“The Displaced” is a 360 VR Video created by The New York Times that follows three children who have been driven from their war-torn homes. 11 year old Oleg, 9 year old Chuol, and 12 year old Hana each preview a typical day as they continue to adapt to their new lives. This includes waking up at 4 in the morning to work in the cucumber fields of Lebanon, avoiding being eaten by crocodiles in the Sudanese swamps, and digging through the destruction of bombed Ukrainian schools. We are introduced to each child individually. Because none of them speak English, we are given translated captions.
These captions are in three different viewpoints, so no matter where the viewer is looking, they will be able to read the text. There is definitely a well-defined narrative structure, as each child gets an opening introduction, two segments throughout the middle of the video, and a closing. Emotion also plays a big factor in driving the story. At one point, Chuol says, “If I could, I would turn into a lion, finish off my enemies and turn back into a child,” when speaking of the attackers that separated him and his mother. 12-year-old Hana says, “I have to work every day to help my family,” as she explains the treatment from the Lebanese on her fellow refugees. All of these stories have different elements that make them individual, but together tell the story of what happens when war interferes.
It’s difficult to pinpoint specifically what drives “The Displaced”. Character, narrative, and environment are all heavy contributing factors as to why this is such an ideal 360 VR video. Technically, this story does a good job at balancing different types of shots between stills, and moving with the camera. At the 3:56 mark, Hana is riding in the back of the truck while on her way to work. At the 8:05 mark, a Syrian boy is running through the streets with his friends while holding the camera. As disorienting as this may seem, it does a good job at going through the children’s daily vantage point, while not giving the expected headache so many VR videos are guilty of.
While the video, as far as storyline and narrative are concerned, is very well done, one question remains: “Is it necessary for this platform?” Because we are fairly new with VR, many videos that explore this technology do so for experiential learning. Some may be interesting and fun, but rarely do these videos focus on storytelling, rather than simply an entertaining experience. For example, of all the 360 VR roller coaster video’s out there, I’ve yet to find one that provides any narrative structure that would be engaging to viewers on a deeper level. This is exactly why NYT’s “The Displaced” is about as perfect as it gets when balancing the experience/storytelling spectrum. Of course, there could be minor details added that I would have personally enjoyed, such as more dialogue, or maybe an aerial shot of the cities destruction to put in perspective the damage the children have to cope with. Though without these additions, it certainly doesn’t take away from the important message of the video. There is a good reason this video has nearly 300,000 views on YouTube alone; so, if you are looking for a thought provoking 360 VR story that’s also engaging and provides a new experience, “The Displaced” is the first video you need to watch.