Immersive journalism uses virtual reality (VR) to put the viewer directly into a news event. Researchers established that small changes, indicative of a possibility for interaction, like having a virtual character recognize your presence when you look towards them, can have a substantial positive impact on peoples' sense of presence in a VR news scenario.
Published in Frontiers in Robotics and AI, the study used a VR experience based on BBC News reports of refugees migrating to the EU. The animated scenario, called "We Wait," provides viewers with an immersive experience via VR goggles of the plight of refugees waiting to be taken illegally by boat to Europe, across a dangerous stretch of sea.
The researchers measured the illusions of place and believability experienced by participants shown one of four different versions of the "We Wait" scenario. In one version, the participant is given a virtual body which they can see when they look down, and when they look at virtual characters these sometimes look back at them. The other three versions lack one or both of these features, i.e. the participant receives no body and/or no acknowledgement.
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