The Guardian and virtual reality
As virtual reality moves into the mainstream, this is how the Guardian is using it to advance our journalism.
This is the year that virtual reality (VR) is expected to move into the mainstream. New headsets backed by all the major tech players are coming to the market, encompassing everything from high end headsets with laser tracking to cardboard. Now more people than ever can have a go for themselves and experience a multitude of different worlds.
The launch of Daydream, Google’s platform for high quality mobile VR, is another milestone for virtual reality. As these technologies move forward they bring with them more potential for journalism and storytelling.
The Guardian is dedicated to digital innovation - we work with the best digital and editorial talent to create world class Guardian journalism. When new platforms emerge we work ahead of the curve, considering how these technologies will work for our journalism and readers and experimenting with them to bring Guardian journalism to life. In whatever we do, it’s our mission to create impactful and meaningful journalism that provokes action and thought. There are always risks in investing in new technologies, but for me the risk is not doing this.
We released our first VR piece, 6x9 in April this year. It placed the audience in a solitary confinement prison cell and illustrated some of the psychological effects of sensory deprivation that incarcerated prisoners can experience - from hallucinations to disembodiment. It was an experiment in what our journalism could look like in VR.
We undertook that project with the explicit goal of pushing the boundaries of this new medium technically, journalistically and commercially. I now lead the newly created Guardian VR team which is testament to our investment into virtual reality journalism. Our studio operates cross-functionally incorporating journalists, designers, project manager and a commercial lead. At the heart of everything we do in the studio are the questions - ‘what can this do for our journalism?’, and ‘how can we make this the most compelling experience for our audience?’ Much of our conversation revolves around story ideas: should it be VR piece and if so how does that story translate into a virtual world?
There are two things I think make VR different from other storytelling forms: embodiment and perspective. We ask ourselves why is it important that you are in that place. Almost all news stories are located somewhere so the location can’t be the only prerequisite. We also have to establish why it is essential you are there, and what the role of the user is in the experience or story we are telling. I’m particularly interested in first person storytelling where you are the protagonist - 6x9 was designed around this proposition and placed the user in the shoes of an inmate in a solitary confinement cell. The Guardian has delivered some strong in-depth reporting on solitary confinement already, but through VR we were able to give the user an embodied sense of being in the cell. This has a very different impact and creates a whole new dimension for journalism.
Our next VR project will be launched on Daydream and is the first in a series of a diverse set of stories - we hope you enjoy it.
The Guardian and virtual reality