Last week on August 9 was the second anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man who was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. This launched protests in Ferguson that eventually developed into the Black Lives Matter movement, which now fights for the lives of black people around the country.
Following Brown’s death, in 2014, we released “Ferguson Firsthand,” a virtual reality experience that uses a combination of graphic journalism, audio and photographs to explore the contradictory eyewitness accounts of the shooting. Users travel through the Canfield Green apartment complex in Ferguson, able to examine pieces of evidence and scrutinise the scene from multiple angles. The goal of the piece is to let the user compare and contrast the various reports and form their own opinions of a single incident that has a wide range of sometimes contradictory explanations. As more details have surfaced, we expanded the related media in the story, making it an evolving narrative that also touches on our own – and the media’s – subconscious prejudices of what happened to Brown. Archer “We want to ensure that users form their own opinions by exploring the scene for themselves, piecing together a narrative thread from the evidence they choose to uncover”.
The experience was published for the Oculus Rift on Fusion’s site in Dec 2014 and rebooted some 6 months later in June 2015. However, when we tried to release the story to a wider audience through a smartphone app, Apple’s app store rejected the piece. This was likely because the subject matter was too controversial, though we think that’s exactly why these stories need to be told. More than ever, we believe that these new forms of storytelling need to engage with important non-fiction topics, however polemical they might be, and prompt a discussion.
That’s why since releasing “Ferguson Firsthand,” we have created two more pieces on fatal police arrests of young african american men. Through our app ARc Stories, the first augmented reality (AR) sequential storytelling app, we released “The Freddie Gray Arrest” in collaboration with TheWashington Post and “I Can’t Breathe: The Eric Garner Arrest” in collaboration with social venture Silicon Harlem, which works to promote technological innovation in the borough. These pieces use reference materials, especially video footage, to trace the events leading up to both of these men’s deaths by police officers and break them into their key moments, juxtaposing available evidence with the exonerating verdict delivered in both subsequent trials of the officers involved. In an age of oversaturated news consumption, AR provides an opportunity to take news events and transform them into communally engaging stories that audiences will relate to in ways they cannot with more traditional mediums.
The recent deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling earlier this summer have once again sparked conversation and action around police shootings in the United States. We will continue to tell these stories because as high profile incidents like this continue to gather media attention, we want to add to the narrative by using journalism techniques to tell factual stories that encourage our audience to care about issues and learn more about them.
“By leveraging the power of new forms of storytelling we aim to bring these important topics to audiences that might not otherwise engage with them at a deeper level and foster a communal conversation”.