Ghosts In the machine / modes of story telling and immersive experience

In 2012, we presented the first conceptual mapping of our interactive documentary OFFSHORE at the I-Docs conference. Two years later, the project is live and the first chapter has been launched. A collaboration between Brenda Longfellow, Glen Richards and Helios Design Labs, OFFSHORE explores the dark waters of the global offshore oil industry in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion. Using game aesthetics, html and play theory, OFFSHORE mixes distinct forms of storytelling to create an interactive narrative environment that operates both as labyrinthine puzzle and investigative documentary. This presentation will take viewers through a short exploration of the key design elements of the project while reflecting on the project’s methodologies and creative evolution.

Our critical reflection will focus on three key areas:

Virtual versus material worlds.
In the first instance, this distinction was veryparticular to the political motivation of this project to highlight the ubiquity of an offshore oil industry that remains by and large invisible until disaster brings it into glaring focus. How to make the invisible visible when we were never going to be granted access to an actual oil platform? Our solution was to use design elements, a rich soundscape and dramatic visual interface to create an immersive and haptic virtual experience of an imaginary oil rig, not simply as a container for documentary elements, but as a distinct storyworld in itself whose dark atmosphere, nightmarish qualities and labyrinthine structure elicit particular emotional effects.

Ghosts in the Machine.
OFFSHORE has over 70 minutes of documentary elements curated into stories of real people and places impacted by the global offshore oil industry. These are our “ghosts in the machine. The dissonance between the virtual world of the rig and the ‘material’ worlds of people is continuously emphasized as the viewer clicks and is catapulted into full screen documentary encounters.

Navigation as a form of non linear investigation.

The labyrinth was always our key spatial metaphor- as metaphor it reflects on the way that we remain trapped in our petro-modernity as much as it implies a complex, non linear and non goal directed movement through space. Navigation is mediated through the use of a gaming aesthetic and first person point of view as a way of attempting an immersive cinematic experience. There is no set journey, each viewer chooses her own path where information and empathetic connection are experienced through the accumulation and encounter with pervasive story elements.