I’ve recently been getting really into VR. Really into VR, especially with my new Sunnypeak headset, a huge improvement on the Google Cardboard. It’s cheap, more portable and more comfortable than the Cardboard. Having said that, it’s still miles away from the GEAR or Oculus (but those don’t really fit into the budget of a college student who estimates the value of things in terms of cans of Rolling Rock)
Actually finding VR content is tricky since there aren’t that many apps out there. The app that comes with Google Cardboard gets old hat pretty quick and the same can be said for many of the apps on the iStore – a rollercoaster ride and a zombie killer are only fun until the novelty wears off.
But recently I’ve been absolutely engrossed in the worlds masterfully created by Chris Milk from Vrse. His content is extremely emotional for a wide variety of reasons
Still from Clouds over Sidra, a piece that follows the life of girl in a Syrian refugee camp
Of course his content is effective because of the novelty of a VR documentary. And of course his content is effective because of how foreign but relatable the experiences are that he documents: the joy of an Ethiopian family at getting clean running water for the first time, the determination of a Gaza Strip mother to keep a semblance of normality after her previous home was shelled, the beautiful naïveté of a little Syrian refugee girl wishing to go back to Syria with the clouds that she finds comfort in like a blanket.
Milk has hit on a few experiences that have hit the sweet spot of not being too alien for most audiences to be able to follow but that are still removed enough from our everyday lives that the cause us to very new experiences. We’re not just peering into Sidra’s life in the camp from behind a safe 2d screen that we can look away from, we’re there with her when we sit next to her when she raises her hand in class and we’re there with her when she plays soccer with her friends. There are points in every production when you forget about the bulky setup on your face (and manage to ignore the motion sickness from a bit rate that’s just a little bit too slow) and feel like you’re living life with the main character.
I think that Milk’s videos convey something truly amazing: a vision of the world where VR is not a dedicated platform for gaming and porn but a way to recreate empathy and enact social change. This is emotional design at it’s finest: experiences that will challenge your privilege and your worldview. It’s a product that does extremely well in the reflective level even though it is sometimes lacking in the visceral level (it quickly becomes nausea-inducing) and in the behavioural level (wearing a big chunk of plastic on your face is always going to be uncomfortable).