Experiential storytelling in Virtual Reality with Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven
We love stories. It’s social, it’s cultural – a way to celebrates the wisdom, challenges, and diversity of the human experience. For centuries, written words are the primary delivery system of stories; if we want to be carried away into a different time and space, all we need to do is pick up a book.
In the past two decades, written words escaped the printed pages and entered the screens of our computer and devices, storytelling has become a multimedia expression; it’s no longer just the text, we are served with images, videos, and audio clips that further power our imagination.
We love to explore possibilities. Storytelling went from oral, to the printed, onto the stage, and into moving pictures. How many more ways can we tell a story?
The current virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technology offers the possibility of yet another dimension of narrative immersion; a much more intimate way to share stories. As “readers”, we are still decoding symbols and constructing meanings, but it is no longer via the alphabets or logograms alone. There has been a lot of discussions surrounding what we can do with virtual reality technology, and why. Simulation is a predominant focus – when it comes to entertainment, usually we hear it in the context of gaming or as an extension of a cinematic experience.
What about literature?
How might we utilize virtual reality technology to expand the linear structure of storytelling while creating an experience that inspires the user to form a contemplative relationship with the contents?
Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven has been one the most well-known poem since its first publication in the New York Evening Mirror on January 29, 1845. Its mass appeal might be understood, according to Poet Laureate Dana Gioia, by isolating four key elements: its compelling narrative structure, darkly evocative atmosphere, hypnotic verbal music, and archetypal symbolism. Poe himself even published a detailed (if also often unconvincing) account of the poem’s genesis The Philosophy of Composition in April 1846. Thus, on a textual level, The Raven already has a rich potential for reader analysis and exploration.
Neil Gaiman once wrote that there are secrets to appreciating Poe, and one of the most important is to read him aloud. The way the syllables bounce and roll and drive and repeat - it is beautiful even if one doesn’t speak English. Much of Poe’s best work is concerned with terror and sadness, but it also implies a host of meanings without offering any resolution. Is The Raven about the certainty of death? Or enduring life knowing the unattainable? Is the narrator haunted by a love forever lost? Or the eternal unspoken darkness lurking in the shadow?
Unbroken Shadow aims to explore these tensions through visual poetry, verbal music, and surreal landscape expressing The Raven’s dark atmosphere and narrator’s state of mind. The goal of Unbroken Shadow is to encourage the user to think differently about literary contents and to inspire the contemplative relationship that often happens in readerly experiences.
Read more about the project in my design process book ↓↓↓