The pioneering technology plus the thought-provoking narratives–I will definitely visit the Future of Story Telling again next year! I have gained the most immersive experience of a virtual reality film, Miyubi (2017), even though I was sitting in the heat of a little pavilion of the “old castle” built in 1834 on the remote Staten Island an-hour- away from the south ferry.
The Music Hall held most of the events. Photo Credit to Annie.
The 40-minute VR film Miyubi (2017) had me inhabit in a Japanese toy robot named Miyubi, who was gifted to a young boy Dennis on his birthday in 1982 suburban America. Over the year, I witness the fracture of the family, the malfunction of Miyubi, and the arrival of a new robot. At last, Miyubi was reprogrammed by children in an underdeveloped region and rebooted among other rusty machines besides a donkey.
In this story, VR did not exist for the sake of technological novelty only but created an indispensable environment for an engaging story based on an in-body experience. It was through VR that I embodied Miyubi, seeing through his eyes/screen, and identifying with him, because there was no time lapse between my movement and that of Miyubi. Whenever I turned my head, the vision changed accordingly, and in one scene I could see me panning my robotic head through the reflection on the diegetic TV screen. In Toni Dove’s words, I was “haunting” the robot, and saw “my traces [were] left on the screen” (Dove 64).
Such illusion of body control was exemplary in the beginning when the birthday boy Dennis was eager to have Miyubi pronouncing his name. At the sight of the encouraging facial close to me and his demo of pronouncing “D-E-N-N-I-S”, I could not help utter this name at his request, while Miyubi produced a robotic sound at the exact same time. As I was wearing the headphone, my voice was canceled out and Miyubi’s voice was clearly captured. It felt like as if I was producing the mechanical sound by activating my own muscles and vibrating my vocal folds.
Miyubi’s first meet with the family. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
I wondered why I had a strong bond with Miyubi and moved by what happened to him. I reckoned that in addition to movement synchronicity and sound identification, Miyubi was a perfect container for me to fill my own feelings and interpretations. He remained silent for most of the time, so that I would not be bothered by a voice different from mine and embedded with the emotions that I did not have, such as the high-pitch cry of a boy in the VR horror film Night Night, which constantly detached me from the character and the story. Miyubi’s silence made me feel comfortable occupying his body, even though I doubted if robots really felt the way I did.
I suppose this was the paradox of Object-Oriented Ontology: I tried to sense what the robot would feel by entering the story from an object’s perspective, but I ended up humanizing the object, not to mention that the story itself was scripted by a human. As long as the robotic narrative could not automatically grow like that of “a seed crystal suspended in liquid” (Barker 71), I doubt if the human could witness a narrative beyond our epistemological frames.
At least, the designer attempted to resemble an object’s point of view to offer a new insight. Miyubi’s vision had boundaries marked by a red rectangle with an indication of remaining battery in the lower left, similar to the frame of DV camera. Such a visual design was extended to the editing style. Each sequence ended with the battery dying and fading to black and started with the rebooting and self-examination, which showed the date and memory health of Miyubi. It was more than indicating the passage of time for film narration, but also suggested the weariness of the robot which foreshadows his obsolescence.
Miyubi finally tasted the obsolescence shared by Grandpa. Grandpa was the only one who detested the novelty at first when Dennis showed off Miyubi to the classmates of his math skills and the little sister planned to hold a wedding ceremony with Miyubi. Later, as Miyubi started to have increasing technical glitches–his vision fell seriously; he could not pronounce the right name; he was unbearable compared with the newly arrived robot of higher artificial intelligence capable of expressing affection through complicated sentence–grandpa became the best friend of Miyubi.
Grandpa(left) empathized with Miyubi. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
Once again, I put my own sensitivity into Miyubi’s body. As grandpa took Miyubi for a ride to escape the house that no longer needs them, I geared towards him, watching in silence how grandpa mumbled an age-old story. Being the sole company for a lonely man as a broken-down robot was such a melancholic moment. The pain of not wanted was intense for me, both as a human and as a robot. I was not watching the discarded Cowboy doll Woody in Toy Story (1995), I lived those beautiful memories through Miyubi, and the experience of losing affection was so real.
My impulse to preserve and recycle the elder robot did not result from the rational thinking of eco-friendliness, but from the sensitivity of a robot. I rejoiced in the rebirth the poor yet creative children gave to Miyubi, but also reflected on the problematic chain of the globalized industry, where the first-world kid consumed the new toy robot, and the third world children recycled the rusty one and made do with it.
I loved Miyubi because it put me in the shoes of a robot, who I can fully identify with while exploring a new perspective, whether it was the genuine objective vision or not. The issue of aging and globalization lying behind the family comedy made the story thicker. I was glad to immerse, amaze, and reflect in one piece, and the passive immersion by suspending one’s own will criticized by Huhtamo (2) did not happen to this beautiful and heartrending piece.
Barker, Timothy. “Objects and interaction.” Digital Creativity 22.2 (2011): 65-77.
Dove, Toni. “Swimming in Time: Performing Programmes, Mutable Movies–Notes on a Process in Progress.” Performance and Place. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2006. 60-74.
Huhtamo, Erkki. “Seeking Deeper Contact: Interactive Art as Metacommentary.” Convergence 1.2 (1995): 81-104.
————— & More In Fost For Prize ——————
Intimacy, a multi-person VR, was tailored to two people who wish to know the unspoken thoughts of a couple in different stages of a relationship, such as the first meet on a train, the casual talk at home, or a nervous dating at the bar. The users could hear the conversation between two people, plus an inner voice from one of them, like the double lines in the balcony conversion in Anny Hall (1977). To my disappointment, the multi-person VR did not guarantee interaction between the users, except for the instruction before the program started “think about the person sitting next to you”, and users had no control over the character. Yet it indeed sparkled conversation after the show because people hoped to hear the other part of the story. However, the scope of intimacy is limited, which was confined to a heterosexual relationship, and assumed that the perspectives were largely determined by gender.
Fall in Love mimicked a dating program in the forest setting, where people asked questions to know more about each other. Here I could only ask the person as if it was my turn to do so. I picked one question of the two presented to me over the microphone, and the dating partner would respond to me in a natural voice, thanks to the technology of “natural language processing”. If I got bored, I could say “it was nice meeting you, but I got to go.” A signal for leaving the system as well as in the real life.Everything was made smoothly, except that the voice recognization system could not properly register my pronunciation, which led the partner to repeat over and over again with a confused facial expression “sorry, there is too much noise out there, could you speak up a little?”