Playgrounds Festival 2015 – Immersive Storytelling

by Maurice Vinken /

by Maurice Vinken /

With the rise of new digital technology that allows the user to experience stories in a new immersive way, an insight into current practices is really useful to define the current status of storytelling. On the 3rd of November, before the grand opening of the Playgrounds Festival, five different creative minds gave their personal insight on immersive storytelling.

The first speaker was Joris Weijdom, one of the initiators of the Media & Performance Laboratory (MAPLAB) at the HKU in Utrecht. He started his talk with a simple question: which aspects of immersive technologies such as the Oculus Rift are new? The answer, he explained, can be summed up in three main points: 1. dynamic frames, which allows the user to change his or her point of view; 2. user interaction; 3. an embodied experience.

This new technology is being used for different kinds of media content. One example is the music video ‘What do we care 4’ by Steye and the Bizonkid, in which a lot of things can be seen happening at the same time, depending on the viewer’s point of view.

Another project Joris mentions is ‘The Machine to be Another’, an investigation into the relationship between identity and empathy, giving users the possibility to be immersed in another person’s body, changing gender and/or age. Other examples, mostly related to the gaming field, are ‘SightLine: The Chair’, a game that changes while playing, and ‘The Void’, a virtual reality theme park. In ‘The Void’ people can play games from a first person perspective, using the Oculus Rift combined with vests and gloves that create a tactile experience. Thanks to virtual reality technologies, we are able to involve not only vision, but all of our senses when we tell a story.

by Maurice Vinken /

by Maurice Vinken /

The second speaker of the afternoon was Yaniv Wolf, one of the producers at Submarine Channel. He presented one of the company’s latest projects of the company: ‘Refugee Republic’, an interactive documentary about life in a Syrian refugee camp in Northern Iraq. The online platform lets users visit the camp through an interactive map by illustrator Jan Rothuizen, enriched by audiovisual content about the daily life of its inhabitants. This project is a very interesting example of cleverly combining different visual languages to tell a story.

Next up, the duo Sense of Smell presented one of their projects called ‘Famous Deaths’. Sense of Smell are Marcel van Brakel and Frederik Duerinck, from Avans’ Communication and Multimedia Design Breda. While the previous talks were mostly about audiovisual experiences, in this one a more underrated sense took center stage: smell. The concept at the basis of the project is the duo’s shared obsession for death. That’s why their project enables the user to experience the deaths of Lady Diana or J.F. Kennedy, by entering a copy of a morgue locker. While in there, the user is treated to a combination of different scents and sounds, related to these famous deaths.

by Maurice Vinken /

by Maurice Vinken /

The other guests of the afternoon are Marshmallow Laser Feast from London, talking about their VR project ‘In the Eyes of the Animals’, and PIPS:Lab, who tell about their experiences as live performers and the experimental approach to technology they use in their work.

The various speakers this afternoon showed that immersive storytelling is very much a hot item with a broad scope of possibilities. But they also reminded us that not all aspects of these new technologies are really new, and that instead of getting too carried away by these technological gadgets, we need to keep in mind which stories are worth telling.


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