How often do you see yourself as the leading man or woman in your head? Whether it’s your heroic handling of an incident at work, or a sex fantasy with a stranger on the bus whose look might have held yours a second longer than usual. How often do you project yourself into a movie of… well, a fantasy life? The answer for most of us is – all the time. Short of being a Sufi on the rock in lower Andes, we are a selfish lot and our thoughts revolve around us as the star in our version of the story of the world.
Obvious? Yes? Then why does most media not position us, the person who wants to be the star, as the lead character? Clearly, on a mass scale, the issues are of production and technology. Theatre, books, TV and films have dabbled in the art of trying to place the audience centre stage, but the authenticity of that relies upon genuine feedback. If we cannot affect or interact with the story, mostly it has been a tepid, shallow and ultimately fake attempt. Immersive Media changes that. It is about positioning the audience as the lead character – and it is shifting the very nature of storytelling.
THE AUDIENCE as LEAD CHARACTER
Audience expectations have moved drastically in the past decades as the power of storytelling has shifted more and more into their hands. Think back to a movie some thirty or forty years ago – audiences were asked to throw their hopes and dreams onto the lead characters. They had to relate to the story through identification with the screen stars.
With the advent of reality TV audiences were able to vote for their favourite star – actually playing a role in the creation of their story and path. The audience were no longer voyeurs but active participants! (I am focussing on the explosion of the formats like Big Brother, Idols and Survivor in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, as the genre arguably started in 1948 with Candid Camera). The audience expected to have their say, and make it count – the UK saw statistics of more young voters for reality shows than for government, you can see here.
This was clearly a game changer.
Of course digital gaming had been on the rise since the 80’s, and it simply went stratospheric with the advent of gaming consoles from PlayStation, Sony and Wii. In 2005 we saw the advent of YouTube, which welcomed in a generation with the ability to broadcast itself to the world. These platforms were intent on putting you as the lead character in the engagement, making you the star. Now, ask yourself why the gaming industry is twice the size of the Hollywood machine? People want to be the lead characters in the media they consume, and by placing them in the driving lane, giving them their 15 minutes (and oh so much more!) there is a generation who expect to be the Idol, not just watch!
So a clear principle in making media genuinely immersive is to place the audience into a lead role in the narrative.
Alternative Reality Games go even further – with their mandate being not just to place the players as leads, but allow them to actually shape the story. They become co-authors of the world itself. There is a reason why The Beast and Why so Serious? had online traffic in the hundreds of millions – they answered to the truly democratic power of the audience.
When an audience is the lead character, the nature of play is dramatically shifted, the interaction moves to a completely two way model.
So what’s next? Films and TV shows where we as audience drive the action, and the actors are playing support roles to our lead. This is the reason why Virtual Reality is seen as the potential Holy Grail “next big thing”. Whoever allows the narrative to be experienced in a first person context – that puts YOU in the centre of the action – will define the way we consume media for decades to come.
We are watching the shift away from Andy Warhol’s “15 minutes” to the underlying belief that we deserve a whole lot more bandwidth than that. So let me leave you with a video that I think is worth considering. The porn industry is known to lead when it comes to technology, just what does it mean when you really do become the star of the show? Enjoy.
Brett Lotriet Best is the Creative Director for EdenRage Media, check out their Immersive Media work at www.edenrage.tv. Go on, take a bite!