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Accepted Paper:

From Virtual Realities to Civic Realities: Storytelling as Technological and Social Innovation  
Lisa Messeri (Yale University)

Paper short abstract:

Virtual reality is a technology both about which and with which stories are told. It thus gets caught between fiction and fact. Ethnographically tracking the narrative method of worldbuilding shows the consequences of this entanglement, by which virtual realities come to shape civic realities.

Paper long abstract:

Worldbuilding is an approach developed by speculative fiction authors and Hollywood creatives for envisioning detailed worlds that, when imaginatively set in motion, generate stories to be told. While conducting ethnographic fieldwork in Los Angeles, I encountered worldbuilding as a method used both in developing virtual reality experiences and imagining civic futures. Those who used worldbuilding for developing VR experiences noted the resonances of holism and immersion between the method and the medium. This made it seem “natural” that worldbuilding was necessary for VR’s success and, because worldbuilding was also being associated with civic improvement, VR was also positioned as leading to the better worlds being imagined. This paper traces how worldbuilding became a method that can be deployed to produce a VR spectacle and also to rally citizen and government stakeholders around tackling urban problems. In the first context, worldbuilding pushes the bounds of the technoscience imagination. In the second context, worldbuilding pushes the bounds of the societal imagination. This paper explores how Hollywood players imagine themselves as simultaneously creating fantastical storyworlds for technological consumption and doing “on the ground work” of forging good relations to build better communities.

Panel P11a
Immersed in the Story: Narrating about and with New Technologies
  Session 1 Monday 6 June, 2022, -