A combination of the limits of technology, narrative structure, and journalistic intent determine the degree of agency given to users in a VR experience.

Contemporary head-mounted VR can support user agency in terms of where a viewer chooses to look, and the content and interactions he or she triggers.

While the production examined in this case study granted users control over the direction in which they looked, scenes were designed to give a “best” experience when viewers were looking toward an anticipated “front.” The subjects of each scene, whether video clips or computer-generated objects, were in a single field of view.

However, the producers enforced a fairly linear content structure. Viewers experience a first scene, which delivers some information; the next scene delivers information that builds upon the previous scene, and so on throughout the experience. This was a conscious, deliberate decision on the part of the producers, primarily because they felt it served the topic and suited the available content. (An extra factor was that the reduced interactivity broadens the number and type of devices capable of playing the experience.) However, that will not necessarily be true of all VR journalism.

The producers’ belief that narrative elements were important to the success of the experience, and that authorial control was the best way to deliver those elements—especially in such a nascent and complex medium as VR—underpinned both of these decisions.

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