The Valley VR
Media associated with this campaign
Overview of this campaign
The story of New Zealand's war in Afghanistan had never been fully told. A crucial aspect of our investigation was a deadly battle at Baghak in the Shakari Valley, in August 2012. Our objective was to show New Zealanders the reality of what happened in that battle: a reality the Defence Force and the Government had refused to acknowledge. We had some video of the firefight and we went to the Shakari Valley to film, but there was a crucial element of the battle that we needed to explain. We decided Virtual Reality was the best way to do this. We aimed to create an experience giving the user a unique perspective of what unfolded, based on what our investigation uncovered - which was very different from the official version. We wanted the experience to be authentic: it was important all the details were accurate - the weapons, geography, locations of soldiers and vehicles, even what the soldiers were wearing.
We were determined though that this should not feel like a war game: real people were killed and we needed to be respectful to those fallen soldiers. We offered two different levels of engagement: a guided experience with limited interactivity, and a fully interactive mode where users could be their own agent.
Virtual Reality had never been used by a New Zealand journalism company. We wanted to push the genre of investigative reporting in a new, highly accessible direction in a meaningful, relevant way. It is exciting technology and we wanted to capitalise on interest to draw more people to the wider multimedia project The Valley. Please download the VR app to experience The Valley.
Results for this campaign
The Valley VR gave viewers an authentic experience of what it might have been like to be in the Shakari Valley on that day in August 2012. The use of this technology in a groundbreaking way for journalism attracted attention and gave exposure to the investigation. For instance, media reviewer Gavin Ellis told Radio NZ, "What really brought it all home to me was when I looked at the Virtual Reality… you sort of pan around it and you're getting a sort of running commentary as you go, you get a sense of dimension to it, and I thought that the combination of using all these different platforms was really, really revealing. It sort of gave a wholeness to it."
We made some tonal decisions in order to be respectful of the deadly reality of this battle and not give the VR the feeling of a war game. We elected, for instance, not to give the user a first-person view, and chose, rather, an "omnipresent" perspective. We also chose not to realistically depict any of the deaths of soldiers, instead we simply changed their colours.
In terms of the interest we wanted the VR to create, the results were outstanding. For example media industry online magazine Stop Press said, "This week, a new beacon of light for journalism appeared across TV, the internet and mobile phones [with] The Valley. It's a package of journalism including a virtual reality experience, six-part online documentary, prime-time broadcast documentary on TV3, long-form read and interactive website and not even a week in it’s received a huge public response."