Show what the world could be

In conversation with Ollie Jones
Show what the world could be

Stories about climate change are often told as blockbuster disasters with booming soundtracks and special effects. And while they might keep us on the edge of our seats, they’re not necessarily a plot line you’d like to be immersed in between meetings on a Thursday afternoon.

Ollie Jones and his team at Swamp Motel are here to change that. We’ve worked with them to create Enter Net Zero Live, an immersive climate drama that places you in a net zero future. How things end? That’s all down to you.

After collaborating with some of the world’s most recognisable brands, Ollie knows a thing or two about creative storytelling that captures imaginations. We chatted to him recently to find out what makes a good story, where his inspiration comes from and why immersive experiences can provide the perfect antidote to today’s headlines.

Escaping into entertainment

Between to-do lists, workout routines and to-be-read piles, it’s easy to overlook the value of simply being entertained. Of doing something just for fun. The lure of escapism is one of the reasons Ollie thinks immersive experiences are becoming more popular:

“Immersive experiences, by their very nature, provide more escapism than more traditional forms of entertainment. You’re physically there and can interact with the plot, which makes it easier to lose yourself.”

But in today’s world, are we ever truly immersed in anything? We put on a film, and then pick up our phone. We join a video call, and then open our emails. Stories and experiences, no matter how transformative they could prove to be, are always competing with technology for our attention.

Ollie sees this as an opportunity for storytellers like Swamp Motel, rather than as a limitation:

“Enter Net Zero actually started out as an online experience, but when it came to translating that to in-person we decided that, rather than asking people to put their phones down or close their laptops, we would make technology an integral part of the story. It’s an opportunity to make things feel even more immersive – like everything is happening as it would in the real world.”

What makes a good story?

“I think a good story relies on an interesting world, which then creates a need to know what happens next,” Ollie says. “With Enter Net Zero in particular, it’s the sense that you're the main character and your actions have direct consequences on the outcome of the story that drives people through.”

And is there a place for data in a compelling narrative? Ollie thinks so: “We wanted to keep the experience rooted in everything that’s important to us, which is an exciting story and an intriguing world to explore, but we also wanted to weave in relevant facts and Deloitte’s research that would support the narrative and enrich the experience.

All of us would like to know what happens next in the story of climate change, but when most of the headlines we see paint a bleak picture of the future it’s tempting to put the book down altogether. Ollie thinks immersive experiences are a powerful antidote to this feeling, as they give us a sense of agency: “Immersive experiences give people an opportunity to feel like they have an impact on the story themselves. They're no longer passive observers sitting watching a film or a show. They've got a part to play, they've got questions to answer and an impact to have.”

Enter the experience

If you’ve never taken part in an immersive experience before, the idea can be tricky to grasp. We met Ollie at the set of Enter Net Zero Live, where he gave us a quick tour and explained more about how audiences play a role in making climate saving decisions:

Immersed in possibilities

Swamp Motel are best known for creating eerie thrillers and adrenaline-fuelled escapes, but when we approached them about creating Enter Net Zero we wanted to take a different approach. “Our early drafts focused more on the worries and fears that we all have about what will happen if we don’t reach net zero. But ultimately, we both thought it was important that the experience showed that if we take the right steps, this is the kind of world we could live in.”

“Enter Net Zero shows us that change is possible and meaningful action can be taken. The focus from the start is to make it meaningful, to make it positive and to show what the world could be if we all got our act together.”

And finally, how does Ollie want people to feel after they’ve completed Enter Net Zero? “People should feel excited about what the future can be, inspired about what they can do on an individual level and motivated to push for change.” And feedback from Deloitte clients at COP26 and over 1250 colleagues from several of the firm’s offices has confirmed that choosing inspiration over desperation is a more effective way of making a connection and having an impact.

Familiar stories – with a twist

When we try to think of something new, we often start by staring at a blank page. But as Ollie shares his most recent source of inspiration, he reminds us that, when telling a story, we don’t have to start from scratch. That when viewed from a different perspective, even the most familiar stories can capture our imagination.

“I draw inspiration from films, books or games – lots of things. Anything that's created with a great level of love and dedication. I think that often shows and I find that very inspiring. The last thing that really inspired me was actually a World War II video game – based entirely around communication. It was a really exhilarating way of taking a very tired format and putting a new spin on it to completely transform your experience.”

And Ollie’s advice for where to look when inspiration eludes you?

“Everyone has the odd creative slump. One of my favourite things about working at a Swamp Motel is that, even when you're in that space and ideas aren’t flowing as freely as you’d like, we've got an amazing team of creative people from all different walks of life. Collaborating with people who have different mindsets and experiences is the best way of sparking inspiration.”
“People should feel excited about what the future can be, inspired about what they can do on an individual level and motivated to push for change.”

Thanks for reading

Whether it’s finding new ways to tell a story or feeling more hopeful about the future of the planet, we hope you feel inspired by Ollie’s perspective. We learned that when it comes that when it comes to helping people understand what they can do to play a part in securing a better future for our planet, the way you communicate the message is just as important as the message itself.

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