and VICE discuss the next frontier
Creatives from The New York Times
of storytelling—and how to navigate
it without a map.
By AM Y TOUCHET TE
Virtual reality (VR for short) has come a long way since 1962 when Morton Heilig built the Sensorama, a mechanical device that engaged participants’ sight, sound, smell,
and touch. In the past few years, VR has rapidly
become an accessible medium to work with. No
longer an experience tethered only to gaming, VR
is being explored by a variety of industries, ranging from healthcare and architecture to crime reconstruction and military training, as well as storytelling by major media outlets.
In November 2015, The New York Times Magazine, in collaboration with Within, published its
first VR story, “The Displaced,” about three children displaced by war. The multimedia piece
featured photographs by photojournalist Lynsey
Addario in the print cover story, and each issue
came with a Google Cardboard viewer that placed
the viewers in the three young subjects’ lives. The
release of Cardboard, the first cheap VR headset
to hit the market, made widespread distribution
of the story possible; up until then, only more expensive VR headsets like the prototype Oculus Rift
were available, greatly limiting the accessibility of
VR to the masses.
Looking to build on the creative storytelling this
medium offers, The New York Times has published
more than 20 360-degree films since then, such
as the highly successful “The Fight for Falluja.”
Describing the story as a “a leap forward for VR
journalism,” Jenna Pirog, VR editor at the Times,
says the story “takes viewers to the frontlines to
experience the war in Iraq firsthand.” Created by
Pulitzer Prize-winning video journalist Ben C.
Solomon, viewers watch Solomon navigate the
war-torn area while listening to his voiceover narration. “[It feels] like viewers are inside his head
hearing his innermost thoughts,” Pirog says.
Pirog also regards the “Great Performers: L.A.
Noir” collection, a production by The New York
Times Magazine and Milk(vr), as a particularly effective use of VR technology. Written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, with two by Ami
Canaan Mann, viewers experience the story as
a character would, with the actors speaking directly to them. “This sort of innovative use of the
VR camera on set, as well as the amazing lighting
“[IT FEELS] LIKE VIEWERS ARE
— JENNA PIROG