You’ve probably heard of the children’s story Harold and the Purple Crayon. It tells the endearing story of a four-year old boy who uses his purple crayon to draw his own world to explore. Sounds a lot like Oculus’ Quill or Google’s Tilt Brush. We can be modern-day Harolds and create our own worlds with VR hardware.
Harold’s influence in media doesn’t stop at VR. Crockett Johnson’s picture book has influenced countless adaptations in animated film, even a show HBO ran in 2002 that won a Daytime Emmy Award. It’s even being adapted into a film right now with Will Smith and Sony at the forefront of the project. It also influenced a computer game, a kid’s TV show, and American children’s education lesson plans.
And then there’s Tennessee Tuxedo and his Tales, a children’s show that aired on CBS from 1963-1966. In that show, a character, Mr. Whoopee, has a 3D blackboard that serves as a source for answers to questions about technology and life through illustrations. So, essentially, Google.
I recently went to a silent comedy play, Chalk Talk, written and performed by the quite versatile Alex Curtis. It told the story of an adorkable everyman who prepared for a date by drawing himself a house with things that he knew his date would enjoy, like a puppy and nice decor. Aside from the running gags of his clumsiness and miming, the play serves as a commentary on the construction of social impressions — we curate our Tinder, Facebook, and Instagram accounts for a specific audience we wish to woo with our online lives. Chalk Talk drives at this point quite explicitly through the hasty way in which the actor prepares his home with his chalk stick. The consequent depression and isolation that accompanies living for social affirmation through effortful curations is depicted through his low point in the play, when he self-soothes with his left arm through his coat (anti-depressants).
So, what do all of these media have in common? VR. (I would argue that you could relate VR to anything, but let’s stay focused)
The implications of VR as a medium for creation. It’s worth noting that a subset of VR software is headed towards a very specific realm of user-production. I love this because when users are given autonomy, wonderful things happen. Just look at Uber, Airbnb, and every social media site. These are platforms that are reliant on users’ proactivity. Social media wouldn’t exist if we didn’t create a space for it by posting frequently. Uber and Airbnb wouldn’t exist if users didn’t take the initiative to offer what they can to keep the apps running. VR is adopting that shared economy, or user-centric economy. Chalk Talk and Harold and the Purple Crayon point to a part of ourselves that takes what we have in our hands and create something of our own with it. VR world building is the same. You’ve got Mr. Whoopees (developers) creating the space within which everyday users can flex their creative muscles and Harolds creating their own worlds with the hardware given to them.