A Mystery Story
John SharpWriting and Research
Ethan D Silverman
Barbara B. Morris
Strings is a mystery story set inside the mind of a comatose psychiatric patient. It is designed for a single participant who is situated in the role of the patient’s psychiatrist. The doctor uses an experimental Neurolink device to access the mind of the patient, Arianna, through her coma with the goal helping her to escape from the psychological maze in which she is trapped. However, the plan backfires when Arianna begins to guess that she is not alone in her mind.
The story is loosely based on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur resituated in a contemporary context. It utilizes the Unity game engine, the Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset, and a custom controller to create a narrative environment in which the player progresses through the story by exploring a surreal landscape. Strings touches on issues of how current and emerging technology obscures the boundaries between private and shared space, and raises questions about agency and consent in digital environments.
Strings is an immersive mystery story that explores the convergence of public and private space in digital environments and questions how this merging may evolve as media becomes ever more immersive and invasive through the use of augment and virtual reality devices.
The story developed out of an exploration of how new technology and interactive media are transforming the way we create and consume fiction. Online multiuse forums such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr provide an easy avenue to stay in contact with friends, acquaintances, and business contacts in a single virtual space. In these settings, the edges between the public and private spheres are often loosely differentiated. Creating, editing, curating, and publishing content is essential component of online involvement. Thus participants become storytellers if only to those in their immediate social circles. As such, authorship and fiction are often difficult or impossible to distinguish from consumption and non-fiction in digital environments.
Virtual reality is one such emerging technology that offers both exciting opportunities for storytelling and a number of interesting restrictions. The interaction design of Strings draws inspiration from a variety of immersive narrative forms, including interactive theater, audio walks, art installations, transmedia projects, games, and interactive fiction (IF).
The story is loosely based on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur resituated in a contemporary context. It utilizes the Unity game engine, the Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset, and a custom controller to create a narrative environment in which the player progresses through the story by exploring a surreal landscape.
This project is aimed at people who create or enjoy participating in experimental storytelling experiences. It relies on virtual reality technology and a custom built controller, and is thus currently restricted to consumption in a gallery or exhibition setting.
Strings is still a work in progress. The story is told in a chapter format. There are five chapters in all, as well as a prologue and epilogue. Visitors to the MFADT thesis exhibition will be able to experience the prologue and first chapter.
Natasha Lewandrowski is an artist, designer, and writer working at the intersection of digital media and physical craft. Her work explores the convergence of digital and physical space through interactive animation, virtual reality, and wearable devices. Lewandrowski graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 2007 with a BFA in Sculpture. She worked at the Seattle Art Museum until 2012. It was there that she became interested in interaction design, and particularly in developing experiences that integrate physical and digital components. After graduation, Lewandrowski intends to pursue a career in interaction design while continuing to create art that explores human interaction in mixed physical/virtual environments.