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An Introduction to Ascension

Ascension is a joint master’s thesis for a MFA degree in interactive media and games from the University of Southern California for MFA candidates Crystal Chan and myself, Mari Kyle.

My master’s thesis is titled Ascension: A Study on Context-Dependent Memory Development in Narrative-Driven Virtual Environments. While I will be conducting a research study with my thesis, I will be producing a virtual reality experience in which I will be implementing this research. This virtual reality experience is titled Ascension.

Ascension is a mystery/science fiction virtual reality experience where players are tasked with manipulating time, speaking to witnesses, and solving a mystery of what causes the fictional Space Shuttle Ascension to crash. Throughout this experience, players will be able to utilize 3 core mechanisms: a responsive speech recognition system, a time-manipulation mechanic, and the ability to interact with the environment. The experience will be a minimum of 10 minutes and a maximum of 40, depending on how slowly or quickly the user solves the mystery. The target demographic for Ascension is lovers of sci-fi and mystery between the age range of 13 - 50 and is rated pg-13.

My thesis goals are to build an immersive VR experience that promotes engagement with the narrative while also facilitating education in entertainment media, to bridge the technicality of audio programming with the creativity of sound design through a satisfying reactive audio system, and to implement a method of context-dependent memory reinforcement in a virtual world. My experience goals are that players will have an intimate, private space to critique science and society in a fictional circumstance, players will feel as though the game world is readily responsive to their input, and lastly that players will feel a sense of discovery, intrigue, responsibility, and gravity.

My hopes are that players who investigate the mystery in Ascension, with the help of audio, haptic, and visual cues, can improve their memory retention rates of information obtained in virtual experiences. I want to see if after a playthrough of this experience, players will know things about space shuttles that they previously did not and see whether or not they will be engaged in astrophysics afterwards in a way that they previously were not.

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