VR STORYTELLING: AGENCY SANS APPARENT LOGIC (A.S.A.L.)


Suggestion of a new terminology to explain conditional storytelling and/or game agency, when making interactive, immersive content.
 

I have been discussing VR and AR with a number of friends and colleagues, from the corporate rooms of Silicon Valley, to spaces at Stanford, and whilst mingling at various Meetups. We have all posited examples, challenges, and even solutions for “it,” but there is no widely accepted term in use to facilitate its discussion. While I will limit my discussion to VR, the term can easily apply to AR and other types of interactive content, now known and to be invented.

For the language of interactive experiences, I proffer the acronym:
A.S.A.L. = Agency Sans Apparent Logic.

What does this mean? Let us define the terms:

- A: Agency (paraphrasing Joey Gibson, GamaSutra): is the user/player’s ability to
  impact the story through game design or gameplay, and/or their ability to interact
  meaningfully with the game world
- S: Sans: without
- A: Apparent: clearly visible or understood; obvious; seeming real or true, but not
  necessarily so
- L: Logic (including both terms, since they apply): reasoning conducted or assessed
   according to strict principles of validity; a system of set principles underlying the
   arrangements of elements in a computer or electronic device so as to perform a
   specified task

A.S.A.L. can be described thusly: the ability to impact story and/or interact meaningfully, without obvious, clearly visible, nor understood logic.

Life, when experienced sans technology, doesn’t have a flying menu/UI materialize into one’s field of vision when presented with a decision, nor does it pause nor loop. One may not be aware of all the choices open to them, let alone offered a time-out to weigh the pros and cons.

Image from: Magic Leap (A New Morning)

Instead, we typically make a number of split-second decisions in any given day, consciously or not, with the information at hand, and bear the consequences. A truly immersive VR experience should be just like that, but up until now, most have not been designed that way.

Think of "hiding" agency as something interwoven with the narrative. The simplest, is "forcing" the user to ''choose' their own adventure,'' kind of like this:

Image from: The Matrix (1999)

It’s arguable, that as technology evolves, people will expect, or at least be used to, floating menus/UI appearing in their field of vision. Even if that does come to pass, not everyone will want, need, nor elect to open up their lives to that much external interference.

VR should “feel” real, hence its namesake. Why undermine billions of dollars, plus decades of technical and psychological research and development, by inserting that which breaks the experience?

The answer to that boils down to budget, and currently, some technical limitations. The latter issues are understood, and for which there do exist solutions, albeit not yet widely available nor implemented. I will aim to cover some of those considerations in a future post.

What do you think of A.S.A.L. as an acronym for VR storytelling? Let me know your thoughts, and share any links below in the comments.

P.S. Many have discussed this same thing, so if this article happens to fall under the distinction of multiple discovery/simultaneous invention, I would not be surprised; be kind.