Storytelling in the Metaverse: building meaning and connection in an immersive future.
Updated: Oct 25
Can narrative and narrative based mediums be harnessed as a way to strive for meaning in an attention driven economy and how can those entering the metaverse use storytelling and narrative to build meaning, connection & community?
Imagination and creativity are significant dimensions of positive traits we share as a species. Allegory and narrative are also unique to our civilization and is its own form of communication, allowing for a direct channel into the mind of another. The immersive nature of XR mediums then allow for complete immersion into another person’s imagination.
As we will see, the Metaverse as a medium, is conducive to producing and fostering a sense of narrative with certain key elements consisting of collaboration combined with creativity, continuity and synchronicity.
Storytelling is tied deeply and intrinsically to our identity both on an individual and a cultural level - it is how we make sense of our lives: by fitting it into a larger narrative that is imbued with meaning. As a species, we have used storytelling since the very beginning of civilization to structure our beliefs and worldview, to make sense of our reality and our perceived place in the cosmos. It’s something so primal it may have formed the very substrate of our way of thinking and the way we structure language.
Identity, according to psychologists, is inextricably tied to memory: it's our experiences as we move through life that shape who we are and to forget is, in a sense, to not be! We tell stories about who we are and the events that galvanize our identity.
Historically we have kept important events alive by passing them down as stories, thereby preserving our sense of cultural identity and a sense of continuity and meaning, so that life doesn't seem like a series of disconnected, random events. Without this ‘ordering strategy’ the universe seems indifferently hostile and arbitrary.
We have become untethered from a sense of order and meaning due to the way we currently communicate and receive information about the world. Many platforms present information in an asynchronous and distorted manner, adding to a sense of disconnect and ambient unease. In the last blog post, we unpacked the destructive nature of having an (online) economy focused on spectacle and consumption as its own reward, as organizing principles; spectacle and attention being the social currency this system relies on. We see that when these principles play out, it brings about the erosion of meaning, value structures and social cohesion.
Many feel a lack of social inclusion as they struggle to participate in something that gives them a feeling of significance. A strange sense of social vertigo ensues as real meaning and authenticity are rinsed out of our interactions one dopamine release at a time. Discontinuity and lack of an ordered narrative, deeply affects our sense of identity.
Can we then use narrative and ‘social narrative building’ as countermeasures, restoring a sense of significance, meaning and continuity: a better sense of self?
The metaverse as a creative construct lends itself in its very essence to storytelling in all forms, especially immersive worlds and experiences that are constant, persist over time and allow participants to interact with and contribute to them. This particular form of narrative experience has been coined as ‘story-living’ and I claim, has the potential to foster a strong sense of identity and purpose in a shared space where creativity and collaboration are rewarded, allowing the participants to interact in a meaningful way.
Having shared experiences as a central dimension to metaverse storytelling is a powerful way to create community and foster this sense of collaboration. These elements are something that creators and brands should consider when entering the metaverse; storytelling is the conceptual infrastructure underpinning this new medium and has the ability to tap into the primal need to gather and build memories.
This form of collaborative storytelling can come preloaded with the added element of emergence, a little like the game of life where ‘players’ build and play by a certain set of rules or parameters to create something. Rules foster creativity and unknown outcomes foster curiosity and engagement in a way that promotes a healthy sense of achievement.
Optimistically, other social platforms would also form a part of the narrative stack, feeding into these other mediums in a way that is continuous and meaningful: Creating memories, creates identity, creates meaning.
Anyone entering the metaverse as a brand or creator should consider their particular brand identity as a story. A story with many components that feed into a larger narrative, each component expressed via a different medium or on various immersive platforms, each offering unique ways to engage. As one of these components and also as a standalone, augmented reality plays a significant role in this narrative stack. It's the most accessible form of immersive media, making it the new frontier in storytelling, presenting unique ways content can be presented and interacted with in a blend of fantasy and reality (the potential for this medium will be explored in more depth in a future blog post).
In this way, instead of just creating customers, brands can cultivate ‘creative shareholders’ who co-create the ip. An engaged audience who will spend more time interacting, building and communicating instead of engaging in a semi oppositional dynamic with their potential consumers.
For example, you could potentially try on AR clothing in an AR mirror at home in your own surroundings, customize the garment to your specifications, then head over to the fully immersive virtual experience where you can wear your new digital wearable created in AR, sit front row at a virtual fashion show or experience the virtual flagship store where you and other fans of the brand can vote on which designs get made and sold in both the virtual and IRL stores. or creatives get the opportunity to design window displays and other installations, the community votes on the most innovative creation to be showcased. People also have the ability to collaborate on something like a collective sculpture garden in VR then have their creations showcased in AR, this also creates opportunities for brands to host and sponsor some of these culturally relevant endeavors, thereby becoming patrons and stewards of the arts and supporting creators and helping form a creatively vibrant economy.
Earlier in 2022 XREnsemble enlisted new media artists from around the world to create an augmented reality sculpture trail around NYC with the sculptures tethered to real life historical monuments in an attempt to introduce alternative voices into the cultural narrative.
By using immersive storytelling as an important cultural movement, we can change or enhance
the way we see and interact with our history in a living, breathing way, which also has huge educational potential both for institutions and individual educators. One can imagine a platform like udemy or even a university having an AR component.
Games where players vote on the trajectory of the narrative or create the very environments for the game itself to take place in, or create wearables, weapons and other assets that they can then swap or trade will also be central to this new economy. They are essentially making meaningful connections by collaborating on these narrative choices whilst exercising their own creativity. But there are endless possibilities we have yet to discover and they will ultimately be in the hands of future players and creators.
There is also huge scope for first person immersive film experiences where people can actually play characters in an emergent gamified version of their favorite movies. Disney, Metaquest and ILMxLAB joined forces to pioneer just such an experience: Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge which delivered a VR Star Wars experience, showcased at Disney’s Orlando resort in Florida, now available on OculusVR.
The important overall distinction is in creating communities of people who come together over shared experience and collaborative effort over just shared consumer habits. When you create evangelists and enthusiastic creators, you don’t need to engage in toxic ad strategies that attempt only to hijack the human limbic system.
Storytelling has the powerful potential to shape a new cultural legacy and those who leverage it, are the creators and the users will own and co-create this new conceptual space we call the Metaverse!
If you are a brand or a creator, consider following our content for deep dives and insights to help you navigate this new space. We believe the metaverse is the future of media, commerce, online community and interaction and those engaging early will be at the forefront of a new paradigm
Or get in touch with us: https://www.reachxr.io/book-online