A universe of its own

Earlier in the class, we learned about intertextuality and how the same basic stories are told over and over again, just in different and innovative ways. I had really never thought about the concept before, and ever since then I have been noticing how prevalent intertextuality actually is. This week we talked about transmedia narratives and how the digital age has brought about the ability for “multiple narratives published across a variety of media [to] give a fuller sense of the storyworld in which the narratives take place” (Ritchie). Popular novels such as Harry Potter or films such as Star Wars basically have a universe built around them, from movies to spin off books to games to amusement parks. This, too, I had never really actively noticed until now; it’s crazy to think that technology brought about new mediums for storytelling and allows fans to become totally and utterly immersed in a fantasy world (whether digitally or in reality).

Now of course, that’s totally amazing and truly such a mind-blowing concept, but everything has its drawbacks, some just a constraint imposed by the limitations of the technology we have currently. In class this week we explored multiple digital retellings of The Martian, from the original serialized version that Andy Weir put up on his blog way back in the day to the app to the VR app using Google Cardboard. Each medium had its advantages and disadvantages, but I found the virtual reality application to be the most fascinating of them all, especially since we literally used a piece of (albeit, well-crafted) piece of cardboard as an apparatus for the experience.

I’ll start off first with the positives (the affordances). Virtual reality is great in that it visually creates a sense of space and immerses you into an experience that resembles reality. You’re able to “move” around without actually having to move your body, as well as feel as if you are interacting with the environment around you. Through VR, users are able to experience things they would never be able to, such as going to Mars. It’s also fairly portable (at least the Google Cardboard is) and, like Golumbia mentions in his “The Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media,” possesses “inherent perfect reproducibility.” On the flip side, VR is limited by the fact that it requires an apparatus, adding to a feeling of not being quite realistic. The Google Cardboard had constraints such as the inability to actually use your hands to interact, while the app had constraints such as the world already being pre-constructed and having limitations to what you could do. For instance, in the Rover Mode you were unable to actually drive the rover; rather, you just sat in it as it moved and were able to see the surroundings. VR also enforces viewing the narrative in a linear structure as you really can’t skip around the storyline. Golumbia brings up an interesting point that nonlinearity is most present in digital storytelling when one is authoring something, but not necessarily when reading or experiencing it.
Although VR has a fair share of constraints, it is quickly becoming a popular way of consuming stories and seems to be what the future is moving towards. Breakthroughs in technologies will surely tip the scale towards more allowances, and I am excited to see where VR technology will take us next.

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