The future of content is here, and so is virtual and augmented reality in the media landscape. From big Hollywood studios investing in videogames to advertising agencies embracing XR for user engagement, immersive entertainment has gained its rightful place during SXSW 2022. Bonus point? The pervasive presence of women in immersive tech. All-female panel discussions, women-led XR experiences, and mompreneurs from all over the world rocking the show. Is the future of tech female? You better believe it.
But for Axel and me, this year's program's most immense beauty was the "in-betweens," those intersectional talks where videogames meet neuroscience or where mindfulness and VR share philosophical questions. And within these holistic conversations, we found an exciting thread that connected them all: the need for a new form of interactive entertainment that could establish a more personal bond with its audience, create meaningful connections amongst people and, of course, also generate a financial gain.
To talk about the future of immersive entertainment without talking about diversity is like trying to bake a cake without an oven. On this account, during the SXSW, I received an invitation to be a guest speaker at the EBW - Empowering a Billion Women podcast titled 'Mothers of the Metaverse,' hosted by the award-winning tech entrepreneur, investor, and media personality, Ingrid Vanderveldt (iV).
iV and I discussed the role of diversity in developing VR experiences. As a female VR producer and an ethnically-diverse mother building the foundation of a new hyperconnected virtual world that my child will inhabit someday, this is a topic dear to my heart. The role of inclusion and emotional design in VR is as vital as the technology itself, and iV could confirm that. Social, ethnic, and gender diversity in immersive content is not a choice but a must-have if we want to see XR reaching its full potential.
During their panel discussion, these award-winning transmedia product leaders discussed the importance of engaging an audience beyond the experience. In other words, keep your fans happy outside the console or headset. A great way to achieve it? Strong community building, from one side, and also our flexibility to create content that can cater to their needs outside the experience itself. Some examples of this type of content are unique digital assets such as NFTs, dedicated Discord servers, extra episodes, and everything that can keep the story alive for longer.
So should we keep all stories alive forever? Definitely not. This life extension should never come at the expense of the experience itself. Some stories are born to live a long life. Others come to an end rather soon, and that's OK. It's up to our creativity and business skills (and our experience) to assess when we should either nurture or finish a story to preserve its beauty. It's great to have fans, but it's even more incredible to respect their devotion to our stories.
Experiential storytelling experiences require unique teamwork that combines technical expertise, creative skills, and a deep understanding of human emotion. This topic was no stranger to the conference program, and I was thrilled to see that.
Emotions can empower us, but they can also control and manipulate us. So, where does the balance lie? How can we use emotional design for good, and where does our creative freedom end and ethical responsibility begin? In the (all-female) panel discussion titled 'The Language of Emotion: Designing for Engagement,' an XR experience designer, a neuroscientist, an artist, and a game developer joined forces to find an answer to that question. And it was comforting to see that the answer is not only hard to find for simple mortals like me. There is still much to ask ourselves, debate, and consider where we should trace these boundaries. This conversation requires a cross-industry exchange, much introspection, and a dash of interest in philosophy.
This year's SXSW was clear. From advertising agencies to Hollywood studios, immersive entertainment is gaining a prominent place in the media landscape worldwide. Whether it's the metaverse, interactive films, or the language of emotion in tech, we now find ourselves redefining human connection and our relationship with digital content. Like movies and videogames, immersive entertainment exposes us to what makes us human. This time, the only difference is that we get to experience stories from within and live them from a much more personal perspective. And with this great power (and fantastic new business opportunities) comes… you've guessed it—a great responsibility.
As immersive entertainment professionals, it's our duty to offer quality and meaningful XR experiences to our users. But our most significant commitment to our audiences must be to understand the boundaries and fragility of the human mind and protect it for present and future generations. The purposeful, ethical, and financially sustainable use of virtual tools should never be optional but imperative. And together, we can empower creators, users, investors, and companies to see it that way.
Are you in?