The New York Times

Where Virtual Reality Takes Us

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Where Virtual Reality Takes Us

The New York Times Opinion section presents three groundbreaking virtual reality films from the Sundance New Frontier lineup, including Vrse.works’ ‘Waves of Grace’. These videos explore a range of topics and new approaches to nonfiction storytelling.

WAVES OF GRACE

GABO ARORA and CHRIS MILK

In 2014, throughout the United States, the fear of Ebola was everywhere, magnified by constant media coverage and the vague promise that no one was immune. But we were mostly thinking of ourselves, not those who were actually dying on faraway soil.

In Liberia, Ebola was real, killing people by the thousands. But no matter how much information our round-the-clock news coverage provided, nothing on TV could convey the sensation of being there and experiencing the crisis. So we decided to create “Waves of Grace.”

Whereas traditional media conveys information — often stoking fear and sensationalism in the process — V.R. can convey connection and empathy for our fellow human beings.

We knew right away that the story should be told in the voice of a survivor, so we sought out Decontee Davis, who was already emerging as a survivor advocate. At first she wasn’t convinced, so we put her in a V.R. headset and played one of our previous films for her, about a refugee. Right away she understood the unique potential of V.R. to summon emotion in the viewer.

Through this medium, you not only hear Ms. Davis’s story of survival, but you feel it. It is overwhelming, a physical force that radiates from her, detectable only by humans’ sixth sense: empathy. After we met her, we realized that telling her story wouldn’t just be better in V.R. It was only wholly tellable in V.R. We were able to tell not only her own unique story, but Liberia’s as well. People need to know — not simply watch — what it feels like to find hope amid death and disease.

We want “Waves of Grace” to add a new perspective to the Ebola crisis: your own. Rather than swarm the viewer with fear-inducing stats and information, through V.R. this film opens a door for the viewer. The experience welcomes you into another person’s life to share her heartaches and healing. Ms. Davis taught us how to persevere in the face of abject despair. She brought hope into our lives that we’ll take with us long after the containment of the Ebola crisis. We hope that after experiencing her story, you will feel the same.

Gabo Arora is a filmmaker and the founder of UNVR.org, the United Nations’ virtual reality lab. Chris Milk is the founder and chief executive of the virtual reality company Vrse, and creative director of the V.R. production studio Vrse.works. “Waves of Grace” was originally published in the Vrse app.

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