Weak at the knees, my voice strained with nervousness, I looked out an audience all of whom probably knew more than me about what I was about to speak of. The night before I had scrapped my carefully prepared presentation for the day. I press delete on several days work. Standing there, shaking with fear, I regretted it. Really. 

Why did I scrap a perfectly good presentation in which I had made great efforts to effortlessly state how technically knowledgeable I am and how proficient I am at creating Virtual Realities? Why? Well, first of all because it was disingenuous pretentious bullshit and secondly, it did not address any questions I cared about.

So there I was steering out at God knows how many pares of eyes all staring back at me with keen interest. Ehhh I blanked… Why am I here? Like Alice in wonderland I followed the white rabbit of my erratic mind… And this is what happened.

Last weekend I had the honor to be a guest speaker and panel member at Digital Storytelling’s anniversary event here in Oslo. Digital Storytelling has bravely been spearheading the art and craft of digital storytelling in Norway and brought us closer the exiting international frontiers for ten years.

My co-panelists were no less than visual artist, Academy Award winner and renown VFX supervisor Kevin Mack who presented “The Art and Science of Virtual Reality”, Executive Producer Elijah Freeman from Crytek who presented the Playstation VR title “Robinson: The Journey, Academy Award winner, Creative Director and co-founder of Google Spotlight Stories Jan Pinkava, who gave a brilliant keynote on the making of the award winning short film, “Pearl” and last but not least renowned VR specialist Peter McLaughlin from WeMakeVR from Amsterdam. And me… Who had deleted all my material and went blank in front of my brilliant audience.

From left: Kim Baumann Larsen (Moderator, Digital Storytelling), Elijah Freman (Crytek), Kevin Mack (Shape Space VR), Jan Pinkava (Google Spotlight Stories), Grethe Bøe-Waal (Placebo Effects) and Peter McLaughlin (WeMakeVR). Photo: Renberg, Marius. Digital Storytelling. 2016.

From left: Kim Baumann Larsen (Moderator, Digital Storytelling), Elijah Freman (Crytek), Kevin Mack (Shape Space VR), Jan Pinkava (Google Spotlight Stories), Grethe Bøe-Waal (Placebo Effects) and Peter McLaughlin (WeMakeVR).
Photo: Renberg, Marius. Digital Storytelling. 2016.

As previously confessed, my education is in the dramatic arts, history, ethics and philosophy.  I am the least technically minded person on the planet. Really, I struggle to turn on my iPhone let alone figure out how Snapchat works. I prefer to be off line somewhere in the wilderness, just being. Given this analogous disposition, one might wonder why the hell was I even allowed into the room with these dignitaries of digital storytelling? In my heart I also harbored a treacherous secret…  I am conflicted about the very purpose of storytelling at yet another digital platform.

I mean, does the world really need Virtual Reality? I do wonder as people stumble about with silly goggles completely lost in virtual space to their surroundings. 

I my business we talk incessantly of all the technical solutions and the grand technology of VR, but deep down I question whether this new technology is just another gadget, alienating people from the source of true connection. I mean, in a sense I don’t even believe in Virtual Reality, because everything we create and experience is reality. Whatever we experience is real. There is reality as experienced by humans and there is reality not experienced by humans. All is reality when experience by a conscious being. Period.

Given the illustriousness of the rest of the speakers I wanted to impress, but really what the hell do I know? I decided to give a speech from my heart.  There and then, not hiding behind technical language or fancy imagery. I wanted to look the audience straight in their eyes and raise the questions I do not dare to ask technical devotees of VR. And so I did….

All things created in nature find its reason for being in nature, of which we are a part. Likewise all things created by humans find its reason for being in other human beings. As inn all human creation VR is as good as the consciousness of the person that make it. So we should mind our minds. True Virtual Reality has the power to transport the user to real and magical places and offers new possibilities for content creation. Virtual Reality might open a new platform for us to experience and understand an infinite field of possibilities manifested in people’s wild and magical ideas or simply help people make sense of complex ideas and information through a clear and coherent vision. But it might also isolate us in a goggled cocoon, overloading our senses with mindless entertainment or even worse help drone operators and soldiers kill by giving them a lifelike experience by proxy.

My dream is always to share an experience that inspires emotional sincerity, mischievous playfulness, complexity and clarity rather than drowning them in mindless and passive consumption of entertainment.  

At the end of my nervous speech and the panel discussion I felt unsure. I have a talent for over compensating, especially if I fear that I’ll be seen as a dumb blond. I always fear that people will se me as a dumb blond. International film awards and fine University degrees with Summa cum Laude has only made me feel like a dumb blonde who is a total fraud about to be discovered. Very soon.

The magic of the event for me was that our panel discussion raised the exact questions and challenges I grapple with but has not dare to voice until this day. Why do we make Virtual Reality? What are the benefits and the dangers of creating this technology? How can we develop Virtual Reality that makes our world a better place?

The brilliant gurus approach these questions with no condescension but rather a sincere attempt to really challenge our selves. My co-panelists all gave such wise and inspiring answers, that I will explore their thoughts in a series of blog post coming up. So stay tuned.