When most people think of virtual reality, commonly known as VR, they likely think of bulky headsets and video games. However, journalists have recently begun incorporating VR into their stories as a way of capturing their audience’s interest and then fully immerse them in the story.
For example, The New York Times created a VR story called The Fight for Falluja, taking consumers right into the heat of the Iraq War. According to the NYT, it “allows viewers to experience, firsthand, the battles that Iraqi forces endured to retake Falluja form ISIS this June.” Using 360-views, it gives audiences a perspective that black letters on a page just cannot do.
Francesco Maroni and Taylor Nakagawa, report authors for The Columbia Journalism Review, also support VR journalism.
“As the technology powering 3D models gets more advances, journalists will be able to develop multiple storylines in a single environment. Audiences will no longer be guided in a liner progressions, but will be able to choose different story paths as they freely explore the virtual space–a ‘choose your own adventure’ version of journalism.”
Not everyone is on board with this progression, however. Jeremy Bailenson with PBS states two reasons for why VR could be trouble for the objectivity and reliability of journalism.
“…it [VR] plays powerfully upon our emotions, an affordance that in many situations doesn’t exactly encourage rational decision-making. A viewer who exposes himself to a VR depiction of an atrocity, for instance, will feel like a personal witness to that event and experience the resultant level of outrage. Stoking these kinds of emotions…is a time-worn strategy for tyrants, terrorists, and politicians. I have little doubt that virtual reality will be an excellent tool for spreading propaganda.”
Additionally, and relatedly, Bailenson says that VR footage can be easily manipulated, making this propaganda work even easier.
“In VR, which actually ‘feels real,’ the potential dangers for misinformation and emotional manipulation are exponentially greater. When false events are put forth, it will be hard to argue with viewers who believe them. After all, they will have seen them with their own eyes.”
However, these concerns don’t seem to be putting the breaks on VR’s increasing presence in journalism, and even Bailenson himself doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.
“With the exciting content that has been produced so far, the trajectory for quality content in the VR space already has a foundation. Once you experience a VR ‘aha’ moment, you can’t wait to find the next one.”