A few weeks ago, I announced my choice of topic for my BCM325 Digital Artefact, which is Virtual Reality (VR) and related ethical issues. However, further research has proven that VR-in-general is too large a topic; combined with my passion for writing and storytelling, this means I have narrowed the scope down, focusing on the application of VR in storytelling to create compelling narratives.
In my upcoming presentation, I will share with the class some key points which I will further explain these below, with resources from my secondary research thus far.
VR is one of the keys to immersive storytelling, yet there are currently some obstacles.
Created in 2016 and even nominated for an Academy Award (Chalk 2017), Pearl is not only a theatrical short film but a fully immersive 360° video and an interactive VR experience. Following the dream-chasing journey of a father-daughter duo, viewers, with head-mounted devices, could step into the story and immerse themselves in the experience.
VR, with its power of allowing viewers to be active agents (Dooley 2017, p. 161), is reshaping storytelling in unprecedented ways—the agency means the audience can go at their own pace in non-linear paths, even (Jones 2017 p. 178); the consequent myriad of possible endings urges storytellers to think in non-linearly (Koski 2015, p. 11).
As a result, this application of VR is becoming more prevalent in educational institutions as a pedagogical approach to the delivery of highly visual content to young pupils. Project MuraVagando is an excellent example: it was developed for students in an Italian high school to learn about their local heritage (Carrozzino et al. 2016, pp. 304-306), as they freely moves through picturesque virtual scenery with the help of a birds’-eye-view map.
Taking it even further, researchers have discovered that VR technological intervention proves more efficient in assisting deaf and hard-of-hearing students in improving their storytelling ability more than traditional pictorial intervention (Eden 2014, p. 370). Wildcard, a wearable VR storytelling tool has been implemented at a facility for children with intellectual developmental disability and has been proven to “partially [boost]” the children’s long-term memory (Gelsomini et al. 2016, p. 5191).
However, in post-production, a major challenge is to assemble frames from multiple cameras into 360° worlds (Burns 2016, p. 38). Also, since they are time-consuming and costly to produce, VR projects can yet to be constantly churned out (Sullivan 2018).
In journalism, the application of VR in creating immersive news stories has been proven to enhance audience’s experience greatly.
With names like New York Times and Guardian ambitiously entering the market for immersive VR journalism, it is no surprise that huge steps have been taken to introduce news audiences to elaborately crafted pieces that “stand up to journalistic rigor” (Kane 2014, p. 32), e.g. Project Syria, a visceral take on Syrian children at war
A remarkable observation is how the audience of VR journalism “respond realistically” to situations which they fully know to be virtual, according to de la Pena, one of the creators of Project Syria (2010, p. 293). This is partially due to viewers’ complete deprivation of distractions (Jones 2017, p. 181; Shin & Biocca 2017, p. 16) and a sense of “being-there” (Sundar et al. 2017, p. 674).
A question arising from this, however, is whether immersive experience with VR evokes genuine feelings and empathy—this discussion involves many philosophical questions on whether we can feel for (what is deemed by many) fiction.
As pondered over by Radford and Weston (1975, pp. 67-69),
what we think to be genuine feelings for a character in a story (be it fiction or non-fiction) are likely mere make-believe, no matter how “moved” we are by an account. On the other hand, Currie (1995) argued that we can truly, genuinely, feel for what is virtual/unreal, via “secondary-imagining”, which is imagining not just what a character would do but what one would feel if he/she were the character.
Sánchez Laws (2017) and Shin (2018) seemingly think along the same line as Currie. Emotional engagement, a major part of immersive journalism, encourages viewers to empathise with the virtual people’s pain as if it were their own, countering emotional distancing in traditional journalism (Sánchez Laws 2017, p. 10); it is further enhanced by the state of flow brought by immersion (Shin 2018, p. 70).
As the application of VR in storytelling is studied heavily in relation to child development and early education, some other serious ethical implications should be considered during this type of research.
Motion sickness, information overload, intensification of experience, and re-entry into the real world are debatable aspects of a VR experience (Behr et al. 2005, pp. 670-671), and they require special strategies to alleviate (pp. 674-675). In child development, VR is found to potentially impact children’s prefrontal brain structures, and engrossment sometimes makes them lose track of the real world (Southgate et al. 2017, pp. 14-15).
For my final Digital Artefact (which will be up on my blog by 1 June), I will present my findings through a series of annotated 360° illustrations embedded in a blog post, which requires some usage of Photoshop and another sketching app for tablets, Leonardo. As of this recess week, I have subscribed to Adobe Creative Cloud (with a student discount) for Photoshop, and—coincidentally—Leonardo has recently been upgraded with a brilliant function of exporting to .psd files, which would seemingly make my process of transferring drawings into Photoshop to create 360° illustrations more intuitive.
That’s it for now—stay tuned for more updates!
Behr, K, Nosper, A, Klimmt, C, & Hartmann, T 2005, ‘Some Practical Considerations of Ethical Issues in VR Research’, Presence: Teleoperators & Virtual Environments, vol. 14, no. 6, pp. 668-676.
Burns, M 2016, ‘VR in post: building a world for immersive storytelling’, TVB Europe, pp. 38-39.
Carrozzino, M, Evangelista, C, & Galdieri, R 2016, ‘Building a 3D Interactive Walkthrough in a Digital Storytelling Classroom Experience’, Informatica (03505596), vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 303-309.
Chalk, L 2017, ‘Virtual Reality Is Reshaping Story-Telling For The Better’, Forbes, 12 June, viewed 14 April 2018, <https://www.forbes.com/sites/lionelchok/2017/06/12/virtual-reality-is-reshaping-story-telling-for-the-better/#5302762a5dd4>.
Currie, G 1995, ‘The moral psychology of fiction’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, vol. 73, no. 2, pp. 250-259.
Dooley, K 2017, ‘Storytelling with virtual reality in 360-degrees: a new screen grammar’, Studies in Australasian Cinema, vol. 11, no. 3, p. 161-171.
de la Pena, N, Weil, P, Llobera, J, Giannopoulos, E, Pomes, A, Spanlang, B, Friedman, D, Sanchez-Vives, M, & Slater, M 2010, ‘Immersive Journalism: Immersive Virtual Reality for the First-Person Experience of News’, Presence, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 291-301.
Eden, S 2014, ‘Virtual intervention to improve storytelling ability among deaf and hard-of-hearing children’, European Journal of Special Needs Education, vol. 29, no. 3, pp. 370-386.
Gelsomini, M, Garzotto, F & Montesano, D 2016, ‘Wildcard: A wearable virtual reality storytelling tool for children with intellectual developmental disability’, in 38th Annual International Conference of the Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBC) 2016 Proceedings, Orlando, USA, 16 – 20 August, viewed 9 April 2018, <https://ieeexplore-ieee-org.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/document/7591896/?arnumber=7591896&SID=EBSCO:edseee>.
Jones, S 2017, ‘Disrupting the narrative: immersive journalism in virtual reality’, Journal of Media Practice, vol. 18, no. 2/3, pp. 171-185.
Kane, R 2014, The Future is Now. (cover story)’, Editor & Publisher, vol. 147, no. 12, p. 30.
Koski, O 2015, ‘Step into the Story’, Nieman Reports, vol. 69, no. 1, pp. 8-11.
Radford, C & Weston, M 1975, How can we be moved by the fate of Anna Karenina?’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society: Supplementary Volume, vol. 49, pp. 67-93.
Sánchez Laws, A 2017, ‘Can Immersive Journalism Enhance Empathy?’, Digital Journalism, p. 1-16.
Shin, D 2018, ‘Empathy and embodied experience in virtual environment: To what extent can virtual reality stimulate empathy and embodied experience?’, Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 78, pp. 64-73.
Shin, D, & Biocca, F 2017, ‘Exploring immersive experience in journalism’, New Media and Society. Available from: 10.1177/1461444817733133. [14 April 2018].
Southgate, E, Smith, SP & Scevak, J 2017, ‘Asking ethical questions in research using immersive virtual and augmented reality technologies with children and youth’, in IEEE Virtual Reality (VR) 2017 Proceedings, Los Angeles, USA, 18 – 22 March, viewed 10 April 2018, <https://ieeexplore-ieee-org.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/document/7892226/?arnumber=7892226&SID=EBSCO:edseee>.
Sullivan, T 2018, ‘VR gets real: Immersive storytelling in journalism’, PC Magazine, p. 103.
Sundar, SS, Kang, J, & Oprean, D ‘Being There in the Midst of the Story: How Immersive Journalism Affects Our Perceptions and Cognitions’, Cyberpsychology Behavior and Social Networking, vol. 20, no. 11, pp. 672-682.