Peabody Essex Museum / ICON

VR As A Vehicle For Storytelling

Inspired by the Peabody Essex Museum’s exhibition “Nature’s Nation,” ICON Interactive envisioned how 200 years of rising sea levels might transform their local landscape. The Kingston 2219 experience transported guests at ICON’s Kingston Street loft to a distant future, spurring thought into how today’s tech is changing the ways in which we tell stories and experience the spaces around us.

At the exhibit, ICON employed augmented and virtual reality to transport attendees 200 years into the future. Their destination: New Boston, a version of the city now partially submerged as a result of rising sea levels.

Storytelling Through Tech

At Kingston 2219, attendees could switch between present and future Boston instantaneously. Upon arrival in the present-day loft, each guest received an ID card that, when scanned, revealed their unique New Bostonian identity—complete with a custom profile image and short biography. If two guests scanned their cards at once, they also learned how their future personas interacted with each other.

Then, to jump to the future, all guests had to do was put on a VR headset. The virtual loft was filled with stories for viewers to discover as they explored the meticulously mapped space. Some of these stories were the realm of fiction: Posters in 2219 derided “Wharf Rats,” referencing the experience’s underlying narrative in which New Boston’s lower levels were overrun with squatters vying for what little space remained above the water.

However, much like writing a good book, the backbone of this speculative fantasy experience was also grounded in extensive research. A weather gauge on the future-loft’s windows pinned the daily high at 108 degrees, signifying that it wasn’t just the tides that had risen over time. Back in the present, guests’ profiles demonstrated how the fictional citizens of New Boston used real methods to adapt to their urban seascape. Popular occupations circa 2219 included hydroculture—the growing of plants through nutrient-rich solvents instead of soil—and water taxi driving.

Storytelling Through Space

Beneath its layers of stories and fun “cyberpunk” aesthetic, the Kingston 2219 event also served to encourage viewers to think about how today’s burgeoning technologies have changed the way people experience the spaces around them. When guests put on their VR headsets for the first time and saw the loft instantly change before their eyes, it created a powerful moment that stuck with them long after the event had ended.

We’ve mapped and measured our loft on Kingston Street in Chinatown so that we can think about the future of spaces and spatial digital experience. We can skin and reskin in virtual reality, augmented reality, and through projections. We can use it to raise questions and tell stories.