Josephine Anstey The Trial The Trail

General Information

The Trial The Trail is a virtual reality (VR) drama with intelligent agents acting as characters who lead the human participant through virtual locations, moral choices and emotional states. The story-scape is a surreal quest, sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing: imagine Tarkovsky's Stalker crossed with Alice in Wonderland crossed with Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Two characters, Patofil and Filopat, introduce themselves and join with the participant in a series of absurdist challenges. The participant's reactions are logged, interpreted psychologically, and affect the characters' behavior, the presentation of further challenges, and the ending.

The Trial The Trail is a psychological journey towards the participant's heart's desire, designed to provoke self-reflection on a number of issues: bullying and trusting others; selfish- and selfless-ness; enjoying the moment or sublimating pleasure. The participant is given the opportunity to occupy any of these psychic positions. Visually The Trial The Trail has two major settings, a curtained stage where the companions explain each part of the quest, and, as the curtain rises and stage flats fly out of sight, an endless vista of the fantasy landscape where the quest itself takes place. The stage, and the banter of the companions when they are on the stage, refer to the over-genial charm of music halls, English pantomimes, game shows. The artifice and theatricality of the endeavor are fore-fronted, in order to answer the cynic's presumption that she will not get her heart's desire. By contrast, when the curtains are raised the user moves into a fairy-tale landscape in which wishes may come true. This space displaces the stage, yet it hints at interior space. Here Freud and Dali meet Alice in Wonderland. The user is offered the chance to move between immersion in the task at hand, giving full rein to the feelings that brings up, and observation of herself.

When completed, The Trial The Trail will be 20-30 minute experience, during which the user is immersed in computer generated imagery. The images change in real time as the user navigates through the virtual environment. Ideally the piece will be shown to one person at a time, so that they are not intimidated by an audience watching how they interact.

The project is both a creative and research collaboration headed by Josephine Anstey and Dave Pape in the Department of Media Study and Stuart C. Shapiro in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University at Buffalo. It builds upon Anstey and Pape's previous experience creating interactive fiction for VR; Pape's work on networked authoring systems for VR; and Shapiro's experience developing intelligent agents and cognitive robots. The virtual enviroment and embodiment of the agent's are built using Pape's VR authoring system Ygdrasil. The minds of the agents are built using Shapiro's Knowledge Representation Reasoning and Acting system, SNePS.

updated  Sept 05