Today is Earth Day, a worldwide celebration geared towards keeping our planet beautiful by encouraging people to adopt sustainable practices. Currently the world is faced with a number of ecological crises from dealing with nuclear waste to global warming, there are a number of causes to get behind on this Earth Day and with virtual reality being dubbed the most empathetic medium, it only makes sense that it would be used to help further one of them. River Productions, an internal studio at Rothenberg Ventures focused on showcasing virtual reality experiences, decided to do just that – creating a new experience titled Ending Overfishing VR.
As the title suggests, the experience is aimed at the overfishing crisis that is rapidly becoming a major issue. Using a combination of animations and hard factual data with a colorful narration, the experience is incredibly effective in conveying why this issue is important and what we can do to help stop it. One of the most impressive parts of the piece was its use of scale to help convey the message, moments like entering a net pulled by one of these fishing boats that can be up to four soccer fields large are incredibly impactful in a way that the message sticks with you.
The experience was rendered in real time, meaning that the team had to find some ways to work around some complex optimization problems. Says Tipatat Chennavasin, the project’s creative director, “we had to cheat a lot, we went with a low poly style which we thought would be easy but dealing with the scale we wanted with big nets and lots of fish we needed to use some tricks.” One of those tricks was devised by Alex Sink, the project’s lead developer, “we created virtual spheres around [the fish] that mirror the fish within them, helping to cut down on rendering needs,” which is important when you are trying to scale your message to as many people as possible.
Ending Overfishing VR was created during a six day sprint for an event called Global Citizens Festival in Washington, D.C. by a talented team headed up by Matrix VR and Pokemon VR creator, Tipatat. The experience was adapted from a video created by Uli Henrik Steckenbach called “Ending Overfishing,” with the help of Toy Story animation alum Ewan Johnson. The event was attended by over 60,000 people including a number of important environmental activists and members of the UN, all of whom had the chance to try the experience at the festival. According to the team, the response to the project was phenomenal, with a number of people pointing out how effective the medium was at thoroughly conveying the message as well as the scale of the problem.
Experiences like Ending Overfishing VR are among the best use cases for VR. Virtual reality has the power to impact people in ways that no other medium has. Someone who experiences something themselves rather than passively viewing it is much more likely to carry that memory with them; and that is the first step in getting people to act. I hope this is the first of many experiences like this, because they could truly help impact and change the world.