Fight Back: Upcoming Free Quest App Teaches Self-Defense

Coming to Quest VR headsets in late 2022, Fight Back is a free VR app aimed at teaching self-defense via hand tracking.

From Céline Tricart and produced by both Tricart and Marie Blondiaux, Fight Back uses storytelling steeped in metaphor to teach self-defense techniques via VR headset hand tracking or optional controller tracking. The project just premiered at the Venice International Film Festival and Tricart has big plans for it starting with an initial release of the 40-minute experience first for Quest headsets. Here’s a brief description of the story in Fight Back:

“A long time ago, the First Star defeated Darkness. But Shadows have come back and stars have disappeared from the skies once again. As a newborn star, you have to rescue your sisters, and liberate them from darkness. With their help, you’ll reveal your incredible potential and learn the secrets of your constellation.”

Previously, Tricart made The Key which similarly used metaphor and interaction to tell an impactful story about refugees. The 20-minute experience is available free on Quest headsets, produced as part of Oculus’ VR For Good program. Over a video call this week, Tricart explained how she’s found metaphor-based storytelling as a bridge to lasting impact with VR headsets.

“Metaphors are extremely potent in virtual reality and I discovered that working on The Key and seeing how effective it was on people because the thing is that if you say upfront that you’re making a story about refugees or that you’re making a story about self-defense for women, then people will have all kind of expectations and also they will probably put up some emotional firewalls,” Tricart said. “We tend to distance ourselves, which is a very healthy thing to do, obviously, but it makes that much harder for a storyteller to reach people and create a strong, emotional experience for people about those stories. So when you use a more poetic approach and metaphors, people tend to just dive into the story, they don’t build those emotional walls between them and the story. They just let the story take them and then when they realize what it’s truly about, it is usually a very powerful, emotional moment. So I do think that virtual reality has gotten to that point where we can use those advanced storytelling technique and they are extremely effective.”

You can learn more about the project at fightbackvr.com as Tricart seeks ongoing support in expanding its reach. Tricart dives deeper into her intentions with the work in the UploadVR audio interview embedded and transcribed below:

Céline Tricart ‘Fight Back’ Interview, Sept. 9 2022

My name is Céline Tricart. I am a storyteller across multiple mediums. In the virtual reality space, I have directed and created VR films and VR experiences for the past eight years. The most known of those titles are The Sun Ladies, which was a 360 film that released at Sundance in 2018, The Key that won storyscape at Tribeca and Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2019. And this year we are presenting in the official selection in Venice a virtual reality experience called Fight Back.

The Key was a Oculus VR For Good project. So it was part of that program that used to pair virtual reality creators with nonprofits and the goal was to create movies or experiences in VR about the specific goals that the nonprofit was working in. And for The Key, it was friends of refugees, which was a nonprofit based in Clarkston in Georgia. So I wrote and directed a virtual experience that has a metaphorical approach to the journey of a refugee. The experience itself is actually available for free on the Oculus store, so anyone can go and access it. And it’s been a very successful piece. We had won many awards and I’m really happy to say that three years later, we still have a very strong user base on Oculus every month, we have thousands of thousands of people who download it and watch it, which makes us very happy.

Fight Back is my latest work premiering at the Venice Film Festival and will be released and available for free later this year, most likely end of November, we don’t have the exact date yet. I would say it’s an intersection between documentary and video game. I try not to say that Fight Back is a video game because then a lot of people who are not gamers think that it’s not for them, while really it was built specifically for VR beginners and our target audience or target audience being women, and also anybody who is in a situation of vulnerability, because Fight Back, behind a metaphorical approach to the subject matter, is in fact a introduction to empowerment self defense, which is techniques of self defense specifically for women, but not only, using a lot of different strategies and approaches to be safer in a world that might not be the most safer world for women at the moment. And by playing this experience you will learn some basic gesture and strategies of self-defense and you will also discover hidden stories, really strong, incredible woman that exist in history whose story has been lost and through your action in the game, you’re shining a light on those stories.

Having metaphors are extremely potent in virtual reality and I discovered that working on The Key and seeing how effective it was on people because the thing is that if you say upfront that you’re making a story about refugees or that you’re making a story about self-defense for women, then people will have all kind of expectations and also they will probably put up some emotional firewalls, it’s just because we’ve been also bombarded by stories of refugees, et cetera. And so we tend to distance ourselves, which is a very healthy thing to do, obviously, but it makes that much harder for a storyteller to reach people and create a strong, emotional experience for people about those stories.

So when you use a more poetic approach and metaphors, people tend to just dive into the story, they don’t build those emotional walls between them and the story. They just let the story take them and then when they realize what it’s truly about, it is usually a very powerful, emotional moment. So I do think that virtual reality has gotten to that point where we can use those advanced storytelling technique and they are extremely effective.

It will be available for everyone for free, it’s optimized for Quest 2 at the moment and we are hoping to port it to other headsets, but that’s not gonna happen by the end of the year, will most likely be next year.

The whole challenge and uniqueness of Fight Back is that we have developed it for hand tracking. So hand tracking for people who don’t know is when you don’t have to use controllers, but you actually use your own physical hands which makes the design of the experience that much harder because you don’t have buttons and triggers and so you have to completely design it differently. And also hand tracking right now is in its infancy, it’s not very stable, it’s very limited. For example, hand tracking at the moment. It’s not very good for fast movement, for example, you have to keep your hands in front of the headset where the cameras can see them, so when you’re doing an app about gesture of self-defense, it’s really hard because we tend to want to make those gesture very fast, like for example, blocking an attack or punching. And so we have to constantly remind our participant to make slow and precise gesture instead of that fast move that you wanna do because of the adrenaline. So it’s been a bit challenging in that way, but I personally strongly believe in the potential of hand tracking. Honestly, its the future for virtual reality and exploring virtual words we still have only scratched the surface of what we can do with hand tracking and maybe later body tracking, feet tracking, et cetera.

So that’s why I wanted to make that bet and that challenge of developing for hand tracking, that being said, Fight Back can also be played with controllers. We just encourage to try hand tracking first. Here in Venice, we actually have both. So we start people on hand tracking and if for some reason hand tracking is too challenging for them because of its limitation, then we give them controllers and they can finish the experience with controllers.

Last year I actually started a new company, so I am French, but I’ve been living in LA for the past 10 years. I have my own production company called Lucid Dream Productions, and last year I started a new company based in Paris with producer Marie Blondiaux, it’s called Coven and it’s a video game studio. So Coven will be producing and creating video games, not just in VR, but also quote unquote “flatties” video game for like consoles and PC and Switch. So my next project, we wanna continue working on Fight Back. We strongly believe that we have found something very special. So the free app will be, like I said, available for free later this year. It’s about 40 minutes long, but we are also starting to work on producing a full game. So this time it’s a real game. It’s not a experience as the version that we are showing here, it will be a full game. It will be between three and five hours and using those same basic mechanics and hand tracking, et cetera. So that’s why we are starting on working on, on that project alongside another video game that I wrote, and I am also directing that is for Xbox and Switch and PC, so a flatty video game.

I’ve worked for years in the film industry and then transitioned to VR in 2014. And now I’ve started to experience with interactive storytelling with The Key and the more I advance in my career, the more I tend to go into more interactive art forms. And I’m deeply passionate about video games. I think it’s an incredible art form. I think it’s rich and I’m really quite excited to start making video games.

Regarding Fight Back, we have been getting a very strong response from the public here in Venice. We have discovered a lot of things about the experience itself, it’s always something very special when you show it to the public for the first time, we had some very deep, emotional reaction from certain people who deeply connected with the piece and they told us they felt extremely empowered, cuz the whole purpose of that piece is to create that sense of physical empowerment for everyone really, it’s for men and women, but because of the way women are raised and considered in this world, it’s often the way we see our bodies and our physical presence in this world is kind of more ethereal than physical. We don’t believe that we are strong at least on a physical level, and we don’t believe that there is anything we can really do to defend ourself if that comes to that. And I think that experience has been helping a few people here reach the conclusion that they have power and they have strength and they deserve to be respected and they can defend themselves. We have a whole impact campaign where we wanna bring that piece to places such as women shelters and try to get thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of women trained in self defense working in partnership with associations and nonprofits in that space. I would just want to put the word out there that we are looking for support for impact campaign to travel with the piece and to go to the places where it’s needed and we have a website called fightbackvr.com where people can learn more and get in touch with us if they have any ideas or support for the impact.

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