Virtual reality experiences are redefining storytelling by taking consumers on ever more emotional journeys.
‘Last Moments’ is a virtual reality film inspired by Dignitas, an assisted death nonprofit in Switzerland. Created by filmmaker Avril Furness, the video simulates the process of accompanied suicide, putting the viewer in the place of someone having to make the profound decision of whether or not to take their life.
The interactive film was created in collaboration with Framestore Pictures, VISYON 360, freelance designers from Punchdrunk, and Grand Central Sound Studios, and is currently making the rounds at film festivals worldwide. In May 2016, Last Moments was also shown to medical professionals and researchers at a euthanasia conference in an attempt to spark discussion about the topic.
Virtual reality can offer something few other technologies can—the ability to be transported into another world. At this year’s Whitney Biennial, artist Jordan Wolfson tested the limits of VR in a similar way with his work “Real Violence.” The piece immersed viewers in an extreme situation, placing them as a witness to the brutal beating of a man in the middle of the street.
Experiences like this allow viewers to become totally immersed in thought-provoking, thrilling and extreme experiences without any real element of danger. Because of its sense of realness and first-person point of view, there have been many attempts to use virtual reality to channel intense emotion into empathy and understanding. BeAnotherLab and Simorga, two organizations that create VR experiences to combat prejudice, are based on this notion. Nevertheless, the role of empathy in VR is still being questioned and some disagree that empathy is inherently linked to the medium.
Above all, virtual reality must be recognized as a powerful storytelling tool. The realness and rawness that comes with VR draws viewers in and allows them to temporarily experience something dramatic and, possibly, life-changing. For consumers, the intrigue may come down to sheer curiosity, the thrill of horrific, dramatic experiences, or even an interest in what their instinctual reaction would be in a fight or flight situation.
Brands should not underestimate virtual reality and its place in telling emotional stories. This medium has the potential to go beyond simple entertainment and offer something more profound or more amplified, as these experiences illustrate.