Frank Rose Engages With Virtual Reality

Question: What’s your take on Second Life?

Frank Rose: There are a couple of problems with Second Life. One is that the graphics are incredibly crude—and it just doesn’t work very well—but the other problem with Second Life is that, essentially, there are no rules, there are no goals, you know, it’s not a game. Games are a structured experience, you know, where we’re given rules to follow and goals to achieve and that’s what makes them so compelling—whether it’s World of Warcraft or chess. And Second Life doesn’t have those. And virtual reality, I’m not really sure where that’s going to go but it certainly at the moment doesn’t have the kind of appeal—it hasn’t seized the imagination the way it did a few years ago.

What is happening though is that by turning entertainment properties—by turning stories into kind of participatory experience—they began to become like games themselves. The thing about a game—video games especially—is that you’re the protagonist. You become the character that everything is happening to. It really thrusts you into the middle of this world and, you totally engage with it. So, I think, that’s one of the places where things like these are going. There’ve been several different experiments, ways of trying to figure out how to take advantage of this. One is alternate reality games, which tend to be very long drawn-out experiences that engage people in any number of levels—from casual involvement, people who just go to a website and look at what’s happening, to the very, very active who sort of apply their minds to resolving the whole series of riddles and puzzles and so forth.

But these games tend to take place over many months and they’re not really workable; you know, once it’s over, it’s over. What other people are starting to experiment with now is experiences that last more like ten minutes, fifteen minutes and that happen to you when you set something in motion. For example, you go to a website for a movie and you enter your phone number and a few minutes later your phone rings and, perhaps, you’re thrust into the middle…of a situation that has to like has to do with the throwaway that you’re dealing with. So, I don’t think these things have been perfected either, but it’s a very intriguing way of looking at entertainment.

Question: Who is effectively adapting traditional narratives for the user experience?

Frank Rose: Well, one very interesting manifestation certainly is what Anthony Zuiker is doing. This is the guy who created the CSI Series. He’s single-handedly made forensics a major subject of study in American Universities, and he’s essentially moving on from that and creating a whole different series of entertainment properties that really engage people on a number of different levels. The first one—which is going to be introduced at that Comic-Con in San Diego this July, and which will be available for sale starting, I believe, September 8—is a series of novels, thrillers, that incorporate not only text, but videos that you can watch on the web or which you can, on your iPhone, or your itouch, do the whole thing. You can read it and then watch the video and go back to reading again. This points out to a whole new way of experiencing novels say, you know, it’s constructed so that you don’t have to watch the video if you don’t want to, or if it’s not available to you wherever you happen to be at the moment—but, if you do, it gives you a little something extra. It gives you a kind of a deeper understanding of what’s happening and, frankly given that this is a thriller about a serial killer, a pretty scary understanding of what’s happening or what could be happening. And, there’s also going to be a website involved, of course, which will enable people to talk to each other about it, sort of communicate online—participate in the whole thing in one level or another and it’s…, again it’s a bit of an experiment, but it’s a very bold and interesting experiment and I think this is clearly someone showing himself to be a master story teller and we’ll see where he takes us.

Question: How can news media enrich the user interface?

Frank Rose: Newspapers are rapidly evolving, if they’re going to be successful at least, into websites that incorporate all kinds of different media and that incorporate the reader as well in the whole experience. Obviously, if you’re going to some website to learn about some news development, what you really want is, not just to be able to read the text about it—although you certainly want that—but you also want to be able to watch video about whatever it is that’s happening. You want to have maps, sort of flash interactive experiences that take you into the story and give you a deeper understanding of it. And, you want, and expect, to be able to express your opinion about it—there on the site—to communicate with other people about it. Really, the news is, I think, fast becoming a group experience. It’s no longer something that you sit there in isolation at your kitchen table reading the newspaper in the morning.

Question: Is the passive user experience over?

Frank Rose: We already live in a tension economy essentially…where the real scarcity is attention. You know, it’s getting the attention of people’s minds, and I think that’s only going to become more so. What’s happening with this kind of depth of experience, that internet storytelling offers, is that some people will be sucked deeper and deeper, so to speak, into particular stories, and obviously ignore other ones entirely. And I think that goes for any kind of story, whether it’s a science fiction, say entertainment; whether it’s a marketing method where a company like Nike, for example, or Coke get to sort of suck you into some game-like experience; whether it’s the news. And I think one clear ramification of this is that we’re just becoming more and more connected. I mean the internet obviously is connecting us any way but this gives us things to connect onto and an opportunity to go from reading about something or watching something, to acting on it with other people as well.

Recorded on: May 21, 2009

Media today thrusts users into multiple levels of active experience.

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