Low-Fi Youtube Vlogs Vs. Emerging Technologies
Prior to ITP, I worked in a social media agency as an art director / producer for a few years. I often worked with content creators (read: Influencers on Instagram & Youtubers) to create advertising campaigns and video content.
While traditional media like broadcast TV or radio look down on these online media content creators (mainly due to "low" production value), the truth is the media diet of Millennials and Gen Z typically only consist of these media – and it's not going to change anytime soon.
So when we compare low-fi & self-produced videos to fancy VR experiences, we all can agree that Youtube had risen to ubiquity while VR has yet to do so. But why?
One industry to look at is the gaming industry, often regarded as the forefront of adaptation of emergent technologies (alongside the military and porn industry). This industry is interesting because (a) gamers are financially able to afford a VR headset, (b) gamers are more likely to be an early technology adapter, and (c) high-production-value games prize the quality and the immersion of their graphics. Theoretically, VR is the dream technology.
Perhaps this is a lack of research in my part, but none of the AAA (highest production and promotion budget) and the best performing games are mainly built in VR (maybe as a side feature). Mostly, a well-received game relies on engrossing the player into the persona of the protagonist – even if the world is free-roam or the narrative sequence is non-linear.
To (loosely) quote this Wired Youtube video of a VR expert explaining Realism in VR, there is value in low-resolution Youtube videos that is more compelling than the 'immersiveness' that VR technologies afforded. And perhaps this compelling quality is inherently tied to the characters that people see in these more traditional media – be it a real personality (Youtube vloggers) or a fictional one.
Until we could convincingly incorporate personalities into these emergent storytelling technologies, these fancy experiences would not reach ubiquity. But how can we anchor the experience that is afforded by VR / AR / other emergent technologies around personalities?
Fandom & Suspending-the-Disbelief
One interesting example of an open-source personality is Hatsune Miku. It is a personality-infused vocaloid – a program that could sing whatever the user "asks" her to. Miku had amassed a massive fandom and "she" even "performed" (via hologram) on concerts.
So Miku has no "official" song nor music video, and the community of fans create their own iterations Miku production. Miku is definitely medium-agnostic, coexisting in physical spaces (figurines), mp3 files, Youtube videos, and as hologram in concerts. She most probably exists in a VR app too.
I imagine a Miku VR experience would not be about having the user be Miku, but what the user could do with / to Miku. While it is very easy to go into a sexually charged space here, a more useful analogy would be to imagine the user as Miku's producer.
Personally, I find forcing a user into the shoes of the protagonist (first person view in VR) is less convincing than having the user see the protagonist from a 3rd-person / god view. The suspension-of-disbelief is easier to maintain when the story is not centered around oneself nor one's senses, but a character that we could project onto. The experience can still be first-person, but guided and is "sold" by apparatuses / characters that are not the user themselves.
Social-Media Enabled "Cinema"?
In my first post I wrote about "social" cinema, referring to how I consume content through social feeds and recommendations and not through a search bar. And that investigating the feed would perhaps provide storyteller a less duration-constrained approach to construct narratives.
I would argue why Youtube is so successful is because their content is interlinked to each other, and my consciousness just streams from one video to another. The relation between these videos might be topical, might be personality-motivated, but it might not be logically-related at all. The stream is almost feral and subconscious.
I imagine a VR experience like so:
I am in a story about Miku performing in a concert. She sings a song about high-school love. My mind wanders to my own high-school experience, and I want to switch "world" / experience to a high-school related story. I say "switch to high-school".
Miku's world pauses, and I get to "scroll" through different VR stories that comes with what would be equivalent to VR clickbait. I choose one, and the high-school story starts.
The first scene is in the school's pantry. I immediately look at a hotdog. I think of how hungry I am and now I just want to see hotdog VR content. I switch over to that.
The key here is that (1) my mind is prompted (either by the topic high school or the sight of a hotdog) and (2) the medium accommodates my disjointed streams of thoughts. I imagine the prompts could be personalized to a specific user's psyche (e.g. the hotdog gets replaced by sushi because I like sushi better), just like how Youtube/Spotify is already doing with their recommendations playlist.
The key shortcoming in emergent technologies is – in my opinion – maintaining the suspension-of-disbelief. Anchoring the narratives/experiences around a compelling character might be a solution.
Consumption behavior has been changed because of the existing media platforms, and consuming narratives have become time-agnostic and more subconscious, and less about a single content and more about the narrative we build ourselves based on our cumulative content-consumption. Therefore, in building the infrastructure around emergent technologies, we should also consider how a user can move easily from one content to another.