VR Visionaries: Lucas Rizzotto

Oculus Blog
Posted by Oculus VR
May 31, 2018

Welcome back to another entry in our VR Visionaries series, where we highlight groundbreaking artistic VR experiences and the innovative creators behind them. We’ve explored topics ranging from technological obsolescence and cyber warfare to the music of deep space, choreographic cinema, and beyond. Today, we’re excited to introduce you to Where Thoughts Go—an award-winning social experience that blends anonymity and narrative storytelling with stylized graphics, now available on Rift.

Where Thoughts Go: Prologue is the first installment in a series of experimental social narratives, currently in Early Access as it evolves in response to feedback from the community. A highly curated selection of unique and unidentified voice recordings guide you through various walks of life—though you must share your own stories to discover what the experience holds in store. We sat down with Creator and Oculus Start developer Lucas Rizzotto to learn more.

What was the initial inspiration behind Where Thoughts Go?

Lucas Rizzotto: People have so much wisdom to share and so many stories to tell that we don’t know about. I wanted to use virtual reality to create a safe place where anyone could openly share pieces of themselves—a place where you could learn about the minds that make up the world, where openness, kindness, and vulnerability were the base social standard.

So I combined my passions for technology, storytelling, and people to create the emotional journey that Where Thoughts Go: Prologue is.

What kind of response did you see at Tribeca and VRLA?

LR: It’s been amazing. People cried, laughed, and felt challenged in the most unexpected ways. A few even said that it changed how they see the world, which is the ultimate form of validation for me. Ultimately, this is all about giving people a new way of looking at the world through immersive storytelling.

A demo participant at Tribeca.

Any plans for future location-based installations?

LR: Absolutely. We think there’s a lot of demand for location-based experiences that are quieter, more introspective, and help you get in touch with deeper parts of yourself, and we’ve been focusing on that in the installations we’ve been building.

Currently, we’ve been showing the experience inside a wonderful blanket fort everywhere we go, and we’ve been surprised at how it impacts the overall experience. People change when they feel like they’re in a space that they own—even when they’re seemingly covering all their senses.

What’s the most powerful reaction you’ve seen so far when showing this experience?

LR: There’s one thing people have been doing that really caught me off guard. In one particular chapter of the experience, many people started using their recordings as a way to send messages to friends and relatives that have passed away. Where Thoughts Go became a way for them to communicate with the incommunicable. That never ceases to touch me, and it showcases how far people are willing to go to connect with the ones they love.

What was the thought process behind the decision to include voice activation and recording?

LR: We wanted to create a world that was ever-changing and provided people with a chance to be part of the narrative, so voice provided us with an intimate gateway to connect people while also retaining anonymity. We also wanted the stories to be real, genuine, and a truthful showcase of humanity. There’s no better way of doing that than letting people tell their own stories.

There’s a real power in saying things out loud. By answering the questions the experience asks of you, you’re also reflecting on your values and what’s important to you. By the end of their playthrough, hopefully many people will walk away with a better understanding of who they are in relation to the world.

Why was VR the best way for you to bring this project to life? What about this particular experience wouldn’t have been possible in more traditional media forms?

LR: Where Thoughts Go was originally supposed to be a smartphone application, but what we found after building the VR prototype is that people were having a much more visceral emotional response to the immersive experience. They were being more empathetic, more thoughtful in their responses, kinder, and eloquent.

That’s because VR completely changes the relationship between you and the content you experience. By orchestrating the senses (visuals, sounds, haptics), we can get people into specific emotional states and connect them through thoughtful abstractions and interaction design.

VR is also an amazing medium for focus: There are no distractions inside of a VR experience, just you and the senses you were given. Where Thoughts Go thrives in this aspect by using focus and design to allow people to tap into parts of their mind that are usually difficult to access.

How did you go about curating the individual responses included in the app? Do you plan to add additional content over time?

LR: We’re working with a mix of automatic as well as manual moderation, and we’re still perfecting the formula. New, curated content will be added every few days while we’re in Early Access, and by the time we launch this summer, it’ll be added automatically.

How did your background producing large-scale events in the physical world inform this particular project?

LR: I honestly ask myself this question all the time. I think it gave me greater awareness on how people change their behavior depending on which space they’re in and how story and context can affect how everyone interacts in a room. I’m sure a lot of knowledge translated over to VR in interesting (and unexpected) ways.

How do you think VR will continue to change the face of social interaction in the future?

LR: In VR, we can rewrite how people communicate—create new forms of being, new forms of identity, and new paradigms for social interaction that were never attempted before.

As people realize that social VR is more than people hanging out in a room, it’ll radically change. For me, social VR has never been about replicating real-world communication, but rather about redesigning how we communicate from the ground up to unlock a new level of human exchange. I think we’ll see a lot more experiences that play with those ideas.

What about the medium’s impact on narrative storytelling?

LR: I’m really excited for the rise of new immersive narrative genres. Storytellers are starting to learn how the medium operates, and this will give rise to new types of experiences that’ll be tough to verbally describe. Where Thoughts Go is a good example: Is it an app? A game? An experience? Probably all of these and none of them at the same time.

Also, immersive VR theater (VR experiences featuring real live, crowdsourced actors) will be huge. I’m not sure how we’ll get there yet, but I think acting will be the first mainstream VR job.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

LR: We’re in the early days of a new, immersive internet, and the next couple of years will dictate the core values that surround it. Help form those values! Support experiences that push the boundaries of the medium and projects that create healthy communities while encouraging people to become better, kinder versions of themselves.

We need an immersive internet that’s bold, but also thoughtful and kind—and especially today, kindness matters more than ever.

And join our community at WhereThoughtsGo.Me/Community! We would love to have you be part of our creative process and build this with you.

Where Thoughts Go Co-Founders Lucas Rizzotto and Tarik Merzouk.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lucas. We can’t wait for the rest of the Rift community to share theirs as well.

Attending AWE 2018? Get hands-on with Where Thoughts Go today from 12:00 – 5:00 pm PT or tomorrow, June 1, from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm PT in Booth 1 of the AWE Playground in Hall D of the Santa Clara Convention Center.

Where Thoughts Go: Prologue is expected to launch on both HTC Vive and Windows Mixed Reality headsets within the next month. In the meantime, step into Rift and explore Where Thoughts Go today.

— The Oculus Team