Stepping into Virtual Reality
I decided that in order to help me collect all of my research and notes on my Thesis project in one place that I would take a leaf out of my undergraduate experience and create a Thesis blog! If you are here, I will assume that you probably found out about this site through my affiliation with University of Connecticut, as the project "Here There Be Bears" plans to be the culmination of my Master of Fine Art experience.
My plan for the game is that it will be part narrative and Experiential Walking Simulator (think Firewatch or Close to the Sun), and part Virtual Reality escape room, set in a labyrinth of cave tunnels that exist in the liminal space between memory, trauma, and reality.
As a quick background, my project, about PTSD, was originally going to use my own experience with Uncomplicated PTSD, which I aquired after a skiing accident when 11 years old left me alone with a broken hip on the side of a mountain. That event caused me to have massive time diallation, and I still occasionally experience PTSD episodes when I feel vulnerably alone.
Film and Television have led us to believe that PTSD is something that can only be experienced by those in War Zones, or if you are a sexual assault victim, but it is something much more widely experienced than that. Triggers, a phrase which has unfortunately been associated with weakness or hurt feelings, are much more subtle than television and movies would have us believe, and they are often tactile, auditory, or have to do with the position of the body. My goal is to use Virtual reality to explore the feelings of looping behaviors surrounding PTSD, the different types of triggers that exist, and how the experience of trauma can echo through the individual and lead to disassociation and feelings of panic and isolation.
After a year of research I have had to make some adjustments to the basics of the premise: I found that a skiing accident, while a visceral experience for me, became problematic in format. Although I had become stuck in a seated position on the mountain, unable to move, there was nothing to stop the player from getting out of the very specific trapped place in the game, and furthermore, a seated position on the ground would make the game impossible to play for some with physical disabilities (an irony considering that my skiing accident had led me wheel-chair bound for a year afterwards).
To combat these issues, I adjusted the environmental accident to one that would better work with my VR setting: A spelunking Accident. I have been spelunking previously, and the environments inside a cavern can create similar feelings of being trapped and isolated, without the necessity of staying physically still the entire time. Similarly, the cave itself became a useful metaphor for the mind, with twisting tunnels that can become easy to get disoriented and lost in. The continuous looping of this environment, additionally would allow for different environments to be reached without the hard cutting effect of films: One minute the tunnel and darkness of the cave may give way back to Sam's bedroom at home and vice versa.
I will write more about the current state of the project in a later post, but I hope this becomes a useful tool in introducing you to the concepts, ideas, and direction I plan to go in.
Check back soon for more!