On the Morning You Wake (to the End of the World) is a three-part virtual reality documentary about the threat of nuclear weapons from Archer’s Mark and Atlas V. It immerses audiences in the 2018 false ballistic missile alert in Hawai’i, and the first-person experiences of people who made impossible choices that morning. By seamlessly integrating documentary storytelling with innovative production techniques, OTMYW demonstrates how emerging technology amplifies the power of storytelling to drive social change.
The documentary is at the center of a year-long impact campaign produced by Games for Change that aimed to reach three key audiences — youth, the general public, and policymakers — and inspire them to take action to shape the future of nuclear weapons policy. From a United Nations Meeting of States Parties to the Nobel Peace Center to Times Square, the impact campaign included screenings and exhibits at museums, cultural institutions, schools and universities, UN policy convenings and public spaces in 10 different countries around the world.
During the impact campaign, audiences participated in research to address major gaps in our understanding of the unique potential of VR to inspire learning, engagement, and behavior change. The research, published by Games for Change, offers quantifiable evidence that VR has a higher impact on learning and engagement compared to a 2D tablet-based experience. Based on the success of the impact campaign, Games for Change produced a field guide of best practices for impact campaigns around VR experiences in a variety of venues and educational contexts.
Extended reality (XR) experiences have enormous potential to address real-world challenges and drive social change. As we gain the ability to create increasingly sophisticated immersive experiences, there is a growing need for an ecosystem to connect storytelling and impact. In 2017, Games for Change (G4C) launched the XR for Change initiative to develop a community of practice focused on using immersive media to address real-world challenges. The VR documentary On the Morning You Wake (to the End of the World), which G4C executive produced alongside Princeton University’s Program for Science and Global Security, provided a unique opportunity to produce a wide-reaching impact campaign that would help inform best practices for the growing community of creators, educators, and changemakers exploring the potential of XR and emerging technologies.
There are several features of our approach to impact that were critical to the execution plan and the impact campaign’s success:
Impact Producer: While OTMYW had a wide distribution strategy with an award-running run on the festival circuit and all 3 chapters available for free on the Quest platform, the impact campaign required going beyond traditional VR distribution channels with a mobilization strategy to engage key audiences. The role of the Impact Producer, Michaela Ternasky-Holland, was crucial to developing a mobilization strategy, and overseeing production and logistics. Michaela’s team developed a set of best practices for scalable, flexible and transportable VR screenings, which were published in a Field Guide.
Impact Partners: With a mobilization strategy aligned to the goals of established organizations and activists in the nuclear disarmament movement, Games for Change built a powerful coalition of partners including Global Zero, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Ploughshares Fund, N Square, and The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
Impact Fellows: G4C also engaged leaders in the nuclear disarmament movement as Impact Fellows who could use the impact campaign to advance their work:
Impact Research: At screenings, audiences completed surveys before and after watching OTMYW. This data, along with a comparison study, demonstrates the added value of VR for learning and engagement:
On the Morning You Wake met its goals of inspiring people around the world to take action to shape the future of nuclear weapons policy. The project’s success went beyond creating an award-winning VR experience, and recognized the importance of a mobilization strategy that includes wrap-around educational experiences and content to complement the VR experience. Through the impact campaign, the project successfully engaged key audiences from students to policy-makers in 10 countries. Two-thirds of viewers surveyed intended to seek more information about nuclear weapons after the experience, and three-fourths of viewers self-reported that they intended to take further action.
To address the lack of research data on the impact of VR activations, Jan Plass and Bruce Homer conducted research to evaluate impact and audience engagement using OTMYW and its robust impact campaign as a case study. They also conducted a comparison study to better understand the added value provided by VR that allowed participants to screen either the VR experience or a 2D/tablet-based experience. A white paper summarizing research findings, as well as a field guide with an overview of best practices, have encouraged dialogue within the growing field of impact XR, and help foster collaboration between content creators, industry, and cause-based organizations and inspire creative use of these emerging technologies.