Mapping the Territory of Virtual Reality

Professional Forum
Robin White Owen, MediaCombo, Inc., USA, Michael Haley Goldman, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, USA

This is a Professional Forum on how museums are exploring the potential of Virtual Reality and what these efforts suggest for the future.

Our speakers will be mapping parts of the VR territory, plotting the landscape of these experiences so that other museums can learn from them and build on their knowledge. They will describe the goals, process, funding models and outcomes of their projects. They will share what they’ve learned from offering this new type of visitor engagement.

We will be looking at projects that represent different types of virtual reality experiences, on historical events, and objects in a permanent collection:
– The Rosa Parks Experience: shared, multi-sensory, immersive VR
– Vox: shared augmented reality immersive audio
– Ben Franklin National Memorial, an HTC Vive experience
– Virtual Conversations with Holocaust Survivors, 3D video interactive controlled by a single user

Virtual Reality is very much a trending topic these days. It has captured the imagination of independent filmmakers, game designers, writers, venture capitalists, and large media companies, as well as some museum curators.

Despite years of setbacks and false starts, advances in hardware and software have made the experience of watching VR much more comfortable than ever before. The costs of viewing devices and headsets are plummeting. Producers, writers and artists are all experimenting with storytelling methods.

VR technology has a huge potential to influence people’s understanding of both historical and contemporary events and ideas. The experiences it makes possible can be immensely powerful. As Kevin Kelly wrote in the April, 2016 issue of Wired: “The technology forces you to be present—in a way flat screens do not—so that you gain authentic experiences, as authentic as in real life. People remember VR experiences not as a memory of something they saw but as something that happened to them.

Rae, Juno and Lizzie Edwards. "Virtual reality at the British Museum: What is the value of virtual reality environments for learning by children and young people, schools, and families?." MW2016: Museums and the Web 2016. Published January 28, 2016. Consulted September 30, 2016.

Marantz, Andrew. Studio 360: The Pioneers Who Are Making the First Virtual Reality Narratives. The New Yorker, April 25, 2016.

Kelly, Kevin. The Untold Story of Magic Leap, the World's Most Secretive Startup. Wired, May 2016.

Merritt, Elizabeth. Me/We/Here/There: Museums and the Matrix of Place-Based Augmented Devices. TrendsWatch 2016: 23-29.

M. del Carmen Barrios and C. Alexander, Art++: Augmenting Art with Technology at Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center. MW2016.

Doyle, P., Gelman, M., Gill, S. Viewing the Future: Virtual Reality in Journalism. Knight Foundation.