The Guardian takes viewers into VR solitary confinement

GuardianPoster6x9_TRI_SUN (2)

What is the next step for video journalism? This broad question might find its answer in projects such as 6×9 by The Guardian

The new media project 6×9 will take users into the experience of solitary confinement by using virtual reality technology. Francesca Panetta, multimedia special projects editor, gives more details about it:

“6×9” is an immersive experience of solitary confinement in US prisons, which places viewers in a virtual segregation cell which they can explore and interact with. It aims to tell a story of the psychological damage that can ensue from isolation.

The public app 6×9 will launch on April.

The psychological effects create reality

According to The Guardian, 80,000 to 100,000 people are kept in solitary confinement in US prisons. This means 22-24 hours a day within concrete walls, with minimal or even no human contact at all. While for some inmates this experience can last for days, some live under these circumstances for years or even decades.

Psychology specialists were consulted for this project to give feedback on what solitary confinement means for both human body and mind:

Leading academic psychologists Dr Terry Kupers and Dr Craig Haney explain the physiological effects viewers experience – such as vision blur, sensations of floating and apparitions in the peripheral vision of viewers.

Campaigners protest against solitary confinement criticising it as a form of torture, and not rehabilitation. Albert Woodfox, the US prisoner who lived the longest known solitary confinement, for 43 years, was released recently and spoke publicly about it. He now campaigns to ban such practices.

 What to expect from VR solitary cell

The 6×9 project aims at giving the users the possibility of seeing the experience from within. Such an ambition would be difficult to achieve with any other current technology than VR. Since it is solitary confinement, one could hardly interact in any other ways to an inmate who lives under such circumstances.

But then how do you create a project like this? How do you document it? How do you get the accurate content you need?

The virtual reality is created based on the stories of 7 former inmates. They talk the viewers into the film, guiding them through what is happening and telling them what to expect.

The makers of the project intended to create an experience which places the viewer in the middle of the video content. They are the ones who experience it as closely as possible, instead of watching it from an outside perspective.

Technology takes journalism one step further

According to the team, the viewers will be able to create and experience their own story in solitary confinement circumstances. They say this will not be a “one size fits all” type of content.

Expectations for this project are high, due to its innovative technology. The Guardian team working on this say:

6×9 is breaking new ground in journalism. Most non-fiction documentaries are 360 videos with the audience as observer. 6×9 places the audience as protagonist, able to interact with the environment.

Using VR technology for journalism and film making might have sounded like something out of science fiction movies a decade ago. Nowadays, with the development of media, as well as neuroscience, filming techniques and digitalization, it becomes a distinct possibility to be explored.

VR projects draw more and more attention in  the movie industry, as well as fascinate the audience. Read about 5 VR installations presented at Sundance Film Festival 2016.

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