A few weeks ago Staten Island briefly became worth the trip. Not to knock the island, but an hour is a long time to spend leaving the New York neighborhoods where the action usually happens. From October 6-8, Snug Harbor was home to the Future of storytelling festival, an arts fest focusing on innovative ways to convey a story or narrative experience. This year, unsurprisingly, virtual reality was everywhere which meant long lines waiting to experience something while technical difficulties were worked out, but also allowed for some great photos.
In perfect honesty I enjoyed taking photos at the event more than any of the experiences. In part because it had been a few weeks since I’d had my camera gear and a particular reason to use it, but mostly because the scene itself felt so surreal.
Something about VR, despite how often I’m in it, will always keep it unfamiliar and strange. Maybe it’s because I watched too much sci-fi, but seeing dozens of people all groping around with large black devices on their faces was magnificently strange.
All that said, there were a number of experiences worth mentioning. A particular standout was Ink Stories’ Blindfold. The game puts you in the position of an imprisoned journalist during the Iranian revolution of 1979. The sole mechanic of the game is nodding or shaking your head, as you’re bound to a chair in an interrogation room. As the interrogation unfolds you are forced to make an array of difficult choice often with life and death in the balance. It’s an unforgettable experiment and because of that, I’m being intentionally vague. If you happen to get the chance to play it (it’s free if you’ve got an Oculus), don’t miss out.
Lastly, not to forget other storytelling mediums, on the grounds of the festival was a roving band of poets composed of Samantha Thornhill, Ashley August, and Jon Sands. While standing in a surreal inflatable dome, they treated a cadre of bystanders with their craft. Funny and heart-wrenching, the trio provided a moving non-digital experience to the festival, one that after several hours of waiting in lines surrounded by wires and screens, I found to be incredibly refreshing.