In a State of Uncertainty:

Beckomberga, narrative, empathy, VR 

Aliki Tsakoumi & Ruben Widen

mixed reality installation “Digital, Physical and Sacred Space”

As a next step during the Virtual Production course, I worked on a prototype for a VR film that works with empathy and perspective and what does it mean to decide for someone else’s life.


 Those activities helped in order to develop somewhat of a holistic approach to VR storytelling and feel confident with designing a VR project from concept to installation, that follows a consistent narrative line and results in a specific atmosphere.

Through the experience of working with Beckomberga in XR through several projects, ideas and prototypes (immersive theatre performance, installation, VR film), I had the chance to observe the impact the choices that I make as a narrator have on an audience. With collaborators, we would watch how they react to technical aspects(VR headset, controllers), the environment, the theme, the story. We noticed that curiosity is a powerful driving force in an immersive environment and even the people that were sceptical with them would be very keen on discovering the "dark sports" and secrets of the place. For this, I focused on encouraging empathy through this User's adventure. Thus we tried to come up with a narrative solution that utilizes the specific advantages of the medium (embodiment, interactivity). A combination of change of perspective (Switch of which character the User embodies) and interactivity (being asked to make a vital decision for another person, in particular, your mother who is an inmate of Beckomberga) proved to be the way to do it. So, this is a path where the challenges of VR storytelling are getting more and more transparent, and there are more ideas about how to solve them. Slowly I am starting to develop a skill set that will allow guiding the audience in VR so that they feel immersed but not feeling guided, but on the contrary, they feel like they have agency over their experience.


At the same time, working in VR changed the way I was thinking about empathy. Empathy is now seen less as an abstract connection on behalf of the audience, and more as something concrete that manifests itself in our decision that affects others. This approach embraces the side of empathy that relates not only to feelings but to logic as well and leans more towards the notion of compassion


How Virtual Reality can broaden our approach to storytelling? This Mixed Reality Instalation had the audience member's body involved. In a case like that, storytelling includes more than a story narrative. It includes elements of the User’s Experience Design. It is interesting to notice that this term is not so widely used in the Arts, but more concerning web design, gaming or programming. It is a term of programmers. However, in VR, elements of the experience that we would attribute to User Experience design, have a substantial impact on the audience’s perception, and such they should be in synergy with the story. Does the User, have the ability to interact with the world or just passively experience it by looking around? Are they being themselves in the headset, or embodying a character? How protected or exposed do they feel in regards to their surroundings? Are they building something or trying to survive a catastrophe? All those design aspects of the User’s experience, in a narrative piece, would end up in a completely different journey on behalf of the audience. They would end up in a different story.


Setting up the actions and reactions of the User and the world seems a crucial aspect of VR but also relevant to live performance. Due to living performing experience, I have a personal interpretation and understanding of what it means to be present. To be able to let go but at the same time be perceptive to react in whatever is happening in this very moment. So, it was interesting to dip into how I understand presence, and what kind of tactics I would use to endorse it in the audience.  This circles back in storytelling as in a live performance, presence, is part of the dramaturgy and as such, part of the storytelling itself. The feeling of “this is happening, in front of you, at this very moment” is part of the story you are told. Something very similar is happening in Virtual Reality. An animated or recorded scene, or a responsive environment that the User can influence using their controllers, are used to endorse this sense of presence that will immerse her.


During this piece, we adopted a playful approach by testing different ways to inspire a moment of presence to an audience. We experimented with several tactics such as adding an element of preparation for the experience, music, objects and scale, we experimented with presence in VR but also in the physical space. So, thanks to this process, we experimented presence and immersion and tested how to use them in XR.