Virtual Reality: a new form of storytelling

Humans have always been interested in storytelling. Back in the old ages, cave men drew on walls; people in the medieval ages passed on stories and legends by whispering them around a campfire and jesters and troubadours passed through villages telling tales from their travels.

Shakespeare made long-form theatrical plays popular and it was during Shakespeare’s time that the first novel - as we know novels today - was produced in Spain by Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote (published in English in 1612!).

Over the last century, technology has revolutionized storytelling and stories have sprung to life with the help of photographs and films. In our time, social media and smart phones are constantly changing the way we consume and tell stories, using fewer words and more imagery.

But another, more exciting, revolution has come our way. And this one uses all the senses - to not only tell us a story but immerse us in the world of that story. Never before have humans been able to be so fully transported into another place - any place they choose, in fact. The cave men would be quaking in their boots (if they had any).

We are, of course, talking about Virtual Reality. It’s somewhat of a buzzword at the moment, and for good reason. To strip it back to its basics, Virtual Reality (VR) uses technological stimuli to make you feel like you are somewhere else completely. This illusion happens via a VR headset, which includes a pair of goggles, headphones and sometimes hand controllers.

VR began as a gaming tool, but what was once the realm of teenage gamers has now become mainstream and is appealing to a wider audience. I was once transported to an underwater cage with great white sharks swimming menacingly around me, being lowered slowly into the blue ether. It was terrifyingly real, even though I had selected the least scary option available.

VR represents an “extraordinary shift in the way humans experience the digital realm,” says an article in the tech-focused mag Wired. Things like AI, Big Data and Biotech can feel a million miles away. But the thing with VR is that we can actually experience this incredible new technology first-hand. I’ve never been in so much awe of technology as I was in that cage (and in complete fear of the sharks, I might add).

And VR isn’t just used for entertainment. For example, it’s used in the training of both commercial and fighter-jet pilots in flight simulators. 3D goggles are also used to reduce pain (since pain is sometimes psychosomatic- meaning it’s half in your head), from cancer to chronic pain conditions. In a similar way, it can help reduce the stress for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) sufferers and people who have phobias of confined spaces, spiders and socializing, to name a few. The process works by conjuring the environment the sufferer fears most. "You want to forget about it,” said a Veteran in a BBC article, who used VR to combat his PTSD. “But the only way to forget about it, is by dealing with it." On the flip side, VR can also help the military train soldiers to anticipate stressful situations by simulating those experiences.

Virtual Reality is clearly more than just the modern man’s tool of storytelling. Whether you’re an avid gamer, you want to buy a car or just escape to another form of reality (in a hyper-real way that watching a film doesn’t let you do), whack on those geeky headsets and give it a go.

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