VR is no longer just a subject of science fiction.
View of the Oculus Rift VR headset (from the outside)
It’s still early days but new things are happening. It’s hard to believe that the first Android smartphones only came out in 2008.
In June 2016 I bought a second hand VR headset (I’m not in the first wave of early adopters)
Last week I attended (virtually) a get together of mission minded VR experts and early adopters, and also learned about VR Bible (launching July 12th) and VR Jesus . I’m not an expert but I’m paying attention and so are others.
The trailer for the VR Bible promises “full Virtual Reality” which may be a promise too far in an emerging technology that can so far only fool some of the senses…
And here’s how a few different media outlets spread the news of Jesus VR…
Jesus in VR: Virtual-Reality Movie About Christ Story Set for Christmas 2016 Release Variety – Jun 29, 2016
Jesus is coming… to virtual reality – Engadget – Jul 1, 2016
Jesus Christ is coming to VR this winter – Polygon – Jun 29, 2016
What is Virtual Reality?
Technically the VR Jesus movie is ‘immersive video’ a type of video that is often in 3D with the ability to turn your head (or field of view) and look in different directions. The technology emerged a while back and in March 2015 YouTube added the ability to upload 360 videos.
The 3D aspect of VR headsets has been around for a while too. Anyone remember viewmaster? 1940’s technology built on an 1830’s concept of stereoscopic images. Basically your left eye and right eye are shown two slightly different flat pictures and your brain sorts it out to convince you that you are seeing 3D.
Technology has moved on and now the pictures move. (You can also spend 30 fascinating minutes listening to someone called Thomas Bible explaining how audio is used to give a greater feel of moving about in 3D virtual world)
At some levels VR is about giving you a more realistic experience of being somewhere, immersed in the story and able to look around you. It’s live theater where you are a spectator right in the middle of the scene.
At the next level, the one in which VR gaming takes you too, you are able to interact, to choose where you go not just where you look, to pick things up and use them, to interact with characters or representations of other real people.
Risks and Opportunities
Like most new technology VR can be used for good or for bad. Violent video games will get more violent and feel more real. And that ‘other stuff’ too which too many people in your church are using the internet for these days is doubtless already making use of the new tech (I haven’t tried to find out more). There is a sense in which people will use VR to further retreat from reality and live in a fantasy world, but it will also give people fresh opportunities to explore places and ideas in new ways.
Google earth already gives an amazing opportunity to explore far off places, VR will make that even more immersive, and give people greater insight. VR Bible, VR Jesus and other projects will deepen people’s understanding – although with any attempt at historic reconstruction it will still be important to recognize the gap between the artist’s portrayal of reality and reality itself.
As mentioned VR not only brings the opportunity to interact with places and things but also with people. I’m not sure what that’s going to look like yet but as with any other online interaction what you see is largely what people want you to see. Online interaction makes it easier for people to pretend to be someone different to who they really are, but it can also be freeing and allow people to drop the masks they wear in ‘real’ life and be more open.
People have been exploring various aspects of online church for a while. In SimChurch PhD theologian and pastor Dougles Estes explored many aspects of virtual church back in 2009. Further back still I found a 1997 article from Greg Shreve (in a physical book) on “Bible Translation, Hypercommunication, and Virtual Reality”
The technology and theology is moving on. If it doesn’t already exist, expect to hear of people involved in more highly immersive VR churches in the coming years – which will give some of us lots to think and blog about.
VR is becoming a reality and it’s one in which God has, is and will be at work in.