2016-10-08-09-00-15I had it in mind to write this immense post about my visit to the Future of Storytelling Festival . Housed in the Africa Center on 110th street in NYC, it was a pretty inspiring event.  In fact, it was so big, I almost didn’t write about it.  But then I decided to forget fancy blogging and get right to the pics….

Yes, it was filled with VR headsets and Kinect xbox 360 games.  One expected that.  But there were so many fun and stimulating attempts to get stories told in new ways that I’d have to say VR is just one of many wonderful avenues now open to the storyteller or story-consumer.  VR is in that way something of a synecdoche, not the whole.

Of the many installations, at the top of my list was  “Notes on Blindness” presented by Ex Nihilio, Archer’s Mark & Audiogaming.  It was a documentary using a mix of audio files and gameplay software.  From the site:

2016-10-08-10-17-07After losing sight, John Hull knew that if he did not try to understand blindness it would destroy him. In 1983 he began keeping an audio diary.

Over three years John recorded over sixteen hours of material, a unique testimony of loss, rebirth and renewal, excavating the interior world of blindness.

Published in 1990, the diaries were described by author and neurologist Oliver Sacks as, ‘A masterpiece… The most precise, deep and beautiful account of blindness I have ever read.’

I previewed the first three chapters and they were… nearly cathartic.  Okay well maybe not that, but damn close as compared to the sometimes flat emotional effect VR films can have. (almost as if the augmented visual data eclipses our ability to feel)

The designers themed the visuals as a kind of virtual  bioluminescence–shimmering blue photons– which were triggered by sound and sound alone.  Sound was all John Hull had once he lost his sight and so for him it was the reigning sense.  The idea being: to a sightless person, that which is soundless does not exist.

For example, he mentions that after his blindness, his children only existed for him when they spoke or made noise.  Another time he asks, “What is the definition of a good day?”  For the sighted, the answer usually lies in the color of the sky.  For the sightless, wind is the preferred weather.  To that end, a virtual wind proceeds from our minds and “images” whatever “rustles.”

For me, a story is most successful when I forced to feel a new point of view, not just learn it.  I’d say that this “feeling” is even beyond empathy, which is still an essentially intellectual phenomenon.

For a brief moment I felt John Hull losing sight and got the sense that even while he was losing something so precious as sight, he was also learning an entirely new way of looking at the world.  For a brief moment, I imagined that he must have felt like a human marooned on an alien planet.

I don’t know if I learned what it was to be blind, but I certainly recalled how necessary it is to feel connected to the world.  And that, for me, was a fine experience to have on a Saturday morning in October.

Look for Part 2 coming soon.

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