Over the past few years, we’ve seen the rise of a new medium for storytelling in journalism: virtual reality. From the printing press to radio, from television to the internet, and now VR, technological innovation has changed how journalists gather, report and deliver the news. VR is already making an impression on journalism by immersing an audience in a story, offering unlikely perspectives and creating connections to emotional moments.
At the Google News Lab, we help journalists develop a better understanding of how to tell stories in VR. So, for the past six months, we’ve conducted a research study that offers insight into what makes VR a distinct storytelling medium, why it’s alluring to people, and what that means for storytellers.We also partnered on this study with a team at Google called ZOO, a creative think tank for brands and agencies.
The study used a method of qualitative research called ethnography, which uses in-field observations and interviews to understand a person’s relationship with an experience. We conducted 36 interviews with a diverse range of participants, observing them as they interacted with their favorite VR pieces and asking them to reflect on how the experience made them feel.
Our study found that VR was distinct from other storytelling mediums in a few key ways. First, it conveys the sense that the viewer is “living the story” as opposed to passively consuming it (“storyliving” rather than storytelling). VR also allows people to dramatically expand their perspective on a story and can leave them with strong emotional experiences, but sometimes that comes at the expense of conveying information.
Participants found VR alluring for a few reasons: viewers can participate rather than simply be immersed in an experience; they can seek out a specific emotion, like happiness, or sadness or fear; and they can embody someone or something else—a bird, a tree, or a person living on the other side of the world.