How would you advise brands to genuinely engage with consumers through VR without resorting to gimmicks or one-off experiences?
VR can be used to create genuine experiences and emotional reactions so we are taking the power of the medium seriously. To some extent, something new can have a gimmicky feel, but as the expression evolves and the landscape becomes more saturated, the expectations of consumers will also expand. We will have more meaningful and more premium choices for the kinds of VR we want to experience.
Critics argue that VR can be an isolating and antisocial platform. What ethical issues do brands need to consider when creating VR experiences?
We have found that certain environments lend themselves more to VR and others to AR, so we should be sensitive to the audience and scenario. VR could be more successful in mundane settings that you might want to escape from such as air travel, for example, whereas AR might be more suited to enhancing a social situation you are enjoying. There are many different solutions to making VR more social, and virtual societies are popping up everywhere, allowing for social networking, but with the added advantage of identity and gender augmentation of self- and avatar expression, which is fantastic.
We often add physical layers to enhance our technology projects, such as theatre and set design to support a kind of spectacle. In our Bitmap Banshees project – a VR thriller game installation set in a future dystopian Amsterdam – participants ride a modified Mad-Max-style bike that acts as the game’s interface, while spectators can follow their journey on a connected screen. We had a lot of positive feedback on this set-up, as the audience was brought into the experience by being able to see what each player was seeing, which ultimately made it a more social experience.
In terms of ethics, we’re not scientists, but we are aware that a lot of research is happening with regard to issues such as desensitisation, privacy and sensory vulnerability, so we hope we’ll know more soon. In our work we like to focus on the positive effects, like the fact that you can trick the brain into thinking it’s really in nature using VR, which we did with our project for Corona, Paraíso Secreto. Like any other medium, VR can, of course, be exploited to create some nasty new realities. Brands, more than ever, have a responsibility to be at the leading edge in the creation of uplifting and inspiring destinations. We’d be terrified of a future where brands used VR to create pop-up ads in a world of infinite possibilities.
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