The Guardian's virtual reality experience "Limbo" focuses on the experiences of refugees, enables viewers to experience what life is like for many in the U.K. who are waiting to hear whether they will be permitted to stay in the country and build a new life.
Constructed from interviews with asylum seekers from 12 countries as well as immigration lawyers and barristers working in the U.K"Limbo" uses the voices of real asylum seekers to guide the viewer through the experience, from arriving in an unfamiliar city, fearing for loved ones left behind, worrying about not being allowed to work, to attending the Home Office interview which will decide their fate.
This allows viewers to better understand the potential psychological impact of asylum seekers' experiences so far, which can be compounded by the subsequent isolation and asylum process. They are caught between two lives, that of the place they left—the piece features flashbacks to a war torn city reduced to rubble, and their family trying to escape—and the new life they hope to build for themselves. For many, claiming asylum in the U.K. is also the first step towards bringing their dependents to safety.
The project has been created by the publication's in-house VR team alongside ScanLAB Projects, a creative practice that specializes in digital replicas of environments for broadcast, exhibition and animation. 3D scanning technology was used to capture urban streets, interiors and live action, and he resulting monochrome sketch-like aesthetic has the quality of a dream or nightmare where worlds are transparent and fragmented.
Francesca Panetta, executive editor, virtual reality, Guardian News & Media, explains, "The Guardian has covered the issue of asylum extensively for many years. We know that it can be a very disorientating, isolating and confusing process and have aimed to capture a sense of this through the fragmented quality of Limbo's design. Through harnessing the visual capabilities of VR we have been able to bring this to the fore for viewers and hope this enables them to better understand the asylum experience."
"Like dreaming with your eyes open, 360 video and VR can be incredibly transformative experiences," adds Will Trossell, co-founder of ScanLAB Projects. "In 'Limbo' we have created a digital world that is both familiar and strange, where the line between dreams and reality are blurred and where walls are diaphanous yet impenetrable. Our ambition for this project is to use this digital world to put the viewer at the center of the story, enabling them to better understand the obstacles that asylum seekers can encounter."
If you want to watch the film as a VR experience you can put your phone into Google cardboard and watch it on YouTube in cardboard mode. It’s also available on the Guardian VR app from the Google Play Store. It will be also be available soon on Gear VR.