Assent: the power of virtual reality storytelling

Last Friday we had the pleasure of hosting Oscar Raby in the Pervasive Media Studio, Bristol. As well as giving people the opportunity to watch his work Assent, on the Oculus Rift, he also gave a lunch time talk, outlining his journey towards producing a virtual reality documentary.

In his talk, Oscar provided the context needed to understand what pushed him to create this work; from his history as a ‘starving artist’ in Chile, putting on public performances as part of a collective, to his Masters degree in interactive media at RMIT. His personal and professional life often intertwining, it became obvious why it has taken him 20 years since his initial conversation with his father to tell the story of Assent.

He also outlined a clear awareness of the audience or “user”, as well as his own method of practice. His considered approach was outlined in this slide on responsibility:


A slide outlining Oscar’s responsibilities in telling the story of Assent

From witnessing a stream of people experience the documentary throughout the day, it was clear to see just how universally powerful both the story and the form are. Isolating a person and fully focusing their attention, even if just for fifteen minutes, forces them to confront the story and, through the nature of the Oculus Rift, place themselves in another’s world.

The experience also pushed a personal connection, which often led people to thank Oscar once they had finished watching. Despite the crude graphics, people really felt he had given them an insight into this powerful story, in a way that would be hard to achieve with a traditional documentary.

I will be posting more on this topic in the future, in particular a write up following a round table discussion held with Oscar, Pete Bennett (Tangible Memories) and May Abdalla and Amy Rose (Anagram) – which probed some of the key questions around the use of VR within storytelling.

In the mean time, John Hodgson has written this personal review of the work following his experience watching it. There will also be a full write up of the talk on the Pervasive Media Studio blog in the coming weeks.