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Virtual Reality: This is Climate Change

New to the New Hampshire Film Festival this year is a virtual reality experience called “This is Climate Change,” which features four different segments: Melting Ice, Famine, Fire, and Feast. Written and directed by Danfung Dennis and Eric Strauss. This virtual reality experience puts you directly in front of the horrors that are happening in front of us, prompting inspiration to make a change.

When you enter into 24 Congress Street you’re immediately consumed by black curtains, meant to dampen light and sound. Blue lights are set up against the wall at roughly two foot intervals, casting a neon light over bright strips of green and pink tape jutting out on the floor at sharp angles. It is vaguely reminiscent of a stripped down 1980’s laser tag arena. In the room are ten swiveling chairs. In those chairs are people with headphones and a virtual reality headset swinging around, craning their necks at all sorts of odd angles. Their bodies are tied to this world, but their minds have been set free to explore pastures, mountains, space, sporting events – really anything the production crew chooses to document.

It is here that visitors of the 2018 New Hampshire find themselves living in a reality previously only concocted in minds the likes of Phillip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) and Aldous Huxley (Brave New World). Some of the greatest historical social critics and writers of sci-fi who predicted the development of technology like artificial intelligence and the modern pharmaceutical revolution. Virtual Reality is in that sphere of sci-fi dreams, now being proved true in a small rented out space. Fittingly the scene is contrasted with the city outside its doors, Portsmouth. Portsmouth is defined by its colonial architecture, 20th century industrial shipping yards, and acceptance of modern artistic service-based shops. It is a place where history, current trends, and now the future are molded together, coexisting in an amorphous community.   

In terms of straight tech, VR’s equipment is here and there’s really no way to describe how truly impressive it is already. It’s in the name, Virtual REALITY. A surprisingly complete production of a whole world pasted over eyes and ears. There’s an absurd kind of contrast created there. The environment is familiar, the people in the chairs being the same ten people you’ll find walking the streets of any city (mothers, photographer, grandfathers, neighbors) but at the same time it’s hard not to feel a certain palpable sense of wonder and excitement permeate the room. People walk out amazed and muttering expletives confirming the surprising intensity of the equipment.

Now it’s still very unclear as to what the time-table is in terms of mass application. Right now the Virtual Reality movement is still in its infancy, content to steadily grow and consume a niche chunk of the entertainment market. But there’s just no knowing whether or not this is the next evolution in entertainment, similar to how movies and TV quickly became the majority share holder as they ate up radio and photography. Because we’ve seen similar (albeit less impressive tech) fall by the wayside. After all there was a time not too long ago when people thought 3D was the future. Google thought they’d created a winner when they produced Google Glass. Segways were once exciting. This isn’t to knock any of that equipment, they were all brilliantly crafted; however, there seems at times to be a depreciating line that grounds the majority of humanity in the face of technological growth. And so the question remains: is this 3D or is this the iPhone.

On a less logistical note, its also hard to be in a room, witnessing a thing like this, and not be beset with an onslaught of questions in terms of social effect. Like what happens when this tech is integrated into peoples life during developmental ages? What kind of power does it hold in the ongoing creation of a more globalized community?  

While all that sounds vast and futuristic the truth is that, despite this new development seeming to be a major leap, it really isn’t too far from our current world. We’re already on a trajectory headed by an obsession with worlds based in 1’s and 0’s instead of the four letters of our DNA. VR is just that process purified and mainlined for maximum effect. For now all that can be said is that Virtual Reality is here and its a clear and undeniable progression.

You can experience Virtual Reality: This is Climate Change again on Saturday from 12:30 – 1:30 and again from 1:30-2:30.

By Tom Berry


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