We announced the creation of our Virtual Reality (VR) team in October, following the launch of our first VR project, 6x9: A Virtual Experience of Solitary Confinement. The team is truly cross-functional, comprising expertise across editorial, project management, digital development, design, and commercial, which is a testament to the Guardian’s commitment to digital innovation in journalism.
We first started thinking about how we could experiment in the Virtual Reality space back in the summer of 2015. The Guardian had been reporting around solitary confinement for awhile, specifically on the story of the Angola Three.
The 6x9 experiment launched in April 2016, placing the audience inside a solitary confinement prison cell to illustrate the psychological effects of sensory deprivation that incarcerated prisoners can experience, which can range from hallucinations to disembodiment.
The purpose of the project was to experiment with what journalism could look like in VR, and we undertook the project with the explicit goal of pushing the boundaries of this new medium technically, journalistically, and commercially.
The subsequent reaction to 6x9 has been fantastic. It’s been shown at many exhibitions, including the White House South By South Lawn event, which showcases technology for social change, demonstrating the power that VR journalism can have on the global stage.
As VR technology becomes more mainstream, the ways we can use it to tell stories and highlight issues will increase — and quickly. Already in the last year we’ve seen many new VR headsets from the major tech players, encompassing everything from high-end headsets with laser tracking to cardboard. Now more people than ever can have a go for themselves and experience a multitude of different worlds.
We recently launched our second VR project, Underworld, on one of these new platforms: Google Daydream. Underworld takes the viewer on a journey into the subterranean labyrinth of tunnels that form London’s Victorian sewer system. It is the first in a series of editorially independent pieces that we are releasing on Daydream over the course of the next 18 months.
We are excited about the opportunities VR will provide, both editorially and commercially. The Guardian’s commercial strategy director, Adam Foley, is leading our VR team from and exploring how we can work with brands to harness this new technology — not only to support some of the exciting projects that we have coming up, but also to explore new possibilities.
In 2017, we look forward to building on our successes to date, and will be producing a series of thought-provoking experiential VR projects across a range of platforms providing our audiences with a closer relationship with Guardian journalism than ever before. Watch this space.