Anstey’s The Thing Growing on View at Hallwalls

June 12th, 2003 - June 21st, 2003

Categories: VR Art


Reposted From the University of Buffalo Reporter
Reporter Editor

Buffalo, NY - Two virtual, interactive dramas developed by a UB faculty member will be on display in a large-scale, 3D environment at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center through June 21.

The dramas, “The Thing Growing” and “The Trial, The Trail,” were created by Josephine Anstey, assistant professor in the Department of Media Study in the College of Arts and Sciences, in collaboration with David Pape, also an assistant professor of media study. They are designed for a “micro-audience of one person who acts as the main protagonist,” says Anstey, although small groups also are welcome to view the dramas.

“The Thing Growing” focuses on the creation of an emotional relationship between the user and “The Thing,” a computer-controlled character. It explores issues of power and control in intimate relationships, and depends on the user’s emotional investment in the story.

“The impetus for ‘The Thing Growing’ was a short story,” Anstey writes on the drama’s Web site. “In the story, I wanted to describe a relationship that was cloying and claustrophobic, but emotionally hard to escape. An immersive, interactive VR (virtual reality) environment seemed an ideal medium to recreate the tensions and emotions of such a relationship,” she says. “Someone reading a book or viewing a film or video may identify with the protagonist, but in VR, the relationship is more direct, the user is the protagonist.”

“Therefore, our fiction is something that happens to the user; we didn’t want the application to simply tell a story, we wanted it to implicate the user in a chain of events. To effect this, we created a computer-controlled character, The Thing - programmed with a multiplicity of reactions - to play opposite the user,” Anstey says.

“I believe smart agents, characters and smart environments are crucial elements for dramatic VR applications. The Thing was my first attempt at building a responsive character. The Thing is a manipulative creature designed to encourage the user to jump through emotional hoops.”

“I believe that the use of narrative techniques in VR can enhance interactivity,” Anstey continues. “Therefore, the narrative in ‘The Thing Growing’ has the classical bridge structure of plays and films: Act 1 introduces the protagonists and the goal, Act 2 revolves around struggles to reach the goal and Act 3 resolves those struggles. The difference in our case is that the user is one of the protagonists and in each act she is involved in interaction. The narrative as a whole is moved on, either as a result of the user’s actions or by time,” she says.

“The Trial, The Trail,” which Anstey says builds on her previous work involving “The Thing Growing,” is based on a quest narrative in which users embark on a guided journey.

“Imagine Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker,’ crossed with ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass,’ crossed with ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail,’” Anstey suggests. “Now imagine embarking on a guided journey through this warped yet familiar landscape.”

As users proceed through the drama, their actions and interactions are logged, interpreted psychologically and used to determine the outcome of the story.

“‘The Trial, The Trail’ is a work in progress, so the show also serves as user-testing,” Anstey notes. “In order to build the intelligence for the computer-controlled characters that will inhabit the world, I need to get an idea of how different people react. At the Hallwalls show, I will share the virtual environment with the participant, who will appear as a virtual character and act the role that will ultimately be taken by the computer,” she says.

Those wishing to participate in the dramas must reserve a one-hour block of time in advance.

The viewing times are from 11:00am - 6:00pm Tuesday through Friday, and from 1:00 - 4:00pm on Saturday.

To reserve a time slot, call Hallwalls at 835-7362 or email

Suite 425, Tri-Main Building
2495 Main St.