Immersive storytelling arises from decades of research in virtual reality (VR) and describes fiction and fact-based digital stories designed to provide to the audiences a first-person, interactive experience inside virtual environments (VE). Recently, news organizations and documentary production houses have used it to cover a wide range of topics, including environmental and scientific issues, children refugee crisis and nuclear disasters. There is also plenty of fictional projects to explore.

Immersive storytelling it is currently a viable proposition due to the decreasing acquisition costs of 3D computer-generated graphics software, web-based video game engines, 360° video cameras and head mounted displays devices. You’ve probably heard about Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Playstation VR. Through immersive media we can gain first person experiences of events or situations, developing a sense of presence and the associated thoughts, feelings and emotions. We are now able to role-play and be immersed in the story in an active way – and not just in the “couch potato” mode.

VR has been suggested as the “ultimate empathy machine”, connecting humans within a native experiential medium, based on its capacity to simulate physical presence in a way that can change people’s perception of each other.  The central motivation for the use of VR technologies and game design strategies in journalism and science communication, for instance, is to allow the people-formerly-known-as-the-audience to acquire a sense of presence and of embodied activity: news can become lived experiences rather than unidirectional reports and users can be taken to explore faraway realities and experience “the Other” points of view.

Storytelling-based videogames are particularly suitable at generating user engagement and immersive experiences that can produce feelings of relatedness and belonging to the facts, people and locations depicted. Docu-games have also been depicted as offering experiences of newsworthy events, rather than descriptions.

FLOW is iNOVA Media Lab applied-research group dedicated to the study and creation of immersive and interactive storytelling. We address media as a lived cognitive and affective experience. The focus goes to digital narrative design, audience engagement and content performance, exploring the intersections of filmmaking and computer science. We aim at engaging focused story worlds, exploring 360 videography and sound design in virtual and gamified environments. Stay tuned!