Movies and imagery techniques have an innate ability to elicit a deep emotional response within a viewer. By shooting Schindler’s List in black-and-white, director Steven Spielberg managed to capture the somber environment surrounding the Holocaust, and had an entire generation of movie-goers cry their eyes out. The advent of Virtual Reality (VR) technology in the past decades has provided a unique opportunity for artists and developers to push the boundaries of ‘emotional jolting’ even further. The addition of an extra ‘interactive’ dimension allows viewers to completely immerse themselves in the experience, and live-out the narrative firsthand.
Even if most of us weren’t alive back then, we all remember 6th August, 1945 from our history lessons. It was the day when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan – killing more than 1,40,000 innocent civilians. Although a few survivors have shared the experience of the blast, it’s hard to even comprehend the sheer scale and magnitude of the event. Thankfully, a group of Japanese high school students have managed to recreate the bombing in VR, allowing viewers to experience the sights and sounds before, during, and after the bomb was dropped.
The five-minute long project, which took over two years to develop, recreated a pre-blast Hiroshima by studying old photographs and postcards. The lighting and wrecking of buildings during the blast were added using a computer graphic software. Survivors were also interviewed to gather information that helped them imagine conditions during and after the blast. The VR experience transports users back in time to relive a moment in which a city was turned into a wasteland, depicting the horrors of nuclear annihilation. Mei Okada, one of the students who developed the project, says, “One of the merits of this VR experience is that, even without language, once you see the images, you understand.” Hopefully, such an understanding will turn a generation of people away from glorifying nuclear weapons.
However, this is not the first time VR is used to immerse audiences into the horrors of the Hiroshima bombings. To commemorate the work of International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICANW), an organization that won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, filmmakers Saschka Unseld and Gabo Arora created The Day the World Changed – a VR film. After explaining the inception, development, and deployment of the atomic bomb, the experience allows its viewers to immerse into the aftermath of the blast. They can walk through the ruins of the city and examine artifacts from the bombing – all thanks to the development of VR technology.
Other directors have also created VR projects that capture various socio-political tribulations across the globe. Flesh and Sand, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, allows viewers to examine the harsh lives of immigrants. The film places the audience among a group of Mexican immigrants, as they navigate their way in hopes of achieving a better future in the United States. By becoming one of the ‘immigrants’ themselves, audiences can relate to the ‘feelings’ of the several thousand immigrants that illegally cross over the border.
As compared to traditional films, VR has the potential to provoke greater emotions in audiences, as it allows the viewer to immerse in the experience. Several studies have also confirmed the efficacy of VR as an effective medium, with simulated “anxious” and “relaxing” virtual environments producing anxiety and relaxation among its test subjects. It’s no wonder that VR technology will continue to grow as a tool to provoke emotions in people.