6X9: A virtual experience of solitary confinement

Guardian News and Media

Release date: April 27, 2016

VR technology: CGI

Viewing System: Samsung Gear VR

Imagine if you had to spend days, months, or even years in solitary confinement. What would you do with your time? How would you change as a human being? 6x9 is a virtual reality experience created by The Guardian to educate people about the physical and mental states of being in solitary confinement. Since the individual is alone when they’re in solitary confinement, virtual reality is a more effective format than other types of media because it’s known to be an isolating experience. The experience was successful because it was informative in an artistic manner, interactive in a small space, and had a clear story to follow.

At the beginning of the experience, words about solitary confinement began to appear from the left to the right causing me to move my head in different directions. I thought this was a clever way to introduce me to the story and prepare me for the head movements I was about to make to navigate different parts of the jail cell. The words across the field of view continues throughout the experience in the jail cell and used as a tool for the narrator to inform me about the psychological effects of being in solitary confinement and how one can be punished in jail for certain behaviors. Once I was done reading the words on the left side, the right side would show new words or facts. It was in a constant state of refreshing to keep me engaged in the environment until the next scene appeared.

The environment was interactive and maximized to its full potential across every inch of the cell to illustrate what goes on in an inmate’s mind. The side walls also served as a blank canvas for displaying videos of happy moments. The ceiling was used to show how one’s imagination can run wild and make me feel as if I was floating. When I looked down, the objects in the room were smaller in size to amplify the notion that was I was floating in the air.

Every object in the jail cell appeared to be strategically placed to require me to move my head around which would trigger information to play about an object such as a letter. Once I began listening to a letter written by an inmate I was interrupted by a meal sliding through the door. This new object arriving in the scene as a disruption made the experience feel more real because unexpected things can happen. I also had an opportunity to see the room from a different angle which kept things more exciting. Each transition was smooth and the editing was done in a way that was intentionally disruptive in the story.

The story was linear with some room for exploration and distinct transitions using visual cues and sound cues. In the beginning of the experience, the sounds of inmates shouting and the stories they were shouting were disturbing. The choice of stories was the perfect way to introduce the surroundings and induce a sense of fear with what the other inmates were saying. The voices were in the background and then, the narrator’s voice began which was at a louder volume. This let me know that the experience in the cell was about to begin so my focus shifted to the cell.

The visual cues included the scene fading to black, shaking, or flashing lights which informed me that the scene was going to change. As time went on, the visual effects also became more intense to illustrate how time can have negative psychological effects on a person. For the most part, this wasn’t disruptive. The only time I felt the experience was disruptive was when I was still exploring the objects in the room and the scene changed before I was done.

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