No industry exists without a flare of drama and virtual reality is no exception. A grueling argument stands to pit a divide amongst VR content creators: should 360° film be considered a virtual reality experience?
The predominant argument against 360° film as a virtual reality experience exists in the limitations inherent within the medium. The majority of 360° films are shot with a static camera, granting the viewer the opportunity to explore the scope of the arena by moving one’s head. The New York Times piece The Displaced is a great example of using creative problem solving to overcome the issue of static camera placement. However, unlike the experiences created in CG by Oculus Story Studio, such as the story of Henry, the viewer doesn’t have the option to get closer to an object or engage with the surrounding environment through free-reign agency.
As we observe the types of 360° content being released in these early stages of the VR lifespan, a common mishap is occurring: content creators shoehorning old formats into new technologies. As we explore this new medium, we are building on the backs of film, theater, narrative games and visual art to takes cues as to what to create in VR. What stories work well in virtual reality and how to tell those stories is still a looming question mark over the industry as a whole. Perhaps this is why the divide between game play and film has arisen so early; because most of the 360° content currently being released doesn’t do justice to what most view as a credible virtual reality experience.
So what do we desire out of a VR experience? Is it the feeling of being immersed in a world unfamiliar or in sincere likeness of our own? Is it to feel an emotion on a deeper level than what a flat screen motion picture can offer us? Or is it to offer us a different version of escape from our day-to-day?
The divide of VR and 360° film inherently exists because we are fighting for the survival of an industry. VR has not hit the consumer market in a big way yet and as the technology looms over us without a market to fulfill, we are haunted with the remembrance of the rise and fall of the VR craze in the early 90’s. We are biding our time with the secret hope this is not a repeat of history.
As this burgeoning industry becomes a full-fledged reality, perhaps we should re-consider pitting against one another. The technology isn’t the heart of virtual reality; the content is. The story, the game, the social interaction – and the emotional reaction it inspires in the viewer. That’s what virtual reality is. At the end of the day, the goal of all virtual reality content creators, hardware creators and software developers should be around creating unforgettable VR experiences, to turn this infantile industry into a booming one.