Translating Oral Traditions Into A Modern, Immersive, Interactive Virtual Reality Experience

Three undergraduate students, Andrew Guagliardo (from Academy for Creative Media), Anna Sikkink, Derek Chan (from Computer Science), and Kawena Bautista (Shidler College of Business) were awarded $10,000 by the University of Hawaii’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) to research how polynesian myths could be translated into virtual reality (VR) experiences.

The students will be guided by three mentors: Vilsoni Hereniko – Playwright and professor of the Academy for Creative Media at University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa, King ʻAfa Cocker – world-renowned polynesian tattoo artist, and Jason Leigh (director of LAVA, and professor of Information and Computer Sciences).

Myths and oral traditions are the means by which many Pacific Island cultures have historically passed on their values between generations. They help explain the world and also prescribe the way people should behave. This project seeks to answer questions in relation to Pacific Islands myths and oral traditions, through the development of an immersive interactive experience leveraging virtual reality technology, such as:

  1. What are the elements of a myth that lend itself to becoming an interactive virtual reality experience?
  2. Which myths contain elements that are typically amplified by immersive virtual reality experiences?
  3. How does one write a screenplay based on a myth or tale for an immersive experience in a virtual environment?
  4. What is lost and what is gained in this new way of storytelling? How does a virtual environment affect one’s reception and understanding of a myth or legend that already exists in the print medium?

The work is significant for several reasons. First, the research and development of this project will result in an understanding of the methodologies that are essential for converting a passive storytelling experience into an immersive, interactive one. Second, the project is a rare depiction of Pacific Island culture in an emerging creative medium. Thirdly the virtual reality program will be used by Prof. Vilsoni Hereniko to enhance his classes on Pacific literature and film by introducing students to this new medium of expression.