VR as a Tool for Social Change

Monika Kozub
October 18th 2016

In 2012 the movie Hunger in Los Angeles, by documentary filmmaker and journalist Nonny de la Peña, was presented at Sundance Festival. Despite its shortness (only 3.5 minutes long), it was a major step towards a completely new way of telling stories: immersive journalism. The film presented a real-life situation that happened on a street of LA using a VR technique. Since then, there have been many attempts to turn this playful technology into a serious medium.

The basic idea behind immersive journalism goes along with the main VR goal: simulating your presence in a place you are not in the exact time and space. However rather than developing fictional scenarios, it shows you actual events from war zones, refugee camps and other places you usually see on the news. Visuals use or recreate the original footage, same with sound effects. It should make you feel as you've really experienced it on site, no changes to enhance the plot are welcome. Participants (you can no longer speak about "viewers") might also query or interact with the elements around them to know more about the details or context.

The United Nations recently came up with a feature that took this experience one step further. In the new mobile app they placed a button to convert compassion into action. After experiencing a film like "Clouds over Sidra" which tells a story of a 12-year-old girl in a Syrian refugee camp, or "Waves of Grace" in which you meet an Ebola survivor in Liberia, you can press the button and be relinked to the menu of actions. "Right now it takes you to The Sidra Project [take action page]. Through this you will be able to donate money, get involved with organizations in Canada, donate your time or extra things lying around. If you want to teach English, want to mentor a family or you want to invite them for dinner. We're figuring out what this needs to be with leading experts, but the idea is to really tie VR to those actions and be able to measure it", says Gabo Arora, the UN creative director.

Source: Engadget, Immersive Journalism
Image: Chris Milk's "Clouds over Sidra" shot

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