6x9 by the Guardian and Google News Labs, UK

UK – The Guardian has launched a visceral virtual reality (VR) article on life inside a solitary confinement prison cell.

  • The VR experience visualises the psychological pressures of spending days, months or years completely alone
  • The feature was made in collaboration with Google News Labs, the technology brand’s media content division

6x9, named after the dimensions of a solitary confinement cell, asks viewers if they could survive life without human interaction for 23 hours a day. It puts viewers in the shoes of prisoners in solitary confinement, believed to number between 80,000 and 100,000 in the US alone.

As the story of life in solitary confinement unfolds, narrated by ex-prisoners and psychologists, the virtual reality begins to reflect the enormous psychological pressures on the mind. Floating above the bed, or watching as the walls around them morph and ambient sounds become overwhelming, the viewer is given a deeper sense of this torturous existence, more so than simply reading about it.

This news format does have its limitations, however, and isn’t yet at a stage at which it can be digested as daily news. ‘When you ask the question: What stories should be told with certain technology? this is definitely one,’ says Sarah Wolozin, director of the Open Documentary Lab at MIT.

The Big Picture

Major organisations from The New York Times to the UN are using VR to create a deeper sense of empathy for global issues. For more about branded uses of VR, read our Virtual Reality Market report.