VR as Empathy or Novelty – continued

In a previous post I identified some of the unsolved design issues that make VR a less than engaging storytelling platform, and questioned whether the global elite wearing headsets to look at refugees in a UN-sponsored virtual reality documentary,  were experiencing an expansion of empathy, as claimed by one of the filmmakers,  or simply a sense of excitement at the novelty of a new technological gadget.  This interview with Gabo Arora, who c0-produced the project provides some useful context: that the VR experience was positioned as a  high profile replacement  for a cancelled appearance by Bono. It also offers  a key detail about an important design intervention that Arora made in staging one part of the film. The glamour of VR may not last, but the design intervention — creating action that encircles the viewer — is a useful convention that is likely to become a staple of the evolving medium.

It is works better in the  refugee camp (see 6:20 in), than in the Disney VR of the intro to the Lion King which disrupts the immersive effect of a meticulously  choreographed, costumed,  and lighted stage picture by allowing us to move around chaotically, revealing the strained and tawdry artifice behind the illusion. Perhaps this is a new convention in the making as well — unintentional here, but potentially quite powerful: to take a composed image, like the pseudo-African primitivist landscape of a Broadway musical,  and expose its constructed and distorting character  nature  by turning into an explorable 3D space.

One response to “VR as Empathy or Novelty – continued

  1. As a photographer, I really like the last thought about unveiling the distorted character of an artwork. There is this great film, actually an ad, by Canon. They invited 6 different photographers to photograph the same person. However, each of them got told a different backstory of the person (e.g. prison inmate, fisherman). It’s very interesting to see how largely the images differ, despite portraying the same person.

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