Photo: Paolo Pellegrin for the New York Times

War and ISIS in virtual reality

How VR can provide a new level of understanding

The Fight For Falluja, the New York Times’ latest virtual reality (VR) film, a powerful work by visual journalist Ben Solomon, shows first hand the brutality of war and terror, and battles Iraqi forces endured to retake the important strategic city of Falluja from ISIS.

The VR movie is part of a New York Times Magazine special feature by novelist and war correspondent Scott Anderson, with photographs by Italian photojournalists Paolo Pellegrin. It is the product of some 18 months of reporting on the catastrophe that has fractured the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq 13 years ago, leading to the rise of ISIS and the global refugee crisis.

The experience that VR offers in this story is unique and it embeds the viewer with the Iraqi fighting forces during the crude battle to retake Falluja.

Interviewed by The Huffington Post, Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein highlighted how VR really deepens your perspective:

It gives you this really palpable sense of presence, of what it’s like to be there on the ground and to look around this city that’s been really ravaged by more than a decade of war.

Another VR project produced by UNESCO, in partnership with the Association for the Support of Free Media and the Syrian SMART News Agency, focused on the crude reality of every day life in Syria, and the scale of destruction in Aleppo

“So many people have run out of things to say about Syria,” therapist Aya Mhanna, who treats Syrian journalists and citizens who are coping with the brutality of war their country, told Justin Salhani, world reporter at ThinkProgress.

This gives us a new method of reaching people and showing them what Syrian people go through every day.

Back in January 2016, the United Nations launched Clouds Over Sidra, its first-ever VR film about refugee crisis affecting Syria. The movie, created by UN advisor Gabo Arora and filmaker Chris Milk, documents the life of Sidra, a 12-year-old girl at the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, home to some 130,000 Syrians refugees.

The devastation in Syria is the focus of a 360 virtual reality campaign launched by Amnesty International UK and San Francisco-based firm Junior.

“VR is the next frontier of mass digital experience, […] a great democratizing force enabling any user with any device to have a fully immersive experience, headset or not,” Junior co-founder Robbie Whiting told AdWeek’s Tim Nudd. “If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a virtual reality experience is worth a whole book,” Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen added.

Many of us might think we know what’s been happening with the Syrian government’s barrel bombing of places like Aleppo, but viewing these apocalyptic scenes from 360-degrees provides a new level of understanding.