Virtual Realities – Immersive Documentary Encounters, is a two and a half year EPSRC research project investigating the intersection between Virtual Reality and non-fiction; a collaboration between the Universities of Bristol, Bath and UWE Bristol.
Thirty years since the term virtual reality was coined, and nearly fifty years since Ivan Sutherland’s first experiments with a “head mounted three dimensional display”, developments in hardware and software now make VR viable as a mass-market consumer proposition, and 2016 sees a variety of devices coming to market. To date, consumer VR has been associated with gaming.
However, the potential audience appeal promised by presence has led to considerable interest in the video market – notably among producers of non-fiction content. 2015 saw VR projects commissioned by the New York Times, Vice News and the UN for example, the latter winning the Innovation Award at the Sheffield DocFest – one of the world’s major non-fiction markets.
The project proposes the idea that Virtual Reality documentary has significant potential to inform public debate – offering new directions and in particular novel forms of witnessing enabled by 360 perspectives, but that the powerful sense of presence offered by immersion also gives rise to ethical challenges.
This multi-disciplinary research project will be undertaken in dialogue with industry partners, including BBC R&D, the Guardian and Aardman Animations.