Updated: Nov 17
Imagine for a moment that you're seated in a dark room wearing an advanced virtual reality headset. In the blink of an eye, you're instantly transported to the year 2100. The bright lights of a futuristic metropolis overwhelm your senses. You can feel the gentle evening breeze, even though you're physically in your armchair in the living room. This isn't just a story passing through your mind. You're experiencing an immersive visual narrative in a desirable future.
Fortunately, scholars in the field of Futures Studies are recognizing that the exploration and portrayal of futures can become more effective and creative when presented in a visually engaging, and interactive manner. Thus, the area of Immersive Futures is born.
Now, instead of enduring tedious conferences or reading academic articles, you can explore a distant future while relaxing in your own home, visiting a museum, or savoring a drink on a rooftop. It's as if MGM production, Amy Webb[i]'s vision, and ILM Immersive[ii]'s technology came together to provide an experience that transports you to another planet. After all, who wouldn't want to plan and experience some future scenarios on Mars through an immersive narrative?
One of the most innovative VR projects led by the Technicolor Experience Center (TEC) is Mars Home Planet, led by TEC partners HP and NVIDIA. Based on real NASA research and images of the surface of Mars, the VR experience presents a viable colony that has undergone urban planning and includes structures and transportation to support one million Martian citizens.
Photo from TEC partners HP and NVIDIA.
In recent years, the use of these narratives in Future Studies has gained momentum, offering an innovative perspective on how we conceive, analyze, and communicate futures. In this blog, we delve into this topic in two sections: (i) immersive futures: opportunities and challenges; (ii) a 10-step guide to developing immersive futures projects.
IMMERSIVE FUTURES: OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
Immersive narratives are constructed through advanced technologies, such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), which provide a complete sensory experience, immersing the viewer in a completely new environment.
By applying this technology to projects about the futures we can create engaging and highly impactful experiences, allowing people to vividly experience projected tomorrows. Instead of reading impersonal reports or analyses, people can "step into" the future, feeling, seeing, and experiencing the anticipated changes.
Empathy and engagement are two attributes strengthened by this type of language. When people see themselves directly inserted into future contexts, they become more committed to taking actions to shape the future in a positive way. Moreover, these strategies are effective in communicating complex issues, enhancing future literacy for people from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
TeamLab Future Park is an educational project based on the concept of collaborative creation (co-creation). It's an amusement park where people can freely create the world. In this installation, you see the C Future City initiative.
Photo from teamLab.
For decision-makers, these technologies allow for the simulation of different courses of action, enabling a deeper and more personal understanding of future scenarios. Participants can experience the consequences of decisions and future events, leading to more sophisticated reflections on their implications.
However, the use of these narratives in Futures Studies poses challenges. We are talking about an expensive technology, which can limit access to these experiences and create inequalities in its democratization.
The scripts for immersive projects also need to be carefully crafted to ensure their validity, combining solid methodological approaches from Futures Studies with reliable data to prevent them from becoming mere fiction.
Furthermore, immersive narratives can be used in ways that manipulate or distort the perception of reality, highlighting the need for ethical use of technology by those involved in projects of this nature.
10 STEPS TO DEVELOP AN IMMERSIVE FUTURES PROJECT
Producing immersive projects in Futures Studies is not a trivial exercise, as we are converging complex disciplines. The following steps provide a starting point for you to begin your work in the field of Immersive Futures.
I. Define your Objective and Scope
Establish the purpose of your Immersive Futures project. What do you aim to achieve? What questions do you want to explore? What time horizon and locality do you wish to investigate?
II. Assemble a Multidisciplinary Team
Form a diversified team to collaborate on the project, including futurists, graphic designers, visual artists, storytellers, scriptwriters, filmmakers, and producers.
III. Choose and Apply a Solid Methodological Approach
Define a method or framework from Futures Studies to ground and give credibility to your project. The choice of method may be influenced by the nature of the immersive content you wish to create.
IV. Define a Visual Language and Aesthetic
Conduct a consistent visual analysis and select aesthetic references for your project. What artistic movements inspire you? Do you wish to use documentary images or fictional content? Do you plan to develop games or movies?
V. Structure the Futures
Create futures that represent various possible paths. Each future scenario should be accompanied by a detailed narrative that describes it meticulously.
VI. Determine the Experience Design
Choose the immersive visual narrative technology most suitable for your target audience, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, or 360-degree interactive videos.
VII. Develop Creative Content
Create engaging and creative content for your immersive visual narratives, including constructing characters, stories, and detailed contexts that exemplify the futures you are exploring. Ensure the storyline is captivating and relevant to the audience.
VIII. Test and Refine
Before releasing your narratives to the public, conduct tests to ensure the experience is smooth and effective. Seek feedback from other futurists and media professionals, and adjust the content as needed.
IX. Communicate and Engage
Now it's time to share your immersive futures with people. Use social media platforms, websites, presentations, and events to reach your target audience. Promote omnichannel engagement and discussion around the futures you present.
X. Assess the Impact
After the release of the immersive narratives, evaluate the impact of your project. This includes measuring audience engagement, understanding the messages, and effectiveness in inspiring future actions.
Photo from Team Lab.
Remember that futurists must experiment with new technologies, and immersive visual narratives can revolutionize the way you explore and communicate futures. Therefore, challenge yourself and start exploring futures with a new immersive perspective!
[i] Amy Webb is founder, and CEO of the Future Today Institute (FTI) in USA. [ii] ILM Immersive is an award-winning storytelling studio, pioneering an interactive entertainment in virtual and mixed reality.
Bailenson, J. N. (2018). Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Dooley, K. & Dowdey, L. (2021). Immersive Storytelling in Design: A Guide to Creating User-Centered Experiences. New York: Routledge.
Manovich, L. (2001). The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Milk, C. (2019). The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
TeamLab (2023). Future Park. Venue | teamLab Learn and Play! Future Park.