This Is Your Country Too
By Strictly Immersive
This Is Your Country Too, led by Avin Shah of Strictly Immersive, was funded by Arts Council England in 2020. The project manifests as a 3D storyboard published on Mozilla Hubs and is an immersive adaptation of the BBC radio play of the same name. In innovation terms, the project asks: How do we write more diverse VR gaming experiences with more dramatic storytelling? The project is a push for a different collaborative model of immersive storytelling, one where VR designers, writers and theatre actors all come together inside a virtual 3D space and co-design a dramatic storytelling experience from the beginning. This is how the immersive sector can more consistently produce VR stories with the kind emotional depth and dramatic complexity that audiences demand, and in turn how the immersive sector at large can broaden the audience for VR beyond gamers and early adopters.
As part of the project, the team conducted five Zoom theatre-oriented workshops (with three actors plus a theatre director). The major theme which was identified and explored was around the meaning of identity and its different manifestations. These workshops then informed the VR storyboard design.
Thematically, This Is Your Country Too uses comedy to ask the following narrative question: What happens when your citizenship status is downgraded, simply due to being non-white? This perception of migrant and indigenous descendants as second-class citizens has been largely unchallenged by popular culture, ultimately stripping our artistic output of diversity. This story explores characters who are under-represented in traditional drama and rare in game/immersive content. At the project's core is the migrant and indigenous ‘origin’ experience, itself so universal within our post-colonial society.
Aim: To help raise awareness for This Is Your Country Too (TIYCT) amongst immersive and theatre creatives, and inspire both immersive and theatre creators to better serve future audiences by producing more diverse VR stories with greater depth.
Promotional strategy: Our promotion is structured around the communication of a number of key insights or learnings from the project, including what the project’s methodology has revealed about what having VR developers and theatre writers/actors scripting an immersive story together in a 3D space. Some parts of the promotion are aimed at VR developers, revealing insights from their perspective; other parts are aimed at theatre practitioners and stem from this perspective. The mechanics of 3D storyboard are used as a way of visualising and narrativising these insights, showcasing the creative process via story.
Messaging: The central messaging feeds into the cross-industry audience’s innate love for their own creative practice, specifically that desire to be better at what they do, to tell better stories, and to harness their medium more imaginatively. Thus when speaking to the theatre sector, our promotion aims to showcase visually how VR can richly enhance the way that theatre can tell stories, and when speaking to the VR developers, we showcase how theatre writers and actors can enhance the way that they tell stories, too. On another level, this is about conveying that there is a sizeable audience not currently being served by much of today’s VR content: these audiences are what Oculus has previously categorised as 'Story Seekers' and 'Participant Parents', who together are said to comprise 33% of the VR market, and whom are looking for more high-quality, story-driven VR gaming experiences in order to become true adopters and evangelists of this emerging medium.
All of the below content was devised and produced collaboratively by Matthew Freeman and Avin Shah.
The promotional content took the form of a behind-the-scenes story for the making of the 3D storyboard for This Is Your Country Too. In effect, the content becomes a means of showcasing the project's methodology of having theatre actors and VR developers co-write immersive stories together in a 3D virtual space, highlighting the value of this methodology in terms of producing better VR stories with more emotional depth, diversity and complexity.
To begin with, fist we produced set of animated GIFs, published on the Strictly Immersive website. The GIFs are aimed at either theatre creators/actors or immersive creators, and use the mechanics from the 3D storyboard for TIYCT to form engaging visual metaphors to communicate key insights about the project’s method. A worlds-within-worlds aesthetic is adopted throughout: visually, this communicates the magic of converging theatre with VR storytelling. The GIFs serve as visually interesting gateways that leads users into a series of short videos.
When each of the above GIFs are clicked on, users are led to a series of 60-90-second videos on YouTube that offer a story-driven tour of the TIYCT 3D storyboard, using its mechanics to visualise and narrativise project insights. These insights concern the project’s cross-disciplinary methodology that other practitioners can apply to their own work.
Some videos are aimed at VR developers, while others are aimed at theatre writers and actors. Part 1, 'A World Through New Eyes', is aimed at both theatre writers/actors and VR developers, and introduces you to Av the avatar. Part 2, 'Writing VR With Actors', is aimed at theatre writers and actors interested in digital innovation, and centres on the concept of how to transform traditional story into modes of 3D interactivity. Part 3, 'Writing Plays That You Play', is aimed at VR developers interested in new forms of immersive storytelling, and centres on the concept of how to transform 3D interactivity into traditional story. Part 4, finally, 'We'll See You In Virtual Reality', is aimed at both theatre writers/actors and VR developers, but centres on the question of audience and the identity of the VR market.