The Virtual Reality (VR) component of the Stuff Circuit team investigation The Valley shows how the Battle of Baghak unfolded, the terrain it was fought in, and highlights the details of the battle that are disputed.
A first for New Zealand journalism, the app recreates the most crucial six minutes of the battle in a remote Afghan valley in August 2012, where two Kiwi and four Afghan soldiers died..
“From the Court of Inquiry information, and other information we’ve managed to find, we can take you through precisely what happened at what point in time … and what direction gunshots were coming from,” Stuff Circuit reporter Paula Penfold says. Where facts are disputed, those points are highlighted.
“This enables people to explore that moment how they want to,” Penfold says. “The feedback is it’s given people a deeper level of understanding of how things happened that day.” The battle could be experienced from different vantage points.
* Episode 1: Enduring Freedom
* The Valley episode 2: Mission Ready
* The Valley episode 3: Contact
* The Valley episode 4: The Valley
* The Valley episode 5: The Database
* The Valley episode 6: Consequences
It was important to be respectful in portraying the battle, Penfold says.
“We were mindful this was a new form of journalism. This was a battle in which people were killed.
“We didn’t want there to be any kind of sense this was a VR version of a war game. We have been very, very careful about that,” she says.
“We want it to enhance people’s understanding but we wanted to be really respectful of the people who were there that day.”
While the VR experience doesn’t conclusively show what did happen in cases where facts are disputed, it does show that some important details in the public record are wrong, Penfold says.
Among the various reasons for producing the VR app, one was the hope it might attract a different audience, beyond those who read The Valley investigation and watched the documentary.
Also, when the Stuff Circuit team started the project it didn’t think it was going to be able to get to the the valley. “Then once we got there we realised the VR aspect is really useful,” Penfold says.
Viewers using the VR app can have as much or as little guidance as they want and can “teleport” themselves through the geography of the remote Shikari Valley to watch events from a range of vantage points.
The viewer is first placed in the valley. “You are looking across the river to where the dirt road is,” Tanm Imam, Stuff project manager (mobile) says.
“You can see the road, you can see the vehicles and the soldiers and the hills.”
The narration starts, talking the viewer through how to use the VR features for moving around the valley, and how to use the map that is part of the app.
It is recommended viewers first take the guided tour available, going through the complex sequence of events that took place during the battle.
But this is not linear story telling. “In VR, the viewer has total freedom to turn around and look at everything,” Imam says.
“You can spend as much time as you like. It’s open ended. It’s the viewers choice to look where he wants. You have complete freedom to explore.”
The app can be watched just on an iPhone or Android mobile. A cardboard viewer can be used, while the way to get the fully immersive virtual reality experience is to watch the app using a VR headset.