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Preserving the emerging: VR in memory institutions

Virtual Reality (VR) applications are now firmly embedded across industries as diverse as education, architectural design, gaming and in the cultural heritage sector. Said heritage, sector as of yet, pays little attention to the long-term preservation of VR productions. An internship at Sound and Vision provided an excellent opportunity to explore some of these preservation issues.

Mijn Explorer
The Mine Explorer, a VR project by Sound and Vision that enabled users to explore the Dutch Coal Mines through VR. Source: Kelly Mostert, CC BY.

Each proprietary, technological advancement promises to deliver a more immersive experience than the next. The newest developments today - untethered head sets, haptic integration and image fidelity technology - may well have been superseded by the time you’ve read this research paper. They might be replaced with holograms and other such offerings once only possible in The Lawnmower Man and other sci-fi films.

In such a fast paced technological environment, the questions of how, who and what should be preserved for the next generations present a real challenge. With dynamic file structures, proprietary software and hardware as well as a lack of interoperability between platforms, what VR applications will remain accessible if unsupported by standard file formats?  If the remit of cultural heritage institutions is to expand to include such technologies how will they select and care for them long term? 


Big Art Ride, a VR project by Dropstuff and Sound and Vision, that connected people across various European countries. Source: Frontwise, CC BY.

Little exists in the way of a preservation guide or even terminology for VR as the dust is yet to settle on standardised file type/s. This may not appear to be an issue now: your VR is still shiny and functioning. But the threat of obsolescence, especially where it concerns interactive content, is a perpetual concern and source of loss.

The internship also initiated an on-going collaborative exchange between Sound and Vision and ACMI who are also interested in preservation in this area.

A full research report can be viewed here.

Candice Cranmer is a Collections Technical Officer at ACMI and a recent recipient of a Masters in Cultural Materials Conservation. This internship was supported by Sound and Vision as well as the University of Melbourne and ACMI.