What can Virtual Reality offer to the Church?

Over the years the Church has communicated it’s timeless message through many people and many different media channels, and to the Church, virtual reality can be expressed as just that: a media channel. As a media channel to communicate the timeless message of the gospel we can start to separate ourselves from the hype and ask “what are we actually getting here”. To test the water I released a virtual reality Church Psalms experience on the Gear VR which got thousands of downloads in it’s first week and I am estimating will get 50,000 downloads per year. There is a thirst for it and it is currently rated at 4.1/5.0 which for the app section of the Gear VR Oculus store is very high, just below netflix and the samsung specific content.

So, what can be said about VR as a media channel in comparison to other media channels:

Positives:

  • Makes use of localisation to improve memorisation
  • Enhances learning through experiences
  • Calming break from the outside world
  • Multi sensory learning possible, benefiting a wide range of learners
  • Lower cost to produce and publish than for other media channels

Negatives:

  • Worse than books at communicating large amounts of information
  • Smaller current audience that TV, radio, internet etc with high cost to entry
  • Requires a whole new generation of people to be equipped to use this channel
  • Some users experience motion sickness

As a channel it therefore represents a great way to focus on a few key learning outcomes; rather than present volumes of material. For instance: with this channel we could look to re-enforce key messages from scriptures such as:

  • God is for us and not against us
  • Atonement theories
  • The Lord is our shepherd and provider
  • Our value and worth to God
  •  Adoption and sonship
  •  Empathy and generosity

VR experiences are highly memorable and immersive, so let us take advantage of them for that and create experiences that are anchor points for people in key areas of Christian learning. At the moment there do not seem to be clear ways to represent larger amounts of information. 360 degree movies are a possibility and eventually we will hopefully be able to make a great 360 degree movie because the gospel is set out in scenes well which lends itself to that medium. Never the less, presenting volumes of information therefore is not a goal we would actively pursue with VR and instead it seems better to pursue the importation of key learning outcomes from the bible, using the bible as a reference.

So what then is this channel able to offer the Church: it is medium where we can re-enforce key learning outcomes of the gospel. This channel has potential to be a place where Christians absorb the word in a way to strengthen them, much in the way they use devotionals at the moment. The medium is far more compatible with the approach taken by devotionals to get across key learning outcomes rather than trying to gain a full and completely accurate knowledge of the scriptures.

The future predictions of the size of the channel is also of note. The chart below shows some minimum and maximum size predictions over the coming years, and was produced before even larger estimates for the size of the potential marker were released:

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-11-14-09

By 2022 the market is predicted to be somewhere between double to eight times the size of the current music industry market. As a medial channel that is huge, much larger than the current film industry, gaming industry and music industry combined. In 6 years we can say then that we are looking at what could be a huge emerging tech industry that represents a capable media channel for the Church.

So where is the Church at with this channel? Currently a few people are out there experimenting. For instance in the altspace VR store you can find the Virtual Reality Church Experience and meet Pastor DJ Soto for a service in virtual reality:

http://360rumors.blogspot.com.au/2016/08/first-church-in-vr.html

or on google cardboard you can find Story Dive’s Moses experience, or go on a walk through a VR Church.

https://www.facebook.com/StoryDiveVR/

If you have Google Cardboard or Samsung Oculus Gear VR then you can find the virtual reality Psalms experience:

http://360rumors.blogspot.com.au/2016/10/praying-in-vr-with-vr-church-psalms.html

There are however a few mainstream efforts starting to appear. For instance at Christmas we may be treated with a full 90 minute movie about Jesus:

Reginan’s Jesus VR Film is a World First

Larger technically progressive churches like LifeChurch.tv are getting onboard and are facilitating 360 video streaming for churches through their church online platform, as well as a more ‘netflix’ vr style theatre with all sorts of features like chat functionality:

http://live.life.church/?experimental=vr

Again from their links they are marking this as experimental; but they are publicly recruiting a bible labs team which may spell for some exciting new ways of experiencing the gospel in the future.

So that is where as the body of Christ we are at as of the 3rd of October 2016, looking forward to a professional production in JesusVR for Christmas.

This article is provided by Immersive Gaming Ltd who produced the VR Church: Psalms Experience for Oculus / Samsung Gear VR. Immersive Gaming Ltd are currently experimenting with ideas for a kids VR bible experience of the gospels for Christmas.

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