Progress, Diversity & Direction in VR / AR / MR

It was a highlight to be the moderator of the all women panel in VR on "Progress, Diversity & Direction in VR / AR" at the close of Pause Fest 2017.

The panel opened up a dialogue on how far we have come in the VR / AR space since 2016. We discussed the value of bringing diverse voices into the creation of meaningful content. We spoke of new opportunities, challenges and the future of VR / AR.

Women in VR - Diversity Progress and Direction in VR

The all women panel included; Leah Bunny, Emily Harridge, Amy Nelson, Katy Morrison and Pranee Mckinlay (formed by VRCCA).

In 2016 we saw VR go from an experimental medium to a more commercialised industry where international companies invested millions in local and international ventures. Pranee reminded us that Screen Australia, in collaboration with Canada launched an interactive digital media incentive and Film Victoria currently support local game and film producers.

So now we have a new revolution, let's talk about the importance of diversity and how diverse voices in storytelling and multi-media is extremely important.

Statistics show that start ups that incorporate diversity tend to be more successful than start ups where everyone thinks alike. VR is all about altering and shaping perspectives so there is an opportunity to relate more with a person’s socio-economic background, life experience, race, colour, belief systems, sexuality and gender when you can experience what it's like to be in their shoes.

"Diversity in any medium is important, it is crucial to our growth as a society." Pranee McKinlay

A good example of how a VR film can impact how you feel for displaced persons is "Clouds over Sidra" created by Gabo Arora and Chris Milk. 

Clous Over Sidra

You are introduced to Sidra, a charming 12-year-old girl who will guide you through her temporary home: The Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Zaatari is home to 130,000 Syrians fleeing violence and war, and children make up half the camp's population. In this lyrical VR film, Sidra leads you through her daily life: Eating, sleeping, learning and playing in the vast desert city of tents. Hopefully after feeling empathy and compassion at the end of the film, you can donate here with Unicef.

Another diversity hot topic right now is women in tech or women in VR. Yes, there seems to be a lot more women in VR / AR than other tech industries right now. It does seem like a great opportunity to change history and make sure we do get this right from the start, especially since we are in an early adoption phase. 

Women in VR

I must admit it felt like yesterday that I was the only female on an all male board in the early 1990's of a tech company before the dot com crash. Although it seems like more women are in VR, statistics show that just 3% of women are CEO's and most women revert to part time work in order to raise a family.

This rings home with me. To keep my busines active I had to take my baby into meetings and work when my daughter went to sleep. I frequently set my alarm at 3am to start work. The sleep depravation was intense but years later the flexibility I have gained with my business was worth the struggle. But it wasn't easy.

Emily Harridge, Founder of Visual Playground, PlaTo Reality and Co-Founder of Real World VR spoke of the challenges juggling family and running a successful VFX / VR company. "If you want the best out of your team you need to give them flexibility." "We need to seek help and work together as a family unit, we shouldn't feel like we are alone."

We should open up a dialogue so that we can be inclusive of individual needs, join networks, speak out & communicate ideas. This industry does allow us to be more flexible with hours and we can work from home to create a better work / life balance. We can set up businesses, access investment, market ourselves globally and generate as much income as we like. It's such an amazing opportunity!

Katy Morrison, Founder of VRTOV said most of their work opportunities are overseas. Many of their VR / MR short films showcase diverse voices and have gained internatonal exposure at film festivals including; Sundance Film Festival, International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, Sheffield Doc/Fest, Montreal International Documentary Festival, CrossOver Labs, Nordisk Panorama, Currents New Media Festival, Guanajuato International Film Festival, Vector Game+Art Festival, and Tribeca Film Festival. In October 2015, VRTOV, together with Google, conducted a Virtual Reality workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa, as part of the African Futures Festival. Artists from throughout Africa were invited to come together for a week and experiment with telling stories in Virtual Reality.

"The more we allow these voices to be heard, to tell their stories, the greater our understanding and acceptance of difference will be." Pranee McKinlay.

Diversity is more than just being male or female. It's critical we include all groups in the conversation.

Wouldn't it be great if VR equipment was more accessible to marginal markets, then we would hear and experience more untold stories.

That brings us to the future of VR. What will the next ten years look like? We can only imagine, however predictions are that Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will become "Mixed Reality" where artificial intelligence will be the norm. Amy Nelson spoke about the future of VR and the connected home. About VR spacially mapping your home and the merging of VR and AR. There are already advancements with volumetric video, retinal tracking, 3D and holographic communication.  

Samsung Retinal Scan

We have come such a long way and we need to embrace opportunity, experiment and take "calculated" risks. The future of VR depends on how we navigate the next few years. 

Leah Bunny

Founder of Virtual Soup (World's Premiere VR /AR / MR directory) and Co Founder of Real World VR (Community Event for the industry). Connect on LInkedIn