Analysis: witnessing in various shapes and strengths

The first part of our analysis consists of a description of the qualities that create an implied witness in various shapes and strengths in the four journalistic stories made by students. We point to the many different structural and material organizations that allow a VR spectator to accept the idea that she is personally on the scene, even though she sits in a chair wearing a VR headset.

Learning like a child

In “Plastics” the implied reader is a witness in the passive sense.You are positioned as a child at the age of approximately eight to twelve years who is interested in learning about plastics pollution in the Norwegian environment. The child is positioned as listening to a kind of teacher. There is time to explore and orient oneself in the virtual environment as the narrator tells a story. The position is that you are interactively involved in exploring the factual information, which can generate learning. But the learner is not a particular person in the story.

Scene 1: You are at a beach on the Western coast of Norway. The beach is apparently spotless, but as you turn your head around you see pieces of plastic. A voice gives an introduction to the plastic problem and the damage it does to sea and wildlife. The sound is recorded on location, and there are sounds of waves and seagulls. When the voiceover is complete, the user can move on to Scene 2.

Scene 2: You are at a football pitch. Modeled plastic objects slowly but surely fill the football pitch, giving you a feeling of being “locked in” by plastic - such as, presumably, the fish in the sea also feel. There is a locative sound indicating that a new object has popped up, and applause and ballpark shouts that gradually diminish as more plastic piles up on the pitch.

Scene 3: You are at a big recycling station with noisy factor)' sounds, bright lights, and things moving around on conveyor belts. You can fix your gaze on different objects in the factory space, and click on them with the hand controller to hear and see more.You can click and listen for around a minute before you have tried all the material.

Imagine being dead and cryonically frozen

In “Cryonics” the implied reader is also a witness in a rather passive sense.You are supposed to lie on a reclining chair to have the best starting position. First you are positioned as an adult lying on an operating table dying, and after your death you are addressed by four explicit narrators with strong opinions about cryonics. You are obviously involved, since you are supposedly dead and in the cryonic tube, but nevertheless you only overhear or witness the statements from the speakers.

Nothing happens to you along the way, and you cannot act beyond launching the different speeches.

Scene 1: You start the experience on an operating table. You see stressed doctors, an X-ray, a heart monitor, and a blood bag. The situation of the patient is critical and he is about to die.The scene ends by one of the doctors “closing your eyes”, an indication that you are dying. For a short while you are in a kind of “intermediate stage” floating through space before entering a mysterious tube.

Scene 2: You are in a tank of frozen liquid nitrogen. To create the mood in the tank, there are different sound effects. One is a constant, low-frequency drone sound, another is of dripping water. Sometimes you can also hear hydraulics pushing out air. The tank has a blue tint, and there are chilling smoke effects inside it. First you get an explanatory speech on why you are in the tank. Wherever a symbol appears, when you look at this, the symbol will be turned into a face.The information is presented in an abstract rather than realistic way. The symbols in the three-dimensional environment find their meaning as references to an outside world, comparable to the abstract role of imagery inVR Memory Palaces (Vindenes, de Gortari, & Wasson 2018). Each person will confront you with their opinion on freezing a human body. In total there are four persons spaced around the sphere: one with a positive view of cryonics, a priest, a philosopher, and a medical doctor.

Overdosing on heroin

In “Drug Addict” the implied reader is a first-person witness.You are moving from place to place in the city, scene by scene. Notice that the user does not have any real freedom to move in 3D space, but “moves” through the events in transitions between the scenes.You are a drug addict who buys heroin and shoots an overdose, probably eventually dying. This is a more active witnessing than in “Plastics” and “Cryonics”. The protagonist is also displayed as an explicit narratee in the story due to such features as seeing his arm instead of your own (or no arm). You are positioned as a full-bodied person with a subjective experience of the stress and unpleasantness. This is further accomplished by the use of realistic, cold filters, shabby, rundown locations, and visual disturbances that simulate a sense of losing consciousness. The group chose to make a sequence at the start where an explicit narrator explains what will come. While it heightens the journalistic seriousness of the piece, it also creates an initial distance from the person we are about to become.

Scene 1: You are sitting in a public square in the heart of the city. Flere you are in one of the city’s most popular places, but without being able to establish eye contact with anyone.

Scene 2: You are on the Light Rail from the city park to the city bus station. During the tram ride you will notice that a passenger sits down in the seat next to you, gives you a judgmental look and get up again to stand in the corridor for the rest of the trip. Outcast, subhuman.

Scene 3: You are in a pedestrian subway at the city bus station. Here you are greeted by an approaching person and you receive drugs in the form of heroin.

Scene 4: You are in a public toilet in the subway, where you shoot heroin into your arm.The arm and body are visible in the video. In this scene the colors turn more saturated, and you can hear your increasing heartbeat. Various clips from different parts of the city are presented with a few seconds’ delay, each fading to black shortly after introduction. Then there is a dip to a black transition to the next scene.

Scene 5: You are lying in an alleyway. Your overdose may result in death.The video ends with text explaining more about drug addicts in Norway.

Suffering from schizophrenia

In “Schizophrenia” the implied reader is a victim of a mental disease. You are positioned as somebody in a neutrally furnished apartment, and you experience increasingly hallucinatory impressions in both visual and auditive forms. Depending on the degree of immersion, you can either feel like the sufferer does for a short while, and sense its impact on your body and mind, or you witness the condition over the shoulder of the sufferer without identifying as him/her.

Scene 1: You are at the kitchen table in an apartment. The first symptoms of the disorder begin to emerge. There is an auditory hallucination in that the radio host suddenly addresses your situation directly: talking about the bread on your plate. There is a visual hallucination in that, if you look directly at the slice of bread, the cheese will start to mold. You hear a low voice “inside your head” that is somewhat hard to discern.

Scene 2: You are in the laundry room. Now the voices are multiple and louder. An aggressive man shouts: “Did anyone say you’re allowed to do this? You know who decides! End it there! Are you listening? I said STOP! Turn off the washing machine! You [...] now you listen to me, I’m the one who decides [...] turn it off!” A panicked woman screams: “Can you hear that sound? They know where you live, they are here now, they are coming to get you!” If you keep your eyes on the floor drain, spiders will start to come up through it. Someone is shouting and cranking the door handle, trying to get in.

Scene 3: You sit on the sofa in the living room. The voices are at their most intense in this scene, at one point urging and guiding the user to kill himself. Paintings on the wall come to life if you look at them. The prince depicted in a painting blinks to the user, and spits out a frog. Another painting shows a number of men, and they suddenly begin to move. Suddenly the phone rings. The scene fades into black and we hear a voicemail that is played on the mobile. The voicemail is from a friend who wanted to check if everything was OK, and wanted to meet up soon. This was intended as a relief from the incessant voices, and to give closure for the user.

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