Is this the future of life with VR? Dispatches from the Sundance New Frontier lab

Is this the future of life with VR?” asks the NFB’s head of digital, Loc Dao on Twitter. It’s certainly the dominant view from the Sundance New Frontier lab, as pictures of be-goggled guests flying like birds and walking through woods appear online – “All approaches are different, you can almost see how their craft is informing their approach to this technology.” said Sundance programmer Shari Frilot.

VR technology is rapidly advancing in a number of ways, providing a new platform for storytelling and a new way to tell stories. Whilst it’s hard to keep up with where we are – let alone with where we’re going – these articles go some way to address the important questions that are arising from the New Frontier lab.

Although the future is uncertain, one thing’s for sure – this is going to be an exciting year for VR.

Finding meaning in virtual reality: A closer look at New Frontier

How real are these virtual experiences? Although the range on offer at Sundance are varied – from Oscar Raby’s chilling Assent, to the experiential essay Zero Point- they are all trying to do the same thing; transport you somewhere else, to experience something different and often very real.

Writing for the Sundance blog, Eric Hynes posits the question: how do I reconcile that flinch, the physical memory of having been somewhere I actually wasn’t?  

The Godmother of Virtual Reality: Nonny de la Peña

Nonny’s name has been synonymous with VR since she first exhibited Hunger in LA at Sundance in 2012. Since then she has been a regular on the festival circuit, bringing her immersive journalism pieces to audiences everywhere and not always received favourably: “I had colleagues literally pointing their finger at me and saying, ‘You can’t do that. That doesn’t work. It’s not ethical. It’s too subjective.”

In this interview, Nonny discusses the changes in the field over the last couple of years and looks at where her company the Emblematic Group, who are already working with The Guardian, BBC and Al-Jazeera, might take VR journalism in the future.

The New Virtual Reality Experience That Takes You Inside A Sexual Assault

Long form piece from Buzzfeed that delves into one of the virtual reality experiences on offer at Sundance this year. Perspective; Chapter I: The Party is a fictitious account of a sexual assault from a college party, from both the female and male perspective. This scenario, though fake, has it’s feet rooted firmly in reality – mirroring the narrative from a number of campus assault stories that have been in the press recently.

Perspective; Chapter I: The Party

Perspective; Chapter I: The Party

As well as speaking to the creators, Rose Troche and Morris May, the journalists also go into great depth about their own experience of the The Party – spoiler alert if you’re planning on seeing this any time soon, but a must-read if you’re not.

Virtual reality through the Oculus Rift offers a platform that your viewers can’t look away from – this piece takes that concept to another, fairly uncomfortable, level.

Vice Uses Virtual Reality to Immerse Viewers in News

“It is not meant for us for titillation. It is meant for real immersion into a story or culture,” he said. “We’re interested in ideas and emotions and not roller-coaster rides.” – Vice’s chief creative officer Eddy Moretti spells out the immediate future between VR and Vice, and it doesn’t involve style simulations. Their collaboration with Chris Milk and Spike Jonze caught everyones attention at Sundance, with the ‘future of journalism’ tag being re-announced. This eight minute virtual reality experience transports viewers to the centre of the Millions March protest in New York – an experience that is available on both Oculus Rift at Sundance, and also through Milk’s VR app Vrse – which can be downloaded for free.

This exploration into VR journalism is exciting (yet potentially unnerving) and is moving forwards quickly – tech company Jaunt are working on real-time VR news production, Hong Kong Unrest, an immersive documentary on the pro-democracy protests, launched and this week Microsoft announced their HoloLens prototype.