VR Diaries: A Look Back at Six Virtual Reality Experiences

The six virtual reality narratives I viewed for my Advanced Journalism for Mobile and Emerging Platforms class at the University of Southern California all all gave different perspectives as far as immersion is concerned. However, I felt that the most immersive narrative was 6x9. That particular narrative was the only one that was shown from a first person point of view. While watching all of the narratives, I never felt as though I was truly inside of the story. The closest I felt to actually being a part of the story was when I was watching 6x9. I believe the most effective way to use 360 and virtual reality storytelling is to let the viewer be a character in the story.

As far as empathy is concerned, I really liked when the narratives were genuine and used real characters or even audio to move the narrative. For example, I was able to empathize with the characters while watching Project Syria before I even knew the audio had been taken from real events. Somehow, just listening to the audio and watching the computer-generated characters in the story made me understand the story even more. I also felt Clouds Over Sidra was a narrative that really fostered empathy. Hearing from the little girl about her story, her hopes, and how much her life had changed because of the war made me see another side of the story.

For the most part, each narrative was engaging because they were just the right length, and they held my interest. Two of the narratives, however, were not very engaging; I was happy when they were over. Zambia: Gift of Mobility and Pearl Harbor were not narratives that did well with ongoing engagement. Pearl Harbor felt like a museum piece and the storytelling, transitions, and commercials were not appealing to me. Zambia: Gift of Mobility felt a lot like a traditional broadcast piece. The 360 aspects looked like something the producers did as an afterthought.

From viewing all these VR pieces, I have learned the many ways 360 and VR can be effective in telling a story and portraying aspects of a story that viewers were not able to experience before. I learned that if done correctly, a VR piece can really tell a powerful story or leave the viewer thinking about what they had just experienced. As I said before, I believe the most effective styles are the stories with strong characters and the ones in first person. The most effective techniques are clear production and seamless transitions from one scene to the next.

I believe reporters should avoid trying to adapt a broadcast or digital piece into a VR story. When a reporter is doing a piece, they should be thinking about VR aspects and traditional aspects separately. Also, they cannot forget the most important quality about VR: Storytelling.

Two other narratives that evoke empathy that I watched were The Displaced and Kiya. The Displaced is a narrative that follows the stories of three children who were displaced from their homes because of war. The children were from South Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine. This narrative was powerful because it told the stories from the first person point of view and had strong characters. I was able to see how the children were living and see how much their lives had changed because of the war. The other narrative, Kiya, was about a domestic violence situation. Although the story was not about war, it was still about violence and about powerful characters. Kiya was held at gunpoint by her boyfriend and was eventually killed by him. He later turned the gun on himself and committed suicide. The piece was powerful because the audio was from real 911 calls, and the computer-generated characters were put in the same setting as the real characters. Overall, I felt these two narratives were examples of great VR stories. They would have been great choices for narratives to watch during this experiment.