A decade ago, immersive media technologies emerged on the scene with the goal of engaging viewers in a deeper kind of storytelling experience. In contrast to the passive viewing experience of traditional media, immersive media eliminates the most common form of separation between the viewer’s reality and that of the film: the frame. Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR) and 360 degree experiences provides users an immediate agency and simulated “truth” simply by choosing where to look. These media technologies continue to evolve. Sophisticated Social VR experiences, such as Conservation International/Cousteau Society’s Drop In the Ocean, allows for simultaneous multiple users and interaction within a simulated environment.
Research indicates immersive media has the impact potential to create more powerful and longer-lasting emotional outcomes. There is an increased physical response to images and audio experienced without a “frame”. When the viewer becomes an active participant of the film’s reality inside the simulated environment, the narrative connects on a deeper emotional level. There is a genuine sense that the experience is the same reality as one’s own. The Immersive Technology and Nature Connection study shows that a nature VR experience can positively affect a viewer’s interdependence with nature and influence a viewer’s behavior in relation to their environment. These simulated immersive experiences can spawn greater empathy and awe as a form of social action for human evolution and subsistence.
Grandpa’s Reef (See Case Study) is a virtual reality experience that provides a sense of “diving into a dream,” disconnecting users from their external reality and immersing them in the coral reefs of the Philippines. A young girl, who was cast from a local village for greater authenticity and relatability, takes users on an exploratory adventure. Users delight in the wonders of the ocean, the sensation of swimming through reefs, encountering sea creatures. There is a sense of seeing “first-hand” what an actual diver would see. This experiential project combines awe and education to engage communities in the Philippines about the issues of ocean sustainability.