Let's build an immersive storytelling - Interview with Serena Zonca (November 12th, 2014)

(This post is part of a serie on GDG Rome DevFest 2014, Italian translation available here)
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Agatino Grillo: Hi, Serena. Do you want to introduce yourself quickly?

Serena Zonca: Hello everyone. My name is Serena Zonca. I was born in Bergamo, Italy, on 1967. A degree in Foreign Languages and Literature, journalist. My job is on paper and digital publishing. I am founder of www.autopubblicarsi.it  a web site dedicated to new forms of publishing, and in particular to self-publishing. I like to experiment and I think ebooks are the starting point of the new publishing universe. More information about me can be found on my blog. Obviously I can be contacted via Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter  or directly through my website.

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Agatino Grillo: What were you doing at Google DevFest Rome last November 8, 2014 among programmers, engineers and various nerds?

Serena Zonca: Rome Google Developer Group asked me for a contribution to the general conference of the morning on how new technologies are transforming the way people work and so I gave a speech on the subject of virtual reality and the “virtual storytelling”.

Agatino Grillo:  Let’s begin with virtual reality. For many years VR has promised to revolutionize our lives and our way of interacting with digital universes but actually isn’t it is a big disappointment? Are there significant results yet or not?

Serena Zonca: VR has moved a long way since it debuted. As I said in my speech at Google conference, I experienced for the first time virtual reality in 1992 in an event titled “Virtual Workshops” organized by the Triennale in Milan. I had to wear a helmet and a huge belt, connected by a bunch of cables to a computer which at the time seemed monstrous and today would evoke tenderness to tell the truth. I was ashamed not just at the idea of winding myself in that way, also because a small crowd laughed watching the volunteers so masked. But, once connected, I found myself in a new virtual universe: a white room, bare, some little airplanes were suspended in the air, a handful of polygons. The pixels were as big as pancakes and the frame rate of 4-5 fps. But ... I was there. The room existed, it was true! Since then I am always interested in virtual reality.

Agatino Grillo: Can you explain what “virtual storytelling” is?

Serena Zonca: Telling stories is part of the nature of human beings and therefore storytelling is a proven and powerful mechanism to capture attention, communicate and generate emotions, as advertising well knows! Despite being an anthropological constant, even the narrative evolved over time. It is passed from oral form of primordial stories to writing form taking the forms of theater, novel, screenplay film and television, the track of a video game. It has been constantly adapting  to the technical means from time to time available.
The challenge of “virtual storytelling” is to merge the narrative with current technology, including virtual reality, to create a new narrative means that you will no longer receive passively as the current books or movies, but in an interactive way: the stories will not be limited as now by a beginning and an end but propose multiple junctions and endings. To realize this “virtual storytelling” writers would work with software developers, digital graphics, 3D modelers ...

Agatino Grillo: What is the connection between “virtual storytelling” and virtual reality?

Serena Zonca: The connection is the immersion, which is another constant of the cultural history. Human beings have always tried to recreate the illusion of worlds and be part of them, to be surrounded by 360 °. The earliest examples date back to classical antiquity: I refer to the frescoes of the Villa of Livia at Prima Porta, in Rome, the trompe l'oeil of the Room of the Villa Farnesina in Rome and ever so many other examples up to the Cinerama and Sensorama in sixties of 1900.
Thus we come to 1992 mentioned earlier. Virtual reality promised an immersive revolution which hasn’t been realized yet. The computers were too slow; the display, the position detectors, the gloves too expensive and cumbersome. The princely progress  of VR has suffered a setback before that the apocalyptic predictions of detractors had time to occur.
Today, however, the context returns to appear favorable. On one hand we assist to the advancement of technology and on the other hand the user interfaces are today more friendly and people easily deal with computers and the network.
Today a VR platform is available and it costs more or less one thousand of euros:Oculus Rift, Microsoft Kinect and Virtuix Omni. It permits everyone to enter into an artificial world moving and interacting naturally with its components.

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Agatino Grillo: How do you think the publishing industry will evolve in the coming years? Many fear that new technologies can wipe out the world we know now, and have justified fears. In 10 years will there still books? Or will they die out as vinyl records did?

Serena Zonca: The world does not stop for our fears. The real challenge is managing this change not to oppose it. I'm sure that paper books will continue to exist for decades. What we need to work is to build new languages and new tools that allow us to exploit the opportunities that technology offers us today and to meet the needs of a new audience. For this I was very pleased to attend the Google meeting and to confront with Google engineers who design digital tools essential to the cultural development of mankind.

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Agatino Grillo: Is there any specific project you're working at on this front?

Serena Zonca: Just at Google Rome DevFest we launched the proposal to create a true “story immersive” ebook thanks to the power and wealth of the community that this type of event collects. Another goal would be to develop new tools to bring the authors to immersivity  and give them major autonomy in experimenting new languages. Immersive storytelling requires, I think, sharing cultural and technological experiences.

Agatino Grillo: Thanks Serena

Serena Zonca: Thank you all.

Slides of the presentation

  • Serena Zonca, “Virtual Storytelling”, Google DevFest 2014, Roma , 8 novembre 2014

How contact Serena Zonca

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