Round green shapes of varying sizes glow against the black background. The text reads, "Immersive."

Immersive #10: Semester Insights

As the college semester comes to a close so too does this semester’s Immersive section come to an end. From the nine different features written this semester, we’ve been exposed to several different ways to engage an audience with a creative project and to put a new spin on traditional methods of storytelling, which have left us with three key insights that we can take inspiration from for our own personal projects and stories to make them more engaging:

First, unconventional media creates intrigue from a lack of pre-existing expectations.

  • Scarfolk Council (#2): Utilizing aesthetics from the past combined with off-kilter imagery can invoke an eerie yet compelling sense of nostalgia.
  • Birds Aren’t Real (#3): Portraying subtle criticism through popular culture and memes allows for satirical messages to be spread without being taken too seriously.
  • The Sun Vanished (#6): Watching a story unfold real-time through social media creates suspense through the wait between posts and allows it to blend into the noise of everyday life.
  • 17776 (#7): Embracing absurdity and taking inspiration from a diverse range of topics can create something fresh that compels an audience to read more to learn about the areas of interest.

Second, non-linear narratives make player choice worthwhile.

  • AI Dungeon (#4): Involving AI to create original narratives allows for players to take agency over the story that is presented to them and create something uniquely their own.
  • Hades (#5): Creating evolving stories based around player choice makes every decision impactful and pursued with care.
  • Fallen London (#8) – Leaving room for elaboration within a story enables creators to have flexibility in writing future content in the same universe and creates intrigue within an audience to learn more about the world.

Third, intentional design reinforces the purpose of the story in a meaningful manner.

  • Life in a Day (#1): Drawing from community-based submissions allows for a more diverse yet unified experience to be portrayed on screen.
  • Loving Vincent (#9): Being true to the purpose of the project during all stages of production allows for the audience to also feel all the love and passion as well when observing the final result.

Overall, there are many more insights that each feature contributes to the discussion on creating immersive content that can be found within their own individual posts, but just from these short snip-bits of advice, we can truly see how the choices that a creator makes during the production process can have a significant impact on how an audience engages with and talks about the final product.

Read more Immersive content: HERE

Round green shapes of varying sizes glow against the black background. The text reads, "Immersive."

Immersive #9: Loving Vincent

Oftentimes, adaptations of pre-existing work are translated into new mediums in order to expand upon the impact and outreach that the original work holds. However, given that every medium has its own advantages and disadvantages, these adaptations run the risk of losing the insightful themes and emotional responses that the original creator sought to invoke within their work. Nevertheless, when adaptations do manage to stay true to the original message, the end result can truly add onto the original contributions of the creator’s work in a meaningful manner.

One such adaptation that takes this approach of having a deep rooted understanding of the original work while transforming it into something revolutionary is through the 2017 feature film Loving Vincent directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman: from its conceptualization to implementation, Loving Vincent sought to put a new spin onto the life of Vincent van Gogh and the circumstances surrounding his death by having its animation consist entirely of hand-drawn paintings, becoming the world’s first ever fully painted film.

In having every frame of the film be painted in the style of Vincent van Gogh, Kobiela sought to build upon the words van Gogh stated in his last letter: “We cannot speak other than by our paintings.” And since such an ambitious feat had never been pulled off before, the creators had to spend 4 years developing the technique that would allow them to accurately capture the fluidity of film within frame by frame oil paintings. But after they managed to hone their technique, it took the team of over 125 painters another 2 years to finish the film, which consisted of over 65,000 frames painted over 1,000 canvases. The end result would be a nostalgic yet vivid world that truly allowed for its viewers to experience what it would be like to live within the contemplative and nuanced world of van Gogh.

Adeline Ravoux Folding Napkins

Overall, Loving Vincent embodies its name within all aspects of its production, retaining the expressive style and intentions of van Gogh while inspiring new life into his works through animation: it is truly a product of love for what van Gogh stood for and what he means for other creatives and admirers who gaze upon his work for inspiration. The film also serves as an indicator on how traditional mediums can be transformed into something new and innovative that adds onto the original work without subtracting from it. It is also a reminder that love for a project can go a long way in ensuring that all elements of the production work with intention and in harmony with one another, which is a mindset that I hope we are all able to embody within our own personal pursuits and creative endeavors.

Witness Loving Vincent: HERE

Round green shapes of varying sizes glow against the black background. The text reads, "Immersive."

Immersive #8: Fallen London

When writing a story, all too often creators develop a linear course of events, from which worldbuilding information is slowly introduced to the readers through the characters’ exploration of the narrative plot. What isn’t essential to the story ends up being relegated to obscure references or supplementary material elsewhere. While this form of worldbuilding can still impact the reader emotionally with its intentional design, there is still a disconnect present between the reader and the main character, primarily due to the fact that the reader is prevented from fully experiencing the world on their own terms in following the perspectives of the character themselves.

As such, some stories have fallen on a model of interactive fiction where the reader is able to gain agency within the story and discover the world through their own perspective by actively making choices to move the narration along. Recognizing the power that this narrative style had, Failbetter Games developed the text-based open-world RPG Fallen London to explore the concept of a lore-rich exploratory world that provides the player with the gift of choice.

In Fallen London, choices are immediately given to the player from the start as they craft their own identity and explore a Victorian-Gothic underworld full of many diverse and intriguing storylines that are revealed incrementally and at random. A sense of depth and space is carefully cultivated within the player through the vivid descriptions and visualizations of the city and its residents. Additionally, gameplay decisions are limited by action points, which causes the player to consider their actions carefully and to experience the story in real time. 

Outlined map of all the locations players can explore

But, what makes the game most interesting is the fact that it can’t be completed in the traditional sense where there is a clear path to victory. Rather, fulfillment is created on the player’s own accord based on their own ambition. Within the Fallen London universe, the Seeking Mr. Eaten’s Name (SMEN) storyline has become widely regarded as the storyline that challenges the extent to which a player’s ambition lasts through the sacrifice that they must go through to reach the ending, which holds no equivalent reward. Pursuing SMEN is a brutal endeavor that slowly drains the player of their in-game belongings as they’re all given up in hopes of gaining a slim glimpse of progress, simulating a downward spiral of desperation and struggle. To make matters even more unconventional, if the storyline is completed in its entirety, the game ends. The account is no longer playable: a shocking realization that permanent consequences are not avoidable even within a game.

r/fallenlondon - There will be an end. (All shall be well.)
SMEN ending prompt

In the end, with this mixture of endless world exploration and permanence, Fallen London truly resembles an in-depth world where the player has the power to shape the narrative to their own desires and one in which the text-based visual format can thrive as seen through Failbetter Games’ dedication to the game even years after its initial release in 2009. While sometimes the nature of Fallen London being all-encompassing from character attributes to storyline depth causes the beginning player to feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice, the slow evolution of becoming comfortable in navigating the visual space is a compelling enough motive to continue the exploration of the world for those who find themselves motivated by knowledge.

Explore Fallen London: HERE

Round green shapes of varying sizes glow against the black background. The text reads, "Immersive."

Immersive #7: 17776

At the rate that technology is currently progressing, it’s easy to envision a chrome-plated future where autonomous technology is able to resolve even the most menial of issues we encounter in our day-to-day lives. With advanced technology, we’ll be able to extend lifetimes beyond our modern rates, perform more complex and previously unimaginable feats, and address the most challenging issues of our time: war, poverty, famine, and so on.

But what happens in the case that we are able to resolve all our challenges and fulfill all our ambitions with some sort of technological venture? What would that world look like where the impossible was possible? For sports writer Jon Bois, this futuristic world and its population would find a new sort of fulfillment through American football, or at least a modified version that exists in the year 17776.

Bois’ 17776 was an unprecedented multimedia narrative that sought to develop a world that was absurd and engaging without being gruesome or down-right miserable like the rest of the popular stories at the time. Thus, the story was created to follow the perspectives of three space probes as they watched on-going football games that spanned across state borders and involved hundreds of players at a time.

An animated gif of two lines of X's, indicating players, approach a football located around Seward that has a green line trailing behind it, indicating its path of movement.
Football Game Play Visualization

17776 first begins with an regular sports article, whose text quickly expands to fill up the rest of the page and eventually transforms into a calendar labeled “March ‘43.” Here, we are introduced to the character of Nine, a personified version of the space probe Pioneer 9, who’s urgent questions and existential crisis are left unanswered for months as the reader continues to scroll down the site, a physical and visual reminder of the time that passes within the story. The narrative continues through a combination of plain-text commentary, vintage graphics, and surreal videos, showing brief vignettes into the lives of various football players and human characters as the space probes comment more largely on how far the game has evolved to become more than just a simple past time: “play is the point of existence now.”

The graphic contains a yellow calendar. At the top, the text reads "March '49." From March 3 to 6, in green text, it reads "God damn it! I said no communications! NO communications! Now you have to start over. Please sit and wait. Remember: 27 years, 13 days. On that day, do not contact me. I will contact you. Do not respond to me. Don't." And in red, the text reads, "OK, sorry." On the 13th, the red text reads, "Wait, shit. I'm an idiot. I'm sorry. Starting over again. See you in 27 years, 13 days."
Space Probe Characters Communicate to Each Other

Altogether, the hodgepodge that is 17776 with its space probe main characters, niche facts and features, and absurd football gameplay is proof that inspiration and compelling stories can come from anywhere. But, beyond this brief insight into the existential and speculative tale that 17776 seeks to tell its readers, the story is best experienced in its actual form as its charming implementation of text language and visual space can not be described in words alone. To this end, I encourage you to read 17776 to experience the way in which all elements of the story come together to describe a world where the state of Nebraska is a perfectly valid football field and where technology has advanced far enough that space probes can become sentient.

Experience 17776: HERE

(A sequel story called 20020 also exists.)

Round green shapes of varying sizes glow against the black background. The text reads, "Immersive."

Immersive #6: The Sun Vanished

Social media holds immense power over how new information is received through its ability to inform us of current events, trends, and information that can go viral within seconds. As a result, our increasing dependency on these various platforms increases our risk of being exposed to fabricated news, causing us to question what is real and what isn’t in a world where deepfakes and other editing techniques can easily replicate real life scenarios. However, instead of perceiving this dissemination of information as purely negative, some creators have been able to embrace the fast-pace and impromptu method of communication that social media provides, messing with our perceptions of truth and fiction through productive means in the midst of all the noise that we consume on a daily basis.

In a few chance instances, these realistic stories are accompanied by the phrase “This is not a game,” signifying that the narration you are reading about is one of many alternate reality games (ARGs), a transmedia method of storytelling that can be influenced by player responses. For the most part, ARGs go left unnoticed due to their desire to be seen as “real,” unfolding their stories quietly in hopes of an eventual discovery. However, for the ARG, The Sun Vanished, produced by filmmaker Adam Elliott, it would soon gain widespread popularity due to its frighteningly complex and intriguing storyline, bypassing the long wait for discovery altogether.

The Sun Vanished was created in 2018 and utilized Twitter as the primary storytelling platform. Here, the main protagonist, named TSV after the @TheSunVanished account handle, woke up one day to realize that all the stars in the sky had disappeared, casting the world into eternal darkness. Like everyone who wants to make sense of the unusual, TSV went onto Twitter to document his experience with the sudden disappearance of the sun. But, as the days go by, the sun doesn’t return. The world becomes less hospitable as flashing red lights begin to trail people walking outside, and the temperatures begin to plummet. Soon, we realize that there is something more ominous at hand.

What makes ultimately The Sun Vanished an ARG is the interactions that people are able to have with the characters of the story. By responding to TSV and his friends’ posts, advising them on next steps to take, or informing them of outside observations, people are able to guide the characters through the unfolding events as if they were also living in the same world themselves: it’s as if reality and fiction have become one and the same.

TSV responds to the concerns of other users

Ultimately, the ability to watch the narrative of The Sun Vanished unfold in real-time is a captivating experience that no other conventional storytelling medium can replicate without much difficulty. And it’s position as a creative project on Twitter challenges our very perception of what social media platforms can and should be used for, expanding our toolkits as creators in an increasingly digital world. As a result, I want to recommend that we all look into The Sun Vanished and other popular ARGs to understand how they’re able to cultivate high amounts of audience engagement through their compelling stories and transmedia narratives.

Experience The Sun Vanished: HERE

Round green shapes of varying sizes glow against the black background. The text reads, "Immersive."

Immersive #5: Hades

Even though many centuries have passed since the decline of Ancient Greece and Rome, the mythology of the time still exerts a significant influence on present day works ranging from classic books to popular films. As such, it is to no surprise when the “forbidden romance” between Hades and Persephone or even the struggles of Sisyphus appear in our daily conversations and in the media that we consume. But while these mythic figures and legends are often spun into fresh new stories that adopt different perspectives, these adaptations often fall into the trap of generalizing their allusions, lacking the nuance and depth that the original stories hold.

As a result, it’s not often that we witness retellings of myths that spotlight lesser-known stories or figures, which is often a result of the lack of substance or conflicting narratives surrounding these tales. But, in the rare occasions that these neglected narratives are brought to light, our understanding of the mythology shifts for the better, a change particularly witnessed after the release of Supergiant Games’ Hades, a roguelike action role-playing game.

In Hades, players follow the story of Zagreus, a son of Hades who attempts to escape the Underworld by defeating enemies and bosses, all of whom originate from Greek mythology as well. And through playing as Zagreus, each player is able to interact with the various personalities of the gods, goddesses, heroes, and monsters through the branching narrative structure of the game, which customizes the dialogue of non-playable characters to the actions of the player, resulting in a personalized gameplay experience.

Achilles responds to Zagreus talking about Zagreus' love of history.
A Conversation with Achilles

It is through this ambitious branching narration style that allows for every character, familiar and unfamiliar, to be introduced to the player as if for the first time. Here, players are able to converse with Achilles, a mentor figure who slowly opens up about his relationship and separation from Patroclus, fight against Megaera, a potential love interest who is forced to battle Zagreus on behalf of Hades’ orders, and even barter with Chaos, a patron who offers various “power-ups” throughout the game, among many other storylines written for the player to gradually uncover over time.

Overall, the rich variety that Hades offers the player in terms of a unique experience with the Greek mythos is something to truly commend. It’s ability to balance the different stories of each character in a manner that closely resembles a charmingly dysfunctional family dynamic presents a fresh take on its mythological content that allows for players to endlessly replay the game without ever encountering the same narrative plot twice. Thus, it is because of this masterful adaptation that I must commend Hades for crafting an increasingly nuanced experience that goes beyond our present understanding of Greek mythology and its presentation in popular culture.

Experience Hades: HERE