Alternate Realities: exploring Virtual Reality at Sheffield

Virtual Reality – or VR – is revolutionising media and has rapidly become a new genre in documentary. This year, the Sheffield International Documentary Festival (Sheffield Doc Fest) played host to two exhibitions: Alternate Realities, showcasing interactive documentaries, VR experiments and games made by artists from around the world telling stories in new ways using cutting-edge technologies; and Virtual Reality Arcade, which presented 12 of the best international virtual reality documentaries.

We headed to the Doc Fest to learn more about the exciting world of Virtual Reality, and to talk to the artists working in the emerging genre to find out what this leap forward in technology means for their work and practice.

Our podcast interview, featuring curator of Alternate Realities Mark Atkin, research psychologist Maria Panagiotidi, and the team behind the immersive virtual reality film and experience Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness, tackles the question of how virtual reality can be exploited to evoke empathy.

To contribute to the debate around empathy and Virtual Reality, the British Council set up an ‘Empathy Station’ as part of the Alternate Realities exhibition at the Doc Fest, aiming to draw attention to unconscious bias and the ways in which this could be manipulated through empathy-evoking VR technology. Research psychologist Maria Panagiotidi explains all in this short film.