A New Narrative

By Shaquille Joy 

Now more than ever, the way we engage and share stories starts to change. The wish for virtual and digital spaces becomes bigger, especially for communities that need safe spaces to share their experiences or just come together. 

For some people, the most exciting stories revolve around something they can see themselves in. Others prefer a storyline that, in unrealistic ways, completely differs from life as we know it. Throughout the past couple of years, a market that has been significantly growing is the immersive media sector. This segment of the storytelling market relies on two technologies which are virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). VR was invented in the 1950s, and the term virtual reality was popularised in the 1980s. While AR works with what is already there and transforms it through glasses that change reality, VR creates a completely new world that can be experienced as a virtual reality. The VR industry as a whole is growing at a fast pace. According to Statista, the global VR market size is projected to increase from less than five billion U.S. dollars in 2021 to more than 12 billion U.S. dollars by 2024. 

When looking at how much time we spend in the same environment during this pandemic, technologies that allow us to recreate realities, make sense. Besides the need to consume movies, documentaries and digital art spaces grow as there are way fewer opportunities to visit live performances, movie theatres or exhibitions. At this point, we don’t all have our virtual or augmented reality goggles at home to escape for a while, but the way we engage with stories definitely changes. 

Perceiving tales differently

The 24-year-old Tailo Neri just finished a VR specialisation semester within his fashion study and currently combines his professional background with digital work in the project ‘Stop Making Tiny Shoes’. The project is an exploration of digital works reflecting and emphasising the difficulty of the feminine shoe selection for queer individuals. Those who are limited by their assigned physical gender, thus being excluded from the consumer group altogether. The project features 3D animations showcasing various shoe styles which cannot be found in bigger sizes. Additionally, it will also feature a filter version of the project in which you can try these shoes out. Tailo explains that the beautiful thing about immersive media is that you are able to dictate a space regardless of what reality allows you to do. This can be especially interesting when thinking of experiences and environments for marginalised groups of people. 

These digital and virtual tools can create spaces and environments that often don’t get the platform they should or don’t even exist in real life. That is why Tailo mentions that it is important to make immersive media more accessible to various communities to prevent it from becoming exclusive. “It is very interesting to see what people with a more diverse background create within immersive media in comparison to when you google VR,” he explains.

A good example of this is the film production company, Ado Ato Pictures, which focuses on immersive media and animation. Founder and Creative Director Tamra Shogaolu says: “I think that it’s good to have communities of colour engage with the content and see themselves represented in the stories that are being shared.” Tamara believes that immersive media is the future of storytelling. Therefore, she does not only want the content to reflect the stories of people with various backgrounds, but also wants them to be involved in the creation of this content. One of Tamara’s projects called ‘Queer in a Time of Forced Migration’ is currently exhibited at the Amsterdam Museum. The animated transmedia series follows the stories of LGBTQ refugees from Egypt, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia across continents and cultures, from the 2011 revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa region, to the world today.

Another good example is ‘Celestial Space’ launched by Stephanie Afrifa earlier this year in March. This is an online space with a special virtual experience for black women. Celestial Space can be found in the virtual ‘Nite Hotel’: a digital environment where multiple cultural events take place intending to still be able to provide people in times of pandemic with a special theatre experience. In the Nite Hotel, you will find various rooms and places, each with its own cultural interpretation and atmosphere. 

It is safe to say that throughout the pandemic we all started engaging with digital and virtual spaces and tools more than ever before. For some communities, this new way of storytelling and engaging with content can be a very healing experience that will hopefully become more and more accessible for everyone.