Virtual reality (VR) is going to shape itself into an art form that is quite different from contemporary cinema. We can’t really predict yet how things will turn out, although my bet is that movies as we know them are here to stay. It would be very difficult with VR to replicate the kind of storytelling experience made possible with editing and sound design and musical scoring. Whereas VR follows a viewer’s conscious choices, cinema allows that viewer instead to sit back and be enveloped in a story with layers of meaning created via the synergistic artistic choices of the filmmaking team.
I just read an article in Co.Design this week, though, that hints at VR’s truly awesome potential for a non-entertainment future. The article summarizes the technology’s use in a Nazi war-crimes trial recently, in which the VR team constructed a virtual reality model of Auschwitz, using original blueprints and photographs, because so much of the camp, including the crematoria, had been destroyed. Think of what a video game looks like; that’s basically what jurors and forensic experts were able to navigate in order to experience what a Nazi guard would have seen and felt during World War II. When one former guard was put on trial in Germany recently and tried to claim lack of knowledge about what was happening in the concentration camp, jurors got to see for themselves (virtually) the same things he saw. And what they saw was enough to convince them he was guilty.
The article also contains a 17-minute embedded video demonstrating contemporary use of VR for forensic analysis and crime-scene reconstruction. For example, you could create a 3-D picture of bullet trajectories, or you could walk through the crime scene and look closely for clues that might have been missed initially.
German authorities plan to use the VR model of Auschwitz to try around 30 additional suspected war criminals. After all the trials are finished—and this is the part of the article that most interested me—the VR model will be donated to museums and schools.
If virtual reality can preserve the history of this place in a way that brings it so frighteningly to life, maybe humanity stands a chance of avoiding a repeat performance.
(See “How VR Is Helping Convict Nazis in Court,” by Jesus Diaz, published in Co.Design January 10, 2018.)