The Future of Storytelling? Why XR has an Untapped Potential for Social Impact

The way stories are told and shared is changing fast.

In this evolving landscape, Vulcan Productions has identified an area with untapped potential for social impact. We believe that XR – which includes mixed, augmented and virtual reality (VR) – has the potential for completely immersive storytelling, allowing audiences to step into and become part of a story. While many developers, artists and creators are using this new medium to innovate gaming and as a training device, Vulcan Productions sees it as a new way to engage and inspire audiences to action and scale impact.

Hosted by Vulcan Productions and Kaleidoscope VR, the first-ever Impact Reality XR Summit was conceived to bring together industry leaders, creators, mission-driven organizations and funders, the summit fueled new connections and innovations on the next wave of XR stories for social good.

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“We are constantly exploring new ways to engage with audiences and scale impact,” said Matt Milios, creative director of emerging media at Vulcan Productions. “We’ve seen the potential for impact with XR through our slate of emerging media works and have seen how it has opened new worlds that creators and audiences are just beginning to explore.”

Through firsthand experiences with its emerging media works like X-Ray Fashion, Ghost Fleet VR, Drop in the Ocean, and Guardians of the Kingdom, Vulcan Productions has seen audiences’ perceptions shift right before them. After experiencing Drop in the Ocean – an interactive, social virtual reality experience that immerses viewers into the plastic pollution crisis – renowned oceanographer and explore Dr. Sylvia Earle said it best:

“[Drop in the Ocean] captures the essence of the ocean, the real ocean. It’s not just rocks and water – it’s alive,” Dr. Earle told Jackson Wild’s Wild Talk. “[The experience] didn’t just enable the audience to see the state of our oceans, it made them feel it. When it comes to impact, that makes all the difference.”

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And studies have shown that VR experiences act on the brain in a profoundly different way from traditional media according to a study from Stanford University. Researchers developed a VR experience, called “Becoming Homeless” and found that people who underwent the scenario created actual sense memories and a deeper level of empathy for characters and issues. Additionally, study participants were more likely to take action for the homeless than those who did not.

Not only do XR experiences stay with people but they provide creators with endless possibilities. Whether you’re putting someone on the back of a jellyfish to shine a light on plastic pollution or creating an environment where the audience feels what it’s like to be a tree facing extinction, XR creators are bringing multi-sensory experiences to audiences in a way that creates a lasting, emotional connection to the problems facing our planet.

“You meet the people, you experience the place. You’re in,” said Conservation International’s Jamie Cross at the Impact Reality XR Summit. “You’re in for life.”