A beloved mentor and friend in my life, Don Carson, shared his 10 principles of environmental story telling a few months ago from his many decades of experience building real life fantasy worlds for organizational giants of imaginal delight like Disneyland and Universal Studios. We have been covering one principle at a time a weekly facebook live event called "Liminality." Don recently challenged me to write my own version of this in what I have learned from my thousands of hours building community and worlds in VR. (Please note: This is a living draft and will be edited and expanded on as time transforms my understanding of how to say these pieces more simply.)
#1 Why is it important to Center Diverse voices through world and community building? Worlds that feature diverse perspectives attract diverse expression and connection. This naturally controls for polarized and harmful behavior in the community visiting the world because everyone is more conscious of their many roots to the unique parts of themselves and has a vested interest in keeping the community healthy and safe for all. Building worlds that center diverse voices also slows the process of play and conflict down to the bite-sized pieces we need to bridge and maintain healthy connections. Picture it like a tree or a plant. When we are more connected to many directions and practice equally expressing from all of those places, we are less likely to polarize with each other and snap like a tree in the middle of a hurricane. Many of my worlds feature my and others' lost and lonely parts, which when visiting, then cue to me remember and share diverse stories of creation from other world builders and learn what diverse dreams my visitors have hidden in them that they might want to build some day.
#2 Get it wrong and do it better. Repeat - Believing that I don’t have something to say and that I will say it wrong even if I do speak up SHUTS down my creativity. Finding the places inside of me that I have pushed away and shunned and helping those parts find expression in my world building has been key to some of the more powerful worlds I have built (e.g., Soul ). Giving ourselves the chance to do a basic, not-exactly-lined-up version of our dream or vision allows us to be human and grow tolerance of our own imperfections. "They" say that true mastery is teaching or illustrating something simply. However, simplicity comes from many cycles of complexity and surrender to the not-enoughness and too muchness. Let yourself crawl to walk in your world and community building. What's an example of one way you could practice crawling? This exercise will incubate your imagination and help you grow wings that can carry you towards whatever tribe and purpose that will bring you sustainable and joyful living.
#3 Name your privilege - How do my worlds overtly or covertly cue me to grow healthy and meaningful community? The vulnerability of acknowledging the space I take up and the pain that might cause allows others to be vulnerable about the ways they feel overwhelmed by how much space I or others in majority power are eliminating their sense of diverse belonging. I have built many worlds that cue me to name my privilege (e.g., Somewhere, Grace, Wander, etc). What are the ways you are privileged and when do you find yourself naming it? Where else might you release this awareness and open yourself to dialogue?
#4 Get off the grid of what you think you know - Like burrowing critters, many people see a box or grid and try to fit inside it as the first step. Sadly, many of them don’t ever get out or leave it and eventually forget that they are bound by arbitrary limitations set up by a conscienceless system. One of the most empowering things I have learned to do is to get my world building off the grid and find the real limitations of the applications I am building in. For example, in Horizon, if you get as big as you can in build mode, the clipping starts about as far as you can reach both directions. What would happen if you tested limits when you explore or build more?
#5 Reward curious mistakes - VR allows us to take risks that could literally kills us in physical reality. When I user test my worlds (bring friends and consumers in to try them out), I am exploring with them for ways people might fall out of the path I think they’re going to go on. I then hop back into edit mode many times over and create surprising and interesting experiences to reward that attempt to break away from the intended journey. There are no wrong answers in Neverland, and in VR there are always more paths to grow and find our diverse gifts. What is your favorite mistake you've made recently and what did it lead to?
#6 Love your wounds to heal others - Taking places and experiences that make me feel small and giving them an entire world of beauty is a way to heal the places or parts in me that believe I should get smaller as the only answer. How do you take uncomfortable experiences, make a metaphor out of them, and give them a world to live in? Even if you don’t finish building it for a year, you have given that painful place inside space to live and someday be honored. The more you learn to love and accept yourself, the more you will see pain in others as beautiful and reverently work to amplify the most marginalized among us. What might you love about yourself now that you used to see only as a wound? How do you reflect this in a world or connection in your community?
#7 Listen for the pieces that you don’t understand, and then make a connection or world on it - How do my worlds include questions or stories that bring many kinds of answers? Creating metaphorical journeys that grow conversations on topics I want to learn more about is a transformative journey and makes me a life-long learner. I’ve been learning about the impacts of intersectional majority privilege for the last year. My worlds create conversations on this (e.g., Evicern) and I find people asking questions about their own privilege and bias. Even though there is no quick or easy fix to this imbalance of power in society and VR, I find the people who lean into the hard conversations with me are growing some brilliant community-centering worlds. Bottom line, what kinds of conversations do you want to happen following a visit to your world? How are you stretching the limits of what you are comfortable with to make your worlds more inclusive of diverse and unfamiliar subjects? Recently I visited a world on increasing awareness around mental illness and wellness by someone who identifies as suffering from mental illness. The courage it took for this human to rally the community and publish a world as a person struggling with it themself is profound. Courage is contagious, how are you lighting this flame in those around you?
#8 Remember you are on purpose - In a capitalistic and consumeristic culture, we are taught that we need and deserve to be entertained but we don’t necessarily learn about the consequences of repetitive and heartless entertainment (E.g., shooter games). I believe that pleasure without meaning is suffering and ultimately must be processed and worked through whether it be now or later. What is the meaning we make out to the experiences and games we play? How do our worlds reflect the transformation of the pain and hope in building them?
#9 Use “I feel” statements and be messy - The background or build mode of my worlds (especially the early ones) often looks like a tornado of tangled wires and threads). In VR and much of life, we are conditioned to color in the lines, say the word “think” constantly to sound intelligent, and then feel our feelings later at home with a select few. That is like asking people to hold their breath for the majority of their life. Intuition comes from becoming well versed with messy and uncomfortable feelings. How are you building worlds that are messy and stretching the diversity and limits of your feelings?
#10 Accept reflections of your genius, The word genius has two meanings: Special and Unique. We all have moments of being special to someone (or many) at certain points in our lives, but the world and community we create has our unique gift offered when we show up and bring our imperfect lenses and creative gifts. We all have something that nobody else can bring -ourselves- and our worlds are a reflection of this gift. Validating people's genius also requires acceptance when people see that birthing in us too. And, believe me, I know it's hard to accept compliments. Here are the steps I try to remember to use when receiving gratitude or appreciation: 1. BREATHE, 2. say (and mean it when you say) thanks, 3. shine it back on the meaningful connections that amplifies healthy and diverse community. Who inspired you? Where did your idea come from? Let yourself celebrate someone else in the community that made your idea or you even better! Make sure you are reflecting instead of deflecting. Deflecting is when we don’t believe what is being offered to us (because of fear) and in turn we deny it in some overt or covert way. In order to release something uncomfortable, we have to first accept it (instead of resist it). This includes adoration and acknowledgement. Letting someone who wants to land on you like a butterfly and tell you that your world is the best one for them is a vital part of sustainable and healthy community. It’s also fun (after letting that in) to shine that beam of light on someone who helped you become your best self. Like a charging up solar panel, you have to absorb the energy to redirect it.
Thank you to whoever reads this purposeful prose. I wish you meaningful and rich world and community building adventures ahead.
These are reflections on VR community design experiments, collaborations, and my individual user experience. How do we connect through the virtual reality medium in a way that enhances our connection with self and our real life relationships?