Journalists at GIJC 2017 explore telling stories through Virtual Reality at the Virtual Reality Meets Investigative Reporting session

Darkness and silence consume your body before you are ‘transported’ from a familiar and safe environment to a small room with a heavy green metal door behind you.

A single bed, long enough for a child to sleep on, is on the left of the confined room. To the right, worn-out books are sprawled on a metal desk and a dirty metal basin and toilet bowl stand next to the cell’s entrance. It is quiet when the hologram of a man suddenly appears and begins to introduce himself. His name is Kenneth Moore and he is a former inmate of the Maine State Prison in the United States, where you have just been ‘transported’ to via Virtual Reality (VR).

You are in After Solitary, a virtual reality documentary about Moore’s time in solitary confinement and his integration back into society. It is produced by Cassandra Herrman and Lauren Mucciolo.

Virtual Reality is now being used to report news and events to make the experience real for the viewer. “As a documentary filmmaker, it is a way to get people to experience the same sort of stories or subjects in a very immersive, embodied way,” said Herrman.

The technology used to create VR documentaries are different to what is used to produce 2D videos. VR uses photogrammetry which is “high resolution image scanning. You take a DSLR camera and take thousands of photos of the space. Then you map them onto a 3D mesh and then you have a photoreal version of that space,” added Herrman.

While the core principles of journalism remain, VR technology raises “huge ethical questions. It [VR] is super intense and I think you have to think very carefully about that line between impact and trauma,” said Herrman.

Furthermore, people are being shot without their knowledge because VR captures everything around. “At marches, you can see where the police are in relationship to the protestors, in relation to the buildings, you get that sense of what’s happening in that space… but people don’t know that they’re being shot,” said co-founder of Electric South, Ingrid Kopp.

Current limitations of VR are access to the technology by audiences, including affordability. However, VR opens a new story-telling path by presenting the viewer with more emotion than information.