A Dream About Augmented Reality Fiction

Last night I dreamed that one of my authors (no name or face that I can recall – one of the phantasms created by the half-waking imagination) had sold me rights to a novel he’d written, and was eager for me to publish it as an ebook. It turned out that the “ebook” we were developing was actually a movie that took place in an augmented reality overlay projected directly onto the mind’s eye, mixing what the author had imagined with what the viewer was actually seeing and experiencing at the time. Every version of the movie was different, because the story had to be overlaid on what the viewer was encountering in the real world. At one point in the dream, Eric Schmidt of Google was particularly excited because a sailing scene in the story warned him about a hidden reef that his boat had to avoid.

I don’t often share dreams on this blog (at least not sleeping dreams), but this one seemed worth putting out there, because I do think that augmented reality could be an important component of a new kind of storytelling, making today’s 3D entertainments as dated as silent films. Elan Lee’s Fourth Wall Studios is already chipping away at the barrier between storytelling and daily life. The first augmented reality entertainments may be text based rather than video; eventually, though, they will likely be as immersive as my dream.

Many years ago, I saw a play in LA called Tamara, a story set in the mansion where WWI hero and author Gabrielle D’Annunzio was held under house arrest by Mussolini. A fascinating experiment in theater, Tamara took place in many different rooms of the house. As an audience member, whenever a scene ended, you had an opportunity to follow the character of your choice to another room. No audience member could see the entire play. My wife and I went with her parents (who were back for the third or fourth time, seeing parts of the play they’d missed on previous visits), and afterwards, we all compared notes for hours about what we’d seen, and what we’d missed.

street view on the phone
I share this dream as a reminder that the fiction and entertainments of the future may have a very different form than the fiction of today. The first metamorphosis is just to change the medium, in the way that the paper map or atlas morphed first into online mapping sites. But eventually, we’ll get much deeper, as mapping is today morphing into augmented reality layers (from Yelp reviews or Foursquare check-ins to Google Street View) superimposed on walking or driving directions delivered on a phone.

This is the kind of world we’re exploring at the Where 2.0 Conference next month. I don’t believe there are any talks on augmented reality fiction (@brady, correct me if I’m wrong), but there might as well be. The world we’re entering is going to be as rich and strange as last night’s dream.

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