Scholars' Lab Blog //Exploring Power through Playacting & Virtual Reality
Blog //Exploring Power through Playacting & Virtual Reality

As part of this year’s Praxis Program, we are crafting workshops inspired by digital methodologies and pedagogy that we will then run for participants in the spring. In my own research, I have been inspired by the possibilities of virtual and augmented reality to re-frame my perspective of historical events and provoke new questions. I decided to create a workshop that uses virtual reality as a jumping off point. How can we use the playful and imaginary aspects of virtual reality to conceptualize the constitution and construction of power, particularly in the past? How can we bring to light biases or perspectives that shift the resulting virtual scene? What are the benefits and limits of this method? How can this particular digital conceptualization of historical scenes ignite new narratives and directions in academia? Rather than attempt to craft a virtual reality space within the constraints of a one-hour, one-off workshop, I will be pairing virtual reality with story boarding as a means to introduce the technology, its issues, and conventions for the participants. I hope to inspire curiosity in the participants so that they will continue to explore virtual reality after the workshop concludes. This blog post provides a window into my development of this workshop, in an effort to reflect more explicitly on my process and trace the crystallization of my pedagogical priorities.


This workshop encourages its participants to think of virtual reality as an externalization and extension of how we imagine scenes in our own heads. By focusing on the characters within the provided historical scene, I hope the participants will explore how our perspectives and decisions inflect our crafting of virtual reality scenes. Playacting will be used to encourage the workshop attendees to embody and access the mindsets of various historical actors. Story-telling also enables the creation of multiple perspectives or vantage points, which I hope will aid the process of questioning biases regarding modern scholarly examination of historical sources and the constitution of power. Focusing on process and play, the workshop aims to show how digital tools like virtual reality can be used to re-imagine familiar scenes, objects, or people as well as spur new lines of inquiry.


The participants will be broken down into groups of 2-3, and each group will be provided with three sheets of paper. The first sheet will be a character sheet that will provide the group with basic information about their character, in order to allow them to imagine themselves in their virtual reality scene. This will also include the historical account shared by all the characters in the room, which will be projected on a screen for communal reference. The second and third sheets will be to aid the development of their character’s perspective and motion in this scene—the participants will use one blank sheet to create a diagram of their character’s sightlines, decisions, and motion throughout the space, whereas the other sheet will contain three perspectival boxes for them to sketch three key points within their virtual reality scene.

The Activity

The workshop will begin with a discussion about virtual reality, bringing forth the participants’ experience with, assumptions regarding, or questions about this particular digital tool. The historical account will then be briefly contextualized before the group is broken down for group work in which they will select a character from a variety of character sheets and work on developing their role, placement, and perspective in the virtual reality scene. The historical account will feature a coronation in order to center one of the primary moments in which power is constituted, proclaimed, performed, and received by their public. The main portion of the workshop will be dedicated to breakout time for diagramming and drawing character perspectives. My pedagogical framework is to create a common environment of curiosity, empowerment, and learning, which is then variously inflected and nuanced by the participants’ interests. For this reason, the workshop will include more character sheets than needed for the group, so as to allow the groups to choose a character they wish to embody. Once the groups have brainstormed their character’s experience of the scene, the groups will be shuffled so as to create groups wherein each member will be a master of their original character (aka, jigsawing). In that manner, the individual characters may be placed in conversation with each other, reacting to not only the space but also the people around them, and to begin reflecting on their different experiences. If time allows, one of the leftover characters could be collaboratively brainstormed near the end, as a way for the participants to apply what they have learned throughout their workshop to the process from the beginning. In the latter half of the workshop time, we will gather together as a group to present our characters to each other and discuss the decisions that affected the character’s journey through the space. As a conclusion, we will reflect on virtual reality more broadly, and I will share resources on where to learn more about virtual and augmented reality.

Cite this post: Lauren Van Nest. “Exploring Power through Playacting & Virtual Reality”. Published October 25, 2019. Accessed on .