In case you were unaware, the first virtual reality films have already arrived on our shores. Jesus VR: The Story of Christ (2016) was recently lacerated in The Guardian. “The acting? Dire. The direction? Awful. The adaptation? Conservative and pedestrian.” But the critic, Peter Bradshaw, admits that the technology is a different story. “It’s the first feature film to be presented in complete wraparound 360-degree virtual reality. And it’s a startling, bizarre, often weirdly hilarious experience.”
The recent wave of technology advancements that brought us the likes of Netflix, Snapchat, and the on going onslaught of social media growth all driven by the consumer. The people want these things and the things keep coming but do they want VR? No one seems to be sure. The technology requires a fast computer. Oculus recommends a high-end graphics card and an expensive Intel i5 processor and this is before their 600 dollar headset. As Tom Brannister writes for Video Ink, “Virtual reality is a top down technology […] It is being pushed by technology giants and venture capitalists, without much consumer traction as yet.”
A lot of the current uses of VR do not need writers. The construction industry is using it to create project models – it’s helping them to woo clients and impress investors. Small subsections of the real estate market are testing to see whether it works as a means to offer remote home viewings. In the military industry VR has been used to train soldiers and doctors. Crane operators are even being trained with it. None of these listed so far require creative writing. These virtual scenarios need to be setup, yes, but that’s not writing in the tradition sense.
This changes when we approach the medical industry, where VR has been used for important therapies and pain management. Bannister tells us “There is a unique opportunity for emotional storytelling here.” And he’s right. Crafting a story to reduce the pain of others is what writing is about. Empathy is rich in novels and studies have proven that voracious reading helps one to relate to their fellow humans. VR is inherently absorbing. Firsthand Technology describes their creation like this:
SnowWorld transports the patient through an icy canyon filled with snowball hurling snowmen, flocks of squawking penguins, woolly mammoths and other surprises. Patients are drawn in, throwing their own snowballs as they fly through the gently falling snow. Often they become so engaged, they don’t realize their procedure is already over!
Clinical trials have shown dramatic reductions in pain for patients. This may be the first ‘children’s game’ to have a rave review from the New York Times. Virtual reality games and movies will need writers just as much as regular games and movies do but the exciting frontier is on the edge of research, among the snowy worlds, and retail brands such as North Face, who are experimenting with VR to add emotion to shopper’s experiences. Visual writing has been evolving ever since cavemen started painting. VR has proven that there are still new frontiers to explore.