woman standing in front of chalkboard full of analytic data

The Reality of Virtual Reality

— Will Springer 

From storytelling to entertainment, virtual reality is turning heads — virtually 360 degrees. Far from fad, this immersive technology is offering communications pros a new way to connect with audiences and create transformative storytelling experiences.

Many people first experienced virtual reality (VR) as a child with View-Master, and from there we’ve seen VR experiences evolve through video gaming. And now the technology is helping communicators create magical, impactful and personal experiences.

Image of beige view master

Recently, The New York Times teamed with Google to distribute cardboard headsetswith a New York Times VR mobile app installed as part of the digital paper’s visually rich piece surrounding portraits of children displaced by war and persecution. Elsewhere, ABC News is taking storytelling to the next level through VR-powered reports while the University of Michigan football program is using VR as a recruiting tool that offers potential student-athletes a glimpse into an actual game day experience.

At a recent storytelling conference in New York, I viewed a couple examples of documentary-style VR storytelling. “Clouds Over Sidra” stood out.

Virtual reality image of Clouds of Sidra Documentary

Virtual reality helped pull me into the story as I heard Sidra, a Jordanian refugee, use her voice to share her uncertain future — an incredibly powerful effect. Produced by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, this innovative approach to storytelling clearly aims to ignite dialogue and raise support for humanitarian efforts. It’s just one of many new directions communicators are going to create compelling and transformative stories.

As a communicator at a global agency that has transformative storytelling at our core, the opportunities VR brings are endless — from how scientists can use technology to grow special foods consumed by dialysis patients to how plant-based bottles are made to increase sustainability. But like any new technology, VR has its challenges including quality of viewing experience — rich visual and audio characteristics — being tied to more advanced and costly equipment. In the end, VR is a reality that’s here to stay. Even View-Master is getting in on the act with a VR starter kit for $30 that targets children who use smartphones. We all have a lot to look forward to.


Original beige View-Master:

Clouds Over Sidra image courtesy VR company Vrse.