Wednesday 15 July 2015

Real Words in Virtual Space: War of Words VR

A few weeks back I bought myself a new gadget for the princely sum of £2.60: Google Cardboard, a flat-pack virtual reality headset that you can make at home in under ten minutes. For the uninitiated Cardboard is effectively just a box with two lenses that you slot a smartphone into to view virtual reality apps.

Headset with the back open.
The one thing that drew me to Cardboard in the first place was an app called War of Words VR by the design agency Burrell Durrant Hifle, based on the BBC TV programme of the same name. The app is incredibly simple - it recounts Siegfried Sassoon's poem The Kiss through text, narration and an animated rendering of a WWI battle ground.

Stereo view of the title - the viewer looks down to play the sequence.

As the app starts the full text of Sasson's poem can be seen against a misty virtual landscape, with a gun in relief below the text. A narrator starts to read the poem, the gun then comes to life, moves through the space, a bullet is fired and the viewer can then choose to move their head to follow the bullet as it hits its target (a soldier). Once the narration and the visual action finishes the poem materialises (see image below) to be read once more.

Stereo view. Poem materialises at the end of the sequence.

I was frustrated at first that I couldn't read the poem in full at the beginning, to get my own sense of the text, however at the end I had chance to read the poem myself and I found my response was informed by what I had seen and heard.

What I was most intrigued about before was the idea of text floating there in a virtual space - the idea that moving through space could reveal sentences and a textual narrative might emerge. This app doesn't quite do that, but layering text between other elements in 3D space does allow for interesting juxtapositions; in this case the simplicity of the text layered against the gun at the beginning and the text layered against the wounded soldier at the end casts the poem in a different light.

I feel that the immersive dimension to the app moves the visual elements away from being merely illustration and more toward being a lens through which to view the poem.

I'm looking forward to seeing how other apps use the medium and whether there is an even more creative way to use text in virtual space.


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