Virtual Reality story-telling – for everybody?

Virtual Reality (VR). It is the sharpest tool that ever existed for telling a story. Ever! That’s what VR film-maker Gina Kim says. Successfully, she makes us viewers experience – with full viewer particiption – the last moments in the life of a South Korean sex worker who bleeds to death after having been fatally assaulted by her sex customer, a US soldier.

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The sharpest tool ever for telling a story! The sharpest tool ever for creating empathy. That’s what Gina Kim wants to do with VR. And she does it!

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Gothenburg Studios at Lindholmen Science Park

At Västsvenska Filmdagarna 2017 the announcement for day two was to discuss how to create Virtual Reality narratives: ”VR-experiences are increasingly produced and consumed. Billions are being invested in VR technology. But what happens with VR narrative content?”

Swedish and international VR pioneers were gathered this day. Saleen Gomani and Ellen Subraian, with their VR work Billy – sponsored by Svenska Filminstitutet (SFI). Paul Blomgren DoVan, one of the creators of the ”Håkan Hellström in VR”-concept. Roger Wallén, representing SVT VR innovation. Viktor Peterson, executive at CLVR Works, and Gina Kim (on Skype) with her prize-winning VR-production Bloodless.

When all was said and done at Västsvenska Filmdagarna 2017 the VR issue was not ”how can we create good VR stories?” Good stories were exhibited. Narrative Virtual Reality can be done. We saw it. The question that no one could answer yet was ”Can VR stories, with full viewer participation, be made available to a general audience?”

Those who have got somewhere in this direction are Nobelmuséet and CLVR Works, making educational VR in collaboration with the Sheik of Dubai who sponsors a VR project for educating future Nobel prize winners in Asia.

But this is still a long way from making VR story-telling available to the general public. To most people, the equipment needed is still too complicated for regular use at home. The major question, then, is not if good VR stories can be made, for they can. The major question is, will enough people see the VR stories? Will the money a producer invests in Virtual Reality stories produce any profit? Will investors even get the invested money back?

Until there’s a reasonable chance for this, VR narrative productions will be viewed by a rather narrow audience. Yes, the Swedish Film Institute (SFI) does sponsor a few productions. Yes, Gina Kim won the Best VR Story Award in Venice 2017 for her stunningly empathetic VR story Bloodless. And yes, the Nobel Museum and CLVR Works make educational VR stories for the sheik of Dubai.

But Roger Wallén and Swedish Television (SVT) are not ready. He tells us they’re experimenting with Mixed Reality (MR) in connection with sports events and big concerts. But not yet with VR storytelling. And Paul Blomgren DoVan is more or less doing the same thing as Roger and SVT in entertainment. And Viktor Peterson says neither Nobelmuséet nor CLVR Works have any staff nor money particularly for VR narratives.

So, how and when will this narrative tool materialize in its full capacity? How and when will Virtual Reality story-telling be made available for the general public? It’s  said to be the sharpest story-telling device ever! The answer is blowing in the wind.


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Lindholmen Science Park seen from the quay where the ferry lands


Lindholmen Science Park

Gothenburg Studios

Nobelmuséet VR

CLVR Works

Read also our report from Gina Kim’s lecture on her VR film Bloodless.


Narrative Virtual Reality and empathy

”I use VR to enable empathy”, says Gina Kim, creator of the narrative Virtual Reality (VR) film Bloodless. She’s speaking on Skype to us – an audience of about thirty-five people at Västsvenska Filmdagarna in Göteborg, Sweden.

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This is the location of the conference Västsvenska Filmdagarna

Västsvenska Filmdagarna is a conference for film creators, sponsored by the authorities of Region West in Sweden. The final day, the entire afternoon is dedicated to narrative Virtual Reality and Gina Kim as the last major speaker of the conference defines this medium’s potentials for narration.

”I wanted to show the room where she was murdered”, Gina Kim says. She speaks about the South Korean prostitute who was bestially mutilated and left to die of massive blood loss and whose last moments in life are the subject of Gina’s VR film.

Media exploited this woman’s case and her dead body, and what Gina wanted to do was tell about this death and show how the victim herself experienced it. This, Gina explains, is what VR makes possible. The viewer is not a passive viewer. VR allows people to experience without aesthetic distance. The horror, the loneliness, the sadness of the victim is actually felt.

Gina Kim found major obstacles in the way of this film project. The area and neighborhood of the crime scene where she shot her film was the lawless land of brothels and drugs. What she tried to do there was not actually criminal. But there was no help or protection from authorities or police to be had if there was any kind of conflict with locals. Because of such dangers, she had to be meticulous in her planning, not to draw unsolicited attention to her doings there.

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Screen picture of the main actress of the VR film Bloodless

”It was a dilemma”, says Gina, ”that it was not the actual room of the murder that we used for shooting the film. We had to make this clear to the viewer”, she says. The dilemma was solved by letting the dying woman walk out of her body, out of her room, roaming as a ghost, looking for someone to be with her at her last. ”And”, says Gina with some emphasis, that someone is YOU!”

One thing that she underscores at this point is the effect on the VR viewer of being thus chosen by the dying woman. ”Now you embody her”, says Gina. ”You don’t become her. You embody her, and then she takes you to her room”. ”The viewer”, says Gina, ”does not become the victim. That would be sadistic. I do not want to produce the violence”, she says.

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Neighborhood of the crime. Gina Kim on Skype inserted.

In Gina Kim’s view, narrative Virtual Reality is a powerful tool. It is a powerful tool that she uses to create empathy. As a tool for experiencing the pain of others. ”It is”, says Gina Kim, ”the sharpest tool of narration. The sharpest of a million years”. And the way she wants to use this, the sharpest narrative tool of all ages, is she says – ”to make a better world”.

And I? I say yes. That’s definitely the way she uses it.



Gina Kim Wikipedia

Västsvenska Filmdagarna 2017 (English)