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Interactive, purposeful storytelling meets Virtual Reality at Learn Do Share London with ‘Meet Lucy’.

This post by Alison Norrington, originally appeared on here Story Central.

The brainchild of Creative Director and PhD researcher, Nina Simoes, Meet Lucy is an innovative and interactive story that highlights the reality of housing issues in London and runs parallel to Learn Do Share.

Nina brought together a smart trio to work together to produce and deliver the story of Lucy Maddox, a fictional character created by writer David Varela. This interactive story culminates in a live event at Learn Do Share and is supported by 2 technologies: pervasive storytelling tool Conducttr and Virtual Reality technology Oculus Rift, powered by Unity.

In the run up to Learn Do Share the story of Lucy Maddox highlights the lack of social housing in the UK. Nina and her creative team’s vision is that the story is more resonant and relevant as it specifically focuses on Lucy, a 22 year old girl and her Mum and sister who are ‘statutory homeless’. The story is a strong example of purposeful storytelling, as advocated by Learn Do Share Founder, Lance Weiler and explained here by Peter Guber.

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Creative director, Nina Simoes

Creative Director Nina Simoes felt very passionate that Learn Do Share was supported by a story that was both relevant, purposeful and interactive and I was lucky enough to speak with Nina, the Conducttr team – Robert Pratten, Jonny Virgo and Eduardo Iglesias and Virtual Reality Experience Designer Robert Andre about the vision for the story and how these 2 technologies dovetailed to create a seamless experience around David Varela’s story:

Nina, why have you decided to produce a story about homelessness in London?

“I felt this was an opportunity to highlight an important topic, not so often talked by the media, which is affecting the lives of many people not only in the UK but also in many parts of the world. Also homelessness is a topic I’ve deeply researched for many years, via a series of projects and most particularly an by Rehearsing Reality – an interactive docufragmentary which focuses on Forum Theatre and homeless people in Brazil. That was the first time I used technology to produce a project. That experience, although quite intense, was also quite liberating. It allowed me to tell a purposeful story in a different way. In Rehearsing Reality, the audience is invited to navigate through two different layers. A linear story that can be interrupted at anytime is told in parallel to a series of non-linear fragmented short stories, carefully edited to allow further information and encourage further interaction to the story. I wanted to bring a similar experience to Learn Do Share through the Meet Lucy story”.

Why use technology to tell a story?

“I think technology acts as a trigger, it invites audiences to open new fictional doors that immediately transports them to another level of consciousness. It allows further engagement; it provokes new thoughts and connections. But that doesn’t mean that technology itself can make stories better; that magic is only in the hands of the teller/creator itself”.

Interactive storyteller and writer, David Varela strategically wrote an entry point (otherwise known as a ‘rabbit hole’) with this blog post and article –  and audiences have been able to interact with Act I of the story since 28th July.

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David Varela

On signing up for the free Learn Do Share event, audiences have been receiving emails and SMS that reveal and explore Lucy’s living and working conditions, her mother’s thoughts, her opinions on their neighbours in the halfway house. Act 2 of Meet Lucy triggered on 18th August when her story turned as they were offered a series of options for housing – Lucy can either leave her family and get her own subsidised housing on the edge of London; the entire family can be moved to a flat out in the countryside or they can try a ‘shipping container ghetto’ in Brighton, where she may be able to get work… (but it looks like a drug den).

Lucy has been responding to audience emails and SMS via Conducttr, but this dilemma brings a whole new set of responses and dilemmas.

This motivates design grad Lucy to build a VR version of her halfway house accommodation as well as a version of the subsidized apart and the Brighton shipping container flat. Creating a digital visualization of the decisions she has to make springboards the story into phase ‘In Her Shoes’ – a fascinating 2-day live Virtual Reality experience at Learn Do Share. Using Oculus Rift visitors and attendees at Learn Do Share can ‘walk around’ the virtual environment, experiencing the cramped conditions, even experiencing sensory interaction, as they will feel the heat and experience the smell of the communal kitchen, along with the noise of the neighbours. Visitors will also get to meet Lucy, her mother and her sister in the VR environment, explaining what they think about their dilemma.

Anyone who has engaged with Meet Lucy before this point should feel a pleasing familiarity with the characters and will be recognised by Lucy, thanks to Conducttr integration with the VR technology. However, this experience is designed to be an accessible standalone experience for newcomers too, who may engage with Lucy and her family and share their thoughts via email afterwards.

After Learn Do Share, the story continues to a real-time conclusion as Conducttr will continue to manage interactions between Lucy, her family and engaged audiences.


Jonny Virgo answered some questions about the Conducttr integration:

How have you used Conducttr to tell the Meet Lucy story?

“Conducttr is being used in the Nobody Home story to allow audience members to communicate directly with the character, Lucy Maddox. She is a student who has been made homeless, along with her family. The audience discovers her situation through Issuu magazine articles and cards to be handed out at the Learn Do Share event. But they can really find out about different areas of Lucy’s life by texting and emailing the girl”.

How has Conducttr integrated with the Virtual Reality Experience?

“The character, Lucy, is a design student and the Virtual Reality Experience is something that she designs in the narrative, with the aim of cathartically processing her reactions to her situation, while also raising awareness. The virtual reality space mimics the accommodation where Lucy and her family are staying. Those who have been through the Conducttr experience have a deeper connection with the environment but it also works as a stand-alone experience”.

The 3D environment has been built with Unity – a very popular modelling and gaming engine. Created by Robert Andre, final touches are in place this week, along with filming of the live actors to be inserted into the simulated house. Conducttr’s Eduardo Iglesias has written the code to interconnect Unity with Conducttr.

Will Conducttr recognise players that have engaged with Lucy’s story on the run up to Learn Do Share? How will this work to serve a personalised experience?

“Those choosing to interact on the day who have been following Lucy’s story via email or sms in the run-up to the event, will have the opportunity to find out more details of Lucy’s story and explore other branches of the narrative. Conducttr maintains a behavioural database where everyone’s choices and interactions are used to personalize the experience within the constraints set by Jonny Virgo and David Varela. At the Learn Do Share event, if visitors have previously interacted with Lucy then Conducttr tells the Unity platform how to construct a personalized VR environment based on this player’s prior behavior”.

Meet Lucy is an exciting representation of the possible future of storytelling – collaborations between producers and writers who understand how to weave interaction and choices, along with technology that adds layers of immersion to the entire ‘experience’ of story. Oculus Rift has been a headliner at many technology and entertainment events and news items this year and Meet Lucy at Learn Do Share is an opportunity to experience that, along with a deeply resonant and relevant story and topic, all for free.

Don’t miss ‘Meet Lucy’ at Learn Do Share this weekend (5th and 6th September) at Ravensbourne, London.

Tickets are FREE but selling out fast – sign up for yours here!
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