VR Diaries: Personal Experiences Come to Life with the Power of VR Storytelling

I rarely thought about the uses of virtual reality technology for storytelling before taking part in this research experiment. I never thought that story immersion would be successful because many of these stories take place thousands of miles away from where we are. Now, I realize VR storytelling can be a powerful tool if used to the best of its capabilities to tell a story.

I loved how many of these stories focused on a personal narrative to carry the story, including Nambia: Gift of Mobility, Clouds Over Sidra, and Fight For Fallujah. These stories emphasized how important it still is for new technology to adhere to basic storytelling guidelines: A personal narrative makes people care about the story and, thus, feel immersed and involved in the outcome of their lives. I could relate to the VR experiences and empathize with the characters’ struggle or living situation when I had a subject to latch onto emotionally.

This was effective because viewers get an understanding of the impact of an event or issue without having to wait until a broadcaster tells them the exact impact. It’s personal, engaging, and I constantly found myself reaching out to these individuals in order to comfort them.

Beyond creating a personal narrative for each story, the best kinds of VR stories pay attention to detail. They include text that adds, and not subtracts to the understanding of the story, a sense of reality and background images that give enough time for the viewer to absorb the experience.

Based on viewing these pieces, I would suggest journalist try to identify the type of video and interview content they can get before embarking on the VR route. Not every story has enough elements to exist in the VR space, and often some stories are not visually appealing to the eye — thus, also not making it worthy for VR. At all costs, I would avoid trying to make technology happen no matter the type of story, when in reality stories like Pearl Harbor and Project Syria would have been more effective as broadcast pieces.

I learned VR is a complex and riveting form of journalism. I am constantly looking to learn about the emerging market around me. Making sure that stays a consistent part of my life beyond college is crucial. VR can be an out of body experience with the potential to change the future life of children and adults everywhere.

There are two other narratives I uncovered through this experience where I see empathy take shape. Kiya is a reenactment-based VR piece. It captures the empathy of a victim of domestic violence when it pairs the experience with a generated 911 call and the visuals of a woman who cannot help but feel trapped in an abusive relationship. Additionally, Waves of Grace, another 360-based experience, shows the personal narrative of a survivor in Liberia’s ebola outbreak. Again, it features a narrative with personal storytelling much like some of the stories in this research project. The more I feel connected to a person or people, and feel invested in their lives, the more likely I am to empathize with the story. I believe all VR should hope to create that kind of an emotional response for the future of technology-driven storytelling.