Harvest of Change Virtual Reality Video

Posted October 9, 2014 by Edmund in VR Video

Some have speculated that the power of presence to allow us to experience someone else’s life, make the Oculus Rift an ’empathy machine‘.

harvest of change virtual reality experience 1Obviously the power of Virtual Reality to evoke empathy has impacts on entertainment, but it could have a profound impact on the way we report news about our world as well. A few weeks ago The Des Moines Register released a documentary experience for the Oculus Rift called . It explores the state of modern agriculture in the American Midwest by investigating how things have changed over the past century for family farm, founded in 1901, in southwest Iowa.

Life on this family farm in the 21st century is revealed to us through a dozen 360” videos and a Unity recreation of the farm itself that you can explore, uncovering more video clips as you do. Naturally, the 3D rendered environment isn’t sophisticated enough to make for anything approaching a seamless transition between game engine and video. However, you will grow to appreciate the effort as you begin to recognise locations you’ve seen in the video clips. Certain locations on the farm contain easter eggs – pictures and facts. Some of these also really help to add a little heart to the CG farm, such as the towering oak tree, which we learn was planted to commemorate the current owner’s wedding, some 45 years ago.

harvest of change virtual reality experience 2Unfortunately, the videos themselves aren’t all of the highest quality – they are 2D and often too jittery to be pleasant, particularly in motion. The exception to this is probably the opening helicopter shot which is quite impressive. On the whole, the clips that work the best are ones that involve a reasonably static camera and interesting human subjects. One favourite shot is the President of the World Food Prize Foundation talking directly to the camera as he walks through a gallery of photos by Howard G Buffet. The variety of different shot compositions on display in Harvest of Change, do provide an interesting study for any would-be VR documentarians.

The various folks we are introduced to do tend to hold your attention regardless of any video issues – one member of the family shows us his GPS controlled tractor, and talks to us about his scepticism with regards to climate change. Sharing intimate moments like a child’s birthday party or a church hymn are strange but uplifting experiences in VR. Uplifting, also, is the story of a gay couple who took on a small farm about a decade ago, and describe their sexual preference as a ‘non issue’ in the community in stark contrast to the tenor of Iowan politics on the matter.

harvest of change virtual reality experience 3Harvest of Change attempts to paint a broad picture, touching on technological, economic and social forces – our narrator holds this all together. There is undoubtedly an air of nostalgia and romanticism in its narrative but there is a progressive and optimistic side to it too. The more anecdotal tone of the videos is punctuated by little fact sheets that float over-head after they’ve finished and provide more context for the issue that was discussed. Sometimes these provide graphs or charts, say, showing which countries grow GM crops, or the impacts of climate change on projected yields.

Harvest of Change is no polemic – it shows and tells us a lot but also doesn’t have anything particularly urgent or controversial to say. Of course, that’s not inherently a bad thing – it is a watchable and memorable way to consume informational programming. Ultimately, it just might be a bit more engaging if it had attempted to challenge the audience a little more – this may be personal taste though.

The Des Moines Register boasts that Harvest of Change is a “groundbreaking piece of digital journalism” and I wouldn’t begrudge them that description. In truth, it feels a bit closer to educational programming for high-schoolers than journalism, but that may be a petty distinction and certainly in no way diminishes the value of the end product. The combination of 3D rendered environment and a broad array of 360” video clips makes for a substantive experience – An experience that has something to teach if you are a VR enthusiast or just a citizen of the world.

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About the Author

Edmund

Edmund Ward is a philosophy graduate who has focused on aesthetics and cultural critique in the information age. He grew up with 'the dream of the holodeck' and is prone to get very excited by new innovations in natural user-interfaces. Edmund is currently looking for volunteers to look after the glucose drip that will sustain his "fleshform" (as he insists on calling it) when he migrates permanently to VR.

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