Keith attends a Guardian VR event at Google HQ in London.

Going Underworld: VR and Storytelling

By Keith McDonald

We've been too impatient when it comes to Virtual Reality, a team of experts claimed this week at an event dedicated to the future of VR in storytelling.


At Google's London Headquarters, GuardianVR showcased some of the best new immersive VR journalism and experience pieces with the Daydream app.

Among the demonstrations was the challenging '6x9', which creates the experience of solitary confinement that some US prison inmates experience 23 hours a day. Before the end, you begin floating in the cell as sensory disorientation takes over.

The forthcoming First Impressions imitates the first year of life, with limited vision and complete vulnerability. You're able to make noise for attention as mum and the family pet disappear, which is strangely affecting.

Capturing catacombs

Francesca Panetta, Special Projects Editor at GuardianVR, pointed to the growing demand for participation within storytelling and experience creative, from viewers and from journalists themselves.

Sometimes, what gets lost in photorealism is gained in agency, she said.

VR also offers historical and educational opportunities, including place-hacking - the exploration of catacombs and forbidden places. By the same token, it's a valuable method of 'archiving decaying spaces'.

The CGI-created Underworld allows viewers to explore part of London's Victorian sewer system while learning about the perils of the old architecture.

The sewers of Knightmare Series 8 were fresh in the mind.

Did Knightmare VR come too soon?

I mentioned Knightmare to several people from the Guardian and the events company. Those who were old enough remembered it well.

They were stunned to hear that a VR pilot was created 13 years ago.

Virtual-reality gaming is something that publishers still struggle with. This is partly down to the cost of production, which remains too high, and partly because there's still a divide to overcome between observational participation and the active participation of gameplaying.

A piece of research on VR from Reuters Institute is due later this month, which will inform new investment cases for media companies and publishers with spending power.

But one of the most striking things I took from this event is the sense from within media circles that VR is still in its early days.

The technologically literate viewing public are impatient for advancement, we heard. It's this hunger that drives innovation. But technology must be given the time to develop before we can see what it's capable of.

Did Knightmare jump the gun? Have your say.

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