious and open-minded. She started off being interested in poetry performance and it just naturally lent itself to spatial storytelling. I think this is the case for a lot of really successful entrepreneurs and designers: they have big ideas and are just looking for the right medium to express these ideas with. For Samantha, that ended up being immersive technologies, beginning with Pry. It was really intriguing to see how she and her partner took such a traditionally analog medium and, rather than completely changing it, used intuitive motions and interactions to actually just enhance it, and add more layers to the story. I think that this is the best type of immersive interaction, where you can just intuitively learn to use it. Having to overcome a learning curve tends to pull you out of the story. I also really valued her takeaways from working on Virtual Virtual Reality. I remember her saying that “press is one thing, but culture is shaped through curation by platforms”. This was really memorable because it went to show that no matter how well your piece or app is being received, what really dictates its financial success is the connections you are able to make through the distribution channels.
It was most fascinating to hear Samantha recount her experience working on The Under– a multiplayer VR world fusing immersive theater and virtual reality gaming. I really got to understand the enormous scope of this project, from the live acts, to the hacks they had to develop internally behind the scenes to keep the show moving. I was amazed by the amount of finite details put into every piece. What players don’t realize is that there was an entirely different user base that Samantha and her team had to design for in parallel with them. There was also the actors themselves, who needed their own intuitive interface to ensure things ran smoothly. The directors themselves, Samantha included, had to use specially-developed software to track where things were happening and when. If it is not smoothly running on the backend, there is no way it will run smoothly on the frontend.
She also gave super insightful advice on designing narratives in a 360 space. I had been wondering about how to ensure that the full story, in all its authenticity, could be shown to users who don’t innately know where to look and when. Essentially, once you place them in the headset, you give them free reign. I wanted to understand more about how to best guide users through an immersive experience gently, She seemed to think that there is a natural ability for this sort of design that you have to work on honing over time. She described how she’d come to be able to imagine characters talking at certain places around her while scripting out experiences, as if they were there with her. I think this a great point- the designer themselves must try immersing themselves in the piece they are creating to ensure it is coming across authentically.