Exploring the impact of immersive experiences

In January the ‘Green Screens: Environmental Sustainability and XR Storytelling’ event was held at the Guildhall in York. The event focused on environmental sustainability and gave attendees the opportunity to reflect on their knowledge and experience of climate change. The event showcased three projects, which had been funded by XR Stories: 

Home Planet

In Here, Out There

The Gyre

The event also showcased research around sustainability and the creative industries: 

Environmental sustainability and virtual production (Dr Jon Swords and Dr Nina Willment, University of York), examined the opportunities and challenges associated with virtual production in relation to environmental sustainability. 

Sustainability stories and how sustainability is communicated within the creative industries (Dr Alexandra Dales, York St John and Dr Rory Padfield, University of Leeds), explored how the critical nature of sustainability and climate change transformations can be communicated through creative storytelling.

Climate communication techniques in film and television (Catherine Graves, BAFTA-albert/SIGN), explored the behavioural impact of climate content across TV and film, with a key focus on identifying best practice in the industry.

Inclusive climate resilient transport in Africa (Howard Cambridge Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York), employed digital storytelling to bring the voices of road users – especially people with disabilities and women – into the development of future transport. 

Coastal Stories and virtual reality (Dr Marta Herrero and Dr Jon Hook, University of York), involved the creation of a 360 degree video to demonstrate how archaeology can help coastal communities understand and adapt to climate change.


An attendee at the Green Screens event experiences the Home Planet immersive experience by Megaverse and SAIL.

Attendees were invited to complete a questionnaire about how the three immersive experiences made them feel about climate change storytelling. Twenty of the seventy-three attendees completed this questionnaire, their responses demonstrating the potential of immersive technologies for climate change education and storytelling. 

For 70% of respondents it was their first time using immersive technology, though their experiences were overwhelmingly positive: 95% stated that trying the XR experiences on offer at the event had made them interested in trying further immersive experiences in the future. 

‘It was great to have a range of immersive technology in the same space with people there to describe each project’ (Attendee 17).

The questionnaire also asked respondents how powerful they felt the climate change stories were across the three experiences. 80% of respondents stated that they had found the stories either powerful or very powerful. The emotive nature of the immersive experiences were highlighted, with respondents stating that they felt experiencing climate change storytelling through immersive technologies was more powerful, tangible, and therefore easier to connect with than traditional media.

‘We are accustomed to seeing climate change narratives through traditional media, such as print, TV or web; experiencing them via immersive technology provides a fresh perspective and a new opportunity for reflection.’ (Attendee 19).

80% of questionnaire respondents also felt that immersive technologies enhanced the climate change stories being told. Respondents actively enjoyed the varied approaches to climate storytelling which were expressed within the experiences: 

‘The 360 dome/projection is so impactful and meditative. It’s a nice approach to storytelling about the climate crisis because it’s calming and personal instead of preachy and didactic.’ (Attendee 5).

‘You could see a visible representation of the media pollution in the Gyre experience which helped make the message more impactful.’ (Attendee 6).

Some respondents felt that the immersive experiences did not showcase the negative realities of climate change enough: 

‘I don't think they were presented as [being] very hard hitting about the climate crisis.’ (Attendee 13).

‘Climate change is scary and people need to change the way they live - where was this - by acknowledging this you can build positive stories too.’ (Attendee 14).

We asked all respondents to reflect on the emotions they had felt whilst engaging with all three of the immersive experiences. Feelings of ‘concern’ and ‘change’ were two key emotions, alongside contemplations of the ‘future’ and feelings of ‘sad[ness]’ and ‘calm’. 

90% of respondents reported that they had learned new information around climate change from engaging with the three immersive experiences, and 45% stated the immersive experiences had made them think differently about climate change. 

Some respondents commented that they had learned more information about the localised impacts of climate change, and that this knowledge had made climate change feel more real and closer to both home and their own community. 

‘It gave me new facts and figures about the local impact.’ (Attendee 2).

‘Made it feel more real and closer to home.’ (Attendee 1).

Others noted that the immersive experiences gave them time to really reflect and explore in more detail the themes of climate change. This was because the immersive nature of the experiences demanded their complete attention and therefore provided them with a dedicated opportunity to reflect on climate change. Some participants also noted that engaging with these immersive experiences made them reflect on how their own actions impact climate change, with some stating that the direct engagement with these immersive experiences had subsequently compelled them to act. 

‘It made me think about how all my broader actions do impact, specifically social media from the Gyre, and my connections to the wider world and everything from [In Here, Out There].’ (Attendee 5).

Finally, respondents noted that even if they had been aware of climate change information prior to the event, the immersive experiences each presented climate change information in a new and engaging way. Some respondents also noted the broader potential of immersive experiences as teaching tools. 

‘The dome experience conveyed information that I may have seen before but in a more engaging way. Likewise, The Gyre made me think about my own carbon footprint and environmental responsibilities.’ (Attendee 17).

‘It’s a great way to teach and make people aware of CC (climate change).’ (Attendee 7).

Overall, the event was a real success in highlighting the potential of XR technologies to challenge perceptions and provoke meaningful conversations about climate change.

XR Stories has recently awarded funding to four new research and development projects through the OpenXR 2 funding call, including one which continues the theme of climate change futures. The learnings from this audience evaluation will feed into the ongoing development of these new R&D projects as they progress. 

Published on 19 April 2023

Filed under: XR Stories