The Guardian and VR: how psychologists helped create a solitary experience

GuardianPoster6x9_TRI_SUN (2)

Is virtual reality the next step for video journalism? Catalina George looks at The Guardian’s forthcoming VR project about solitary confinement: 6×9.

The Guardian’s new media project 6×9 aims to give users an experience of solitary confinement through the use of virtual reality technology. Due to launch in April, Francesca Panetta, multimedia special projects editor, explains the project:

“6×9” is an immersive experience of solitary confinement in US prisons, which places viewers in a virtual segregation cell which they can explore and interact with. It aims to tell a story of the psychological damage that can ensue from isolation.

The virtual reality experience is created based on the stories of 7 former inmates. They talk to the viewers of the film, guiding them through what is happening and telling them what to expect.

Users then have the opportunity to see the experience from within.

Such an ambition would be difficult to achieve with any other technology. Since it is solitary confinement, one could hardly interact in any other ways with an inmate who lives under such circumstances.

Psychological effects create reality

According to The Guardian, 80,000 to 100,000 people are kept in solitary confinement in US prisons. This means 22-24 hours a day within concrete walls, with minimal or no human contact.

While for some inmates this experience can last for days, some live in these circumstances for years or even decades. Albert Woodfox, the US prisoner who was subject to the longest known solitary confinement – 43 years – was released recently and spoke publicly about the experience. He now campaigns to ban such practices.

Psychology specialists were consulted for the project to give feedback on what solitary confinement means for both the body and mind:

“Leading academic psychologists Dr Terry Kupers and Dr Craig Haney explain the physiological effects. The [viewers then] experience [these] – such as vision blur, sensations of floating and apparitions in the peripheral vision.”

Technology takes journalism one step further

According to the team, viewers will be able to create and experience their own story in solitary confinement circumstances. They say this will not be a “one size fits all” type of content.

Expectations for this project, with its innovative technology, are high. The Guardian team behind it say:

“[It] is breaking new ground in journalism. Most non-fiction documentaries are 360-degree videos with the audience as observer. 6×9 places the audience as protagonist, able to interact with the environment.”

2016 may or may not be the ‘year of VR‘, but it could well be the year of 6×9.

More about 5×6

A version of this post was first published on Catalina’s blog Land Inside.

2 thoughts on “The Guardian and VR: how psychologists helped create a solitary experience

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