Enter the room

Augmented reality (AR) is starting to live up to its promise.

From paintings to the View-Master humans have been attempting virtual reality as a way to convey a sense of place or an experience to others. But not until the gaming revolution, which successfully combined technology with immersive experience and story, could people participate in a satisfying virtual experience. However, bringing that same combination to non-game storytelling has not been as successful.

There have been many attempts to harness the emotional power of virtual reality and augmented reality. The New York Times has been a leader in these areas taking us to refugee camps, seeing Olympic athletes up close, and inviting us to examine the newest Mars lander. But reaching us emotionally with story that moves us has so far remained elusive.

That may be about to change. An app just released by the International Committee of the Red Cross called “Enter the room” delivers a powerful and affecting experience. Using your iPhone (the app is only available on IOS devices) the app places a child’s bedroom into whatever space you are in. You can then walk through the door to look around and experience the bedroom. The catch is that this room is in a war-torn city and you experience the room over several years. The room, and the things in it, change to reflect the impact of an ongoing conflict on a child’s life.

Being able to see, hear, and almost touch, creates an experience that is somewhere between watching a video and actually doing something. Depending on your personal interest level, these types of interactions can be fascinating and intellectually stimulating. The challenge has been with connecting this “near experience” with a story that is emotionally engaging.

“Enter the room” gives us an example of what can be possible in storytelling. Using your phone, and this app, you walk through a portal between your life experience and someone else’s. And putting you into someone else’s situation, then using your own senses to experience their life can be quite powerful.

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