Working with virtual reality company VRSE, TheNew York Times is providing a way for audiences to experience events in the news much as if they were actually there. The first in a series of VR films presented by the Times, “The Displaced” is designed to give viewers a sense of empathetic connection to people and events—in this case, the refugee crisis—while presenting the news in a way that hasn’t before been possible.
“You may tell readers about the story back home, but VR allows them to see it themselves as if they were there, instead of just reading about it,” says Jake Silverstein, editor in chief of The New York Times Magazine. “This has the potential to really open people’s eyes to this technology.”
“The best documentaries have a way of making you feel like you were there,” agrees VRSE co-founder Chris Milk, whose production company collaborated with The New York Times on “The Displaced.” “This is really an extension of that in that this tricks your brain into thinking that you are there. VR can be a powerful tool.
“You as the viewer will have the ability to look around and decide what to see,” Milk continues. “This is different from the traditional ‘rectangle’ [through which] most films are seen. It is thus different from looking at a few photos of a Syrian refugee camp. Instead, you can walk through it and look where you want and discover it on your own.”
As a result of the viewer’s visual autonomy, the composition of shots will change, but Milk maintains that there is still an “authorship” to the process: “There is composition, but a different kind, where your consciousness sits.”
The New York Times distributed Google Cardboard VR viewers to its home-delivery newspaper customers in the United States in time for the launch, allowing the VR film to be viewed within the Google Chrome browser and on select smartphones.
“We believe this technology can offer a changing paradigm—one that can transport you to another place, which can be the same as the subject,” Milk concludes. “It is a wonderful construct to explore.”