FIVARS 2023: Spotlight on Never Grow Up

Do you remember the games you played as a kid? Never Grow Up celebrates this nostalgic canon with seven whimsical VR vignettes. FIVARS caught up with Director imagefatale, aka Karen Vanderborght.

What led to the creation of this piece?

Never Grow Up (NGU) is my first up-close-and-personal work. It is a playful VR experience through which I unpack my complexity as a grown-up, finally coming to terms with the impact of my “adverse childhood experiences.”, quantified in psychology as the ace score. You can compare it with cholesterol levels but of child trauma.

One in four people have experienced child trauma. 90% of them never tell. Despite coming from a dark place, the overall arc of the interactive experience itself is whimsical and playful. Never Grow Up is an artsy VR brawler game that celebrates play as an act of resilience and inspires survivors, adults and children alike, to share their stories of child maltreatment.

What was the production process for you and your team? What did you learn?

Never Grow Up VR

Never Grow Up is the first VR game by digital artist imagefatale and the newly formed ad hoc art collective RAARAlab. The game was made remotely by a small dedicated team during the pandemic. As everyone at some point got COVID, it took us a while to get to this stage. We received financial support from the Canada Arts Council and Ontario Arts Council and technical support from Flipside XR and Masterpiece Studio, two leading Canadian XR companies.

One level of this game has been exhibited as an interactive installation at Le Labo, an art gallery in downtown Toronto, in 2021. We plan to submit the game to Oculus AppLab and distribute it further on and Sidequest.

We hope to find a producer and publisher to develop the game further to make the sidekick’s personality change more subtly as you play together.

How did you become an immersive media content creator and why?

In the Summer of 2013, I got a call from a kid’s TV series producer to figure out this VR stuff they were co-producing. At the time, I was over my broadcast career and thrilled to jump into this new medium. I rekindled my original love for interactive media through that first VR project and have never looked back.

What is the VR/AR industry like in your region?

Never Grow Up VR
Never Grow Up VR

I work with producers, studios, and institutions from both Toronto and Montreal. From my experience, Montreal appreciates cultural expression more than Toronto. Toronto’s fixation on business limits its capacity for exploration and imagination. It’s such a pity because both cities harbor so much talent.

What do you have planned for the future?

I just finished an augmented walking game called Nuville. which blends digital with physical play. This was an exhilarating process; I want to explore mixed reality more, where the virtual and the real intersect, magic mixes with the mundane, and science intertwines with nonsense.

What would you like to share with fellow content creators and/or the industry?

The XR field is a niche where lots of exploration can and -should -happen. Let’s appreciate each other’s success and support each other when the going gets tough. We all need some of that cash to create and make ends meet, but more than money is needed to be the main driver for innovation.

Do you think VR festivals like FIVARS are important?

Festivals like FIVARS are important as they are one of the few solely focused on XR. The average member of the public might have heard of VR or AR but has never tried it. As for the XR veterans, it is always refreshing to experience more exploratory, narrative, and weird titles. Most of these never reach digital stores like Meta, AppLab, or Steam.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Hope to meet you at the festival. And if not, reach out to have a chat and a coffee, virtual or real.

Never Grow Up plays at FIVARS 2023 Festival Sept 15th through October 3rd.