We’ve moved away from the information age into the age of experience. A chance to experience other worlds, other places and other spaces. A chance to be someone else, to walk in other people’s shoes. This is the dream that Virtual Reality promises.

By Sarah Jones, Immersive Storyteller, sometime Virtual Life Explorer

With the uncertainties and complexities in society today, it’s no wonder that people are turning to virtual reality to escape and experience another world. By 2018, it’s predicted that 171 million people will be using VR. In 2016, Google said that 10 million Cardboard headsets had been shipped all over the world. With 360 content and virtual reality being supported on Facebook, YouTube and other social sites, the numbers of people escaping reality, look pretty healthy.

With this comes the opportunity to create new experiences. A lot of spherical videos have been empathy-driven. Virtual Reality has been called the empathy machine, a form of content that drives empathy and my own research has always backed this up. When people ar face to face with someone suffering, they feel no barrier. They feel like they are there. That they can hear the breath and feel the pain that someone is suffering. You don’t watch a story in VR. You feel a story.

Content has focused around themes that talk to this. Homelessness, conflict, refuges. Clouds Over Sidra was made by Within, as a United Nations project. It was shown to decision makers to help them understand what it’s like to be a refugee in a camp in Jordan. Similarly, stories like New York Times’ Displaced which explores three stories where homes have been lost due to war and conflict, or the Guardian’s 6x9, focusing on being in solitary confinement, are all worth checking out as narratives that drive empathy.

But it’s not just about empathy, it’s about experiences and dreams. Standing on the stage with Paul McCartney at Madison Square Gardens, exploring the great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough, or more weirdly being inside Bjork’s mouth in a pretty unique music video. All of these experiences help to transport us to places we don’t expect to go, escaping reality and finding a dream.

The critics will point to the misconception that VR is just for gamers. This is so far from the truth and what VR can do. To change this image, in April this year, I spent 48 hours living in VR, with Dean Johnson from Brandwidth. When I say living, I mean living. We went to sleep using Guided Meditations, Dean tested VR as a form of pain relief whilst getting a tattoo, we monitored heart rates through fitness challenges and created virtual art works. We showed how VR works within our everyday life, enhancing everything we do, with unique experiences.

I’ll be talking more about that and using the promise of VR at Hello Culture next week.

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