Versions is the essential guide to virtual reality and beyond. It investigates the rapidly deteriorating boundary between the real world and the one behind the screen. Versions launched in 2016 at the eponymous conference dedicated to creativity and VR with the New Museum’s incubator NEW INC.

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Inside Eviction Notice: a harrowing tale of cultural uprooting

Inside Eviction Notice: a harrowing tale of cultural uprooting

Imagine that your friend has just gotten news that she’s being evicted. She’s packing up her home, unknowing of where she’ll end up next. You watch as she packages up all her things, every item a reminder as to why her culture, her family, and her community mean so much to her. By its end, the room is empty, rid of all traces of her living there, and off you both go into an unsure future.

This is the scenario for the Gear VR title Eviction Notice, a narrative game originally borne out of a Dames Making Games game jam from July 2016. After the game jam, the project was embraced for more iterations by its diverse group of developers. Eviction Notice isn’t just another game jam game.

Tanya Kan, the main creator behind the project, is singlehandedly its Executive Producer, Creative Director, Lead 3D and Texture Artist, Writer, Voice Actorthough she’s not completely alone (Mic Fok, Chris Donnelly, Kat Pavlov, Ksenia Eic, Kaitlin Tremblay, and Erika Szabo are her comrades in development). Kan joined us to talk about the ambitious project at length, and how it’s changed since that mid-summer game jam from not too long ago.

“eviction is something that can happen anywhere”

Versions: You’ve also worked on the text-driven game, Solace State, so what led you to developing a VR game? What makes VR the right platform for Eviction Notice?

Tanya Kan: Eviction Notice is something that came up from a game jam in the Dames Making Games community in Toronto, and it only started in July 2016. So it’s a fairly recent game. Whereas Solace State precludes that by almost two years in terms of its ideation and its concept. I was doing quite a bit of research for Solace State, and it’s about civil rights, youth movements. I tried to find a very diasporic expression for it, something where from my own ethnic background I can compare and contrast it with the institution building in the west, for example through the Occupy Wall Street protests and so forth.

From the research that I did and interviews I did with individuals who are activists or politicians, I also wanted to create a spin-off. A different tonality regarding civil rights, or the loss of culture in a slightly different format. For something like Solace State, I was very focused on breaking away from first person, so everything about that is going against the idea of configuring people in a kind of first-person-shooter experience. I wanted to disrupt that. I wanted to look at a city in a different way, from a different perspective.

Eviction Notice, however, is fully into first-person because that’s part of that appeal. You want to be immersed in that environment. Also, both of the games are actually worked with two different teams. So when I pitched the idea of Eviction Notice, it was completely collaborative. It was something that we started just exploring on the side as an innovation project.

V: How has Eviction Notice changed over the course of its development since its game jam inception? Would you say it’s nearly ‘done’ now?

TK: It’s still not, exactly. I mean, we’ve been doing showcases regarding it, and received amazing feedback from said showcases, but we still want to innovate and push it further before we release it on, say, the Oculus Store, which is something we are considering. Whether or not it’s commercial or otherwise we haven’t really fully discussed yet.

But from the game jam itself, we learned a number of lessons, both technical as well as design-oriented. On the design side, the monologue was a little heavy. People felt cerebrally engaged with a story of a personal eviction, but they didn’t find that they themselves were emotionally engaged. Some people found it to be very preachy. So we went back, rewrote the story, rerecorded it as voiceovers between two characters instead so that the player feels like they’re very much embedded in the act of helping their friend pack away her life essentially. So, you’re complicit in the act of cultural disappearance as well. And that’s something that we’ve had to learn over time and hear from feedback. And then as a team, we put our heads together to design.

“One of the things we [found inspiration in] would be the game Gone Home, because that’s also exploratory of a very personal space.”

V: When I first saw this project, I didn’t know it was this bigger collaborative thing. Would you say the game being a collaborative effort overall has helped the game’s narrative? And what do you hope people take away from it?

TK: It’s great that the team that’s working on this is mostly female, I think it really generated that collaborative spirit. Not all of us share the same ethnic background, for example, but it’s really nice to see how these stories have universal elements to them. And a lot of people who have played Eviction Notice can see this same incident happening in different regions around the world, from pretty much every single continent. I’ve heard people say they’ve heard their parents’ generation undergo [eviction], in Europe, Russia, the Middle East, even North America themselves, and that’s something we really wanted to approach with this. We didn’t want to narrow it down any particular political group or image necessarily, just that this is something that can happen anywhere.

You can follow Kan on Twitter for updates on Eviction Notice.

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