The Click Effect: Freediving in Virtual Reality
This week’s digital story spotlight is part critique and part web app sneak-peek. The digital story itself is called The Click Effect and runs on a special platform called Within: Extraordinary Stories in Virtual Reality, which is designed for mobile and the latest VR gear (you can watch it on your PC and use your arrow keys for the panoramic effect, but it doesn’t have the same immersive experience).
Within gives users access to a small and growing library of 27 interactive, award-winning 360º film shorts on a variety of subjects which range from the serious to the fantastical, including CGI artistic effects. The cool thing is, in addition to streaming through your VR devices like Vive or PlayStation VR, the stories can also be loaded onto a smartphone and used with Google Cardboard or Nearpod headsets. Your mobile device literally becomes a window into another world.
I began the story The Click Effect on my iPad to see how this all worked. Immediately I noticed I could swipe from left to right, but in order to see the light above or anything below, I had turn my device up and down and all around to experience the environment fully. It was motivating because I would miss a piece of story setting if I didn’t. Wearing earbuds is also a good idea; sounds and music come alive in an immersive binaural experience.
The Click Effect is a free-diving adventure with two marine scientists to capture the secret “click” language of dolphins and Sperm whales. The first scene had me swimming alongside the other divers inside a rusty ship on the ocean floor. Every detail of the vessel is visible as I rotated my device. The divers were so clear, the hull and rails of the ship vivid, the light streamed above brightly, and all the fish swimming by so real. Amazing!
Suddenly I am zipping along on a speed boat with three others. I enjoy looking at the dive gear gathered on the boat floor, and then up at the sky. They’re not just pictures, but moving, talking people around me. I can almost feel the cool movement of the water swishing by and the buzz of the engine reverberating in my heart. As turn my iPad I can see embedded text with the names of my fellow researchers. The narration begins by explaining the mission.
“Whales and dolphins live in a world that is based on sound. It’s not about the way they can see us with their eyes. But it’s the way they can really scan us and understand us with sound.”
The rest of the seven-minute film had me swimming in the ocean while one of the scientists explained some interesting facts about freediving and the importance of humans seeing the world from the perspective of the animals – to enter their worlds on their terms in order to reach a better understanding. I continued to be mesmerized by the fact that my experience of the story directly related to my movement in the “real” world. If I turned one way, I faced a dolphin; if I turned another, a diver’s flipper swiped across my face and I could almost feel it do so. User interaction is everything.
I will be critiquing The Click Effect per Jason Ohler’s digital storytelling rubric and the following traits. I chose these traits based on the immersive VR experience that is the overarching goal of Within and the story focus itself: to bring documentaries to life. Documentaries by definition are “intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction, education, or maintaining a historical record.” So, my critique will be a threefold focus: Entertaining, innovative, and most of all, educational.
Needless to say, I spent a lot of time watching videos on the Within website. They’re a stunning example of how the digital storytelling experience is evolving as technology advances in this field. Some of the videos are artistic, like the CGI enhanced Evolution of Verse, where the camera takes you on a journey inside a womb and explores the nature of “beginnings” to the backdrop of an inspiring musical score. Some videos address social issues, like my favorite, The Displaced, where you get to see what it’s like to live in a war-torn country through the eyes of three children who are living it themselves.
A Word of Caution! Not all the films are suitable for kids. The library is like any other library with mature content. Some of the videos I would consider rated R, so you don’t want your students having access to the entire library. Instead, preview the video you like and download into your LMS for class access. As Within’s library grows, I hope they organize the content into categories and specifically section off the educational content. As it is now, it’s all gathered into one place which requires sifting through to find what you want.
Within VR is totally worth the time! It’s free and available across devices for ease of use. And best of all, the work is of the highest quality and simply incredible!