News organizations such as EURONEWS, CNN, ARTE and BBC have all started to experiment with virtual reality (VR). Interactive reports with 360-degree videos appear on the web and invite viewers to dive into the story. Whether in a battlefield or underwater with sharks, the audience is right in the scene. Journalists always strive to bring people closer to the reality of a story. Will the multimedia experience be an opportunity to reach this goal?
LET’S START WITH THE EXPLANATION OF VIRTUAL REALITY
Virtual Reality is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment. The user does not sit in front of a screen anymore, instead he is immersed in the experience through a VR headset. While first ideas of VR were published in the mid 19th century with the purpose to revolutionize cinema, it has become popular in the gaming and entertainment scene, but also in education and a variety of industries, such as medicine, architecture and the military.
Major challenges are cost and consumer take-up of headsets. In the previous years production cost has come down through technological developments, among them cheaper cameras, VR-headsets and the optimization of post production software which today allow an easier entry point.
This is an example to get a first insight of the spatial 360-degree experience of virtual reality
More examples below ↓
VR allows people to get impressions and experience the atmosphere of places, where they normally wouldn’t go. Experts hope the user will have more empathy for, engagement with, and understanding of the subject.
Nonny de la Peña has been working in this field for more than a decade: “We believe that immersive journalism offers a profoundly different way to experience the news, and therefore ultimately to understand it in a way that is otherwise impossible, without really being there.”
The user’s stress level can increase and even feel uncomfortable through the intensity of VR, depending on the topic. In other research, users felt unwell, if the personal space was invaded by virtual people. In VR, compared to a TV experience, the person is immersed in the headset, there is no room for other activities, while with TV there is often a sense of disconnection that is caused by doing other things.
Nonny de la Peña also said: “Immersive journalism does not aim solely to present the facts, but rather the opportunity to experience the facts.”
Donghee Shin of the Chung-Ang University in South Korea evaluated how virtual reality stimulates empathy and the embodied experience. The data of the experiments show that the VR story successfully induced presence and flow as well as empathy during and after the story for the participants. The embodiment in the story scenes were high, despite substantial variation among the different test groups.
The results show the benefits of virtual reality for journalism, as well as for other sectors. Further technological developments will happen, and VR hardware will be taken up by customers, we will soon explore the growing world of immersive medias.