The Guardian releases 6×9, its first ever 360º VR journalistic documentary

Meant to trigger public conversation around the situation of prisoners under solitary confinement in US penitentiary establishments, The Guardian’s “6×9” is in fact an innovative documentary, which uses game engine technology to create the first journalistic piece able to actually put the wiewer in the very shoes of the protagonist of the story.

One 360º VR video, one smartphone and a VR headset, same if just made of cardboard, makes it possible. Even the 360º video hanging from You Tube provides a reduced but immersive expierence of how prisoners feel while confined in any US jails.

This nine minute long 360º VR immersive documentary titled “6×9: a virtual experience of solitary confinement” is the outcome of the collaboration between The Guardian and an interactive team of The Mill, a widely awarded digital creative hub headquartered in London.

The video places the viewer inside a solitary confinement cell with little more than a bed and toilet, letting him/her experience such psychological effects as blurred vision, hallucinations and a sense of floating that may occur after long-term sensory deprivation.

This immersive experience provides an innovative style of storytelling able to ignite conversations around any topic, this time on the problem of solitary confinement.
Is this perhaps the turning point for a new era of audiovisual journalism?.

Caption of the teaser for the “6x9: a virtual experience of solitary confinement”. © The Mill
Caption of the teaser for the “6×9: a virtual experience of solitary confinement”. © The Mill

Might be just entertainment, but the truth is that  digital, gaming and  VR tecnologies open a whole new landscape of choices for storytelling that not  only enhance but transform the way history, facts, even editorials can be expressed and presented to impact the audience. These tecnologies open as well the chance for  interactive communication in real time between the media and the citizens.

Smartphones, social networks and blogging tools  have opened the door, not only for a new  wave of celebrities (influencers, youtubers, etc.) but also for the so called citizen journalism and the so called new digital journalists.

On the other pole, the media are also embracing new technologies to “do their homework”. That’s the case for example of NewsWall, the service from Channel 4 in the UK, that serves the biggest news stories in the day squeezed into animated GIFs. Also it is the case of The New York Times, National Geographic, NBC News,  BBC News, Der Spiegel online, Der Bild, BuzzFeed, and again The Guardian, who are currently trying Instant Articles on Facebook.  I’ve published many informations as well as commentaries on all these advances and many others to come that are turning up-down the world of commercial and not commercial communications.

Considered  under this light, the VR experience now provided by The Guardian through “6×9: a virtual experience of solitary confinement” goes further than a mere entertainment content. The Guardian has probably taken a step further in the path towards the new journalism for the digital age.

VR tech and the chance to interact, key in the first truly experiential journalist report

The Mill worked from first-person accounts and documentaries as references for both cell design and spatial audio capture. The cell was designed in Maya and further developed in Unity. Environmental binaural audio was also used which ensured the audio was anchored to the environment, enhancing the sense of space and making the sound continually move with the viewer.

VR barriers were fully embraced, effects typical after long-term sensory deprivation are played with to mimic a prisoner’s experience of being locked away for 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.

The Mill Creative Director Carl Addy comments on the project; “How do you build empathy around an issue as contentious as this? “The task was to give a sense of what isolation feels like. By giving people a visceral experience of solitary confinement we were able to emotionally connect them to the cause.

One of the great tools when directing in VR is body language. Looking at how people react when in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable setting, you can see how they become more absorbed in the space, more closed in and self-protective.
Part of us trying to build empathy was to give a user agency; the ability to make choices and interact with the experience makes you invest emotionally in the narrative and outcome.VR puts you in the cell without any of the safety one gets from the detachment of a screen. This is not like watching a documentary, you are in it.”

The Mill Producer Jarrad Vladich says; “It has been a real honour to engage in such a collaborative partnership with The Guardian, on a subject that carries so much public and political opinion in the US.
The Guardian team had a true sensitivity to the subject matter and it was the nature of this collaboration that let us all engage on this project in the same way. Our hope is that this project will not only have an impact on the VR community as a truly immersive story, but more importantly carry a strong message to the people that need to see, hear and feel it most.”

Image over the headline.-
Caption of the teaser for the “6×9: a virtual experience of solitary confinement”. © The Mill.

Related external links:

“6×9: a virtual experience of solitary confinement” (the teaser)

“6×9: a virtual experience of solitary confinement”  (the 360º VR documentary)

Related Eastwindmarketing links:

 NewsWall, the service from Channel 4 in the UK, that serves the biggest news storiesin the day squeezed into animated GIFs, clic here

Related Eastwindmarketing links (old platform):

Eight major media publishers already testing Instant Articles in Facebook

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