The Future of Storytelling with Virtual Reality

This weekend, the New York Times Magazine entered into the realm of virtual reality with its first story, The Displaced. The film focuses on the 60 million refugees who have been pushed out of their homes because of war and persecution -- half of which are children. Three children are featured, and viewers are transported to their communities to see what life looks like for these young refugees. 

The Times compared the launch of NYT VR to when the paper published its first photos 119 years ago. The paper's senior editors believe virtual reality will have some incredibly real and powerful implications for the future of storytelling. 

We're still in the early days of virtual reality, but anyone who has seen a VR film understands the editors' excitement for this new platform. The immersive experience of virtual reality does truly transport a viewer to a far off land. Your brain is essentially tricked for the brief few minutes that you're watching the film, and because you feel like you're in the same setting as the subject, you're that much more likely to connect with their personal story in a more meaningful manner. 

It's important to remember that technology cannot replace the core necessity of a story, as any major Hollywood action film that substituted special effects for a plot line has made clear. Technology is an amplifier, and thus, the new virtual reality technology has the power to make a good story better, and a great story move viewers to tears (as The Displaced has for many who have watched it).

Fortunately, there are many terrific virtual reality films for audiences to consume. The first VR film I saw was produced by VRSE, the same company that has partnered with the Times on their new effort. The film, Clouds Over Sidra, developed with the United Nations, takes audiences to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. Like The Displaced, the film leverages the new technology to give viewers a glimpse of what life is like for a few of the 60 million refugees worldwide.

With remarkable stories and the reach of the New York Times, the NYT VR effort will both validate the technology and bring it to scale. The paper, in partnership with Google, is shipping one million Google Cardboard units to print subscribers. Using Cardboard and downloading the NYT VR app or the VRSE app on their smartphones, viewers will have the chance to experience virtual reality right in their own living room. Many of the viewers who experience VR for the first time will become instant evangelists, and this has the potential to be one of the most viral campaigns we've seen.

The New York Times launch into virtual reality will catapult the technology into the mainstream, and we'll begin to see its application across industries. Google Cardboard is already working with schools, sending students on virtual field trips to Italy and the Great Wall of China. Beyond education, we'll see VR used in journalism, music, gaming, retail, philanthropy, and more. We're only in the first chapter of virtual reality, but I'm excited to see the story unfold. 

Aaron Kinnari
Aaron Kinnari


Aaron Kinnari is the founder of Read Notebooks.