#VRsuchskaninchen – Day 1: Virtual is my new reality

Max Koschyk is a multimedia journalist, currently holding a Deutsche Welle editorial fellowship. For the next four weeks, she will be our #VRsuchskaninchen, produce journalistic VR formats and test the VRagments tool Fader. 

Versuchskaninchen, das

[Noun] (neutral); genitive: Versuchskaninchens, plural: Versuchskaninchen

(volunteer for an experiment),  guinea pig

Exactly one year ago, I would not have thought I might be producing my first VR story by the end of this week. In fact, one year ago, I wasn’t even sure I would be able to fulfill my assignment back then:

“Go to Gamescom and find somebody to talk to about VR.”

At the Gamescome, Europe’s large games and interactive entertainment fair, Oculus, HTC and Samsung were for the first time presenting their head mounted devices both for developers and gaming enthusiasts. A possible turning point for the whole gaming and electronics industry, I was sent there to cover the hype for the economics desk.

Reasons to get into VR: Palmer Luckey is nice

With a last-minute accreditation I tried to get a slot to test one of these hyped HMDs (the abbreviation for „head mounted devices“, as I know now). I was almost ridiculed by the manager of one of those exhibition booths for my foolish request. Only almost, because he knew it was his job to stay polite. I was then laughed at by a fellow visitor, who had just stepped out of said booth and refused to tell me about his VR experience..

In the end I did get that much needed quote on VR. Nicely enough, I got it from no other than Palmer Luckey, founder and inventor of the Oculus Rift. He agreed to do a short interview, which makes him not only a tech revolutionary, but also a nice person for that matter. I went back to the office, filed my story and bought myself a Google cardboard the next day.

With that cardboard I have gazed over the skylines of cities I otherwise never visited, watched live recordings of TV shows from within the studio and I hunted viruses within a human body – something that is physically impossible. Well for now, at least.

Being a #VRsuchskaninchen

My first encounter with VR may be rather random, but it is exemplary for many people’s experience with the technology. For once, VR experiences aren’t a secret, secluded hype anymore. VR and 360 degree formats are ubiquitous in anybody’s social media feed, they now can be watched on Youtube and Facebook, on many browsers and most smartphones.

Even Cardboards have turned from affordable VR solution to a giveaway gadget, similar to USB sticks, making VR available even for those who are no early adopters or professionally invested in the technology.

With last year’s rapid developments, it wasn’t even a matter of time until journalists would not only discover VR as a subject to talk about, but as a medium to work with. So, in a nice turn of events, on my current desk at VRagments there is an Oculus DK2 head mount and an Oculus Gear VR lying around. One year after me first chasing “somebody knowing anything about VR”, I will now be able to work with Linda, Stephan and their team and be for there for four weeks as a “VRsuchskaninchen”.

So what can journalists do with VR?

I don’t know – yet. Besides being an avid VR consumer, I have zero experience in producing VR content. But I am not the only one. While 360 degree videos are already popular, most of them are produced on a trial-and-error-base. Templates for additional VR dimensions and interactive storytelling devices – such as the Fader tool – are still in development.

The #VRsuchskaninchen trial wants to give the VRagments team and me the opportunity to produce stories and evaluate how journalists could benefit from their Fader tool and see what workflows and demands journalists have for VR formats. The results will be published on the VRagments Youtube channel, plus I will blog here about our findings.

Together with other journalists, filmmakers and camera people, I want to look at production workflows, storytelling devices and understand how VR can serve journalistic purpose. Some of these questions have already been answered, some haven’t – and as a proponent of life-long learning I am also happy for any tips and advice you as readers and VR experts might have.

This project is ambitious, it will without a doubt be challenging and I cannot promise you to succeed. But I am happy to try out and if it doesn’t work, I hope my endeavors will be at least as entertaining as this 360 degree home video of a guinea pig, a black chicken and some kids:



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