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University of York Student’s Award-Winning Film Explores the Blurred Lines Between Real and Virtual Life

Blurring the Lines Between Real and Virtual

In an era characterized by technological advances, a short film from the University of York is capturing global attention by shedding light on the profound impact of virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies on our everyday lives. Titled, “The New Virtuality: A Video Essay on the Disappearing Differences Between Real and Unreal,” the film offers viewers a unique perspective on how these advancements are challenging our conventional understanding of truth and identity.

Honours at the 2023 Learning on Screen Awards by the British Universities Film and Video Council:
Nominated for an award in the “Creative Reuse” category
– Winner of the Special Jury Prize

Directed by Oliver Tomkins
Produced and written by Jenna Ng
University of York, School of Arts and Creative Technologies

“We confront a new reality today.

This reality is that of the image merged with its surroundings, erasing distinctions between the virtual and the actual.

It is the virtuality of the past which shows up in the present. Of the deceased who appear and speak to the living. Of virtual humans who do not exist, but appear alive. The simulacra that has collapsed into the real.

This video essay presents some of our ideas on this reality of the virtual, and forms part of our creative practice research project on The New Virtuality.”

A Prestigious Award for a Groundbreaking Film

Directed by research student Oliver Tomkins and penned by Dr. Jenna Ng, a Senior Lecturer in Film and Interactive Media, the film recently clinched the Special Jury Prize at the Learning on Screen Awards. The prestigious ceremony, which took place at the British Film Institute (BFI) in London, is known for its focus on honoring standout professional productions and emerging filmmakers.

Real Protest in Virtual Space: An Unprecedented Method

One of the highlights of the film is a sequence illustrating a unique application of VR technology. The scene depicts a protest march in Madrid, portrayed through pseudo-holographic images of people marching in a virtual space, projected onto city buildings as if in real-time. Despite the physical march being prohibited by the police, the demonstration continued virtually, making a powerful statement that was not only heard but also seen.

New Technologies and Their Impact on Society

Dr. Jenna Ng emphasizes our current state of ‘media blur’ and the crucial need for understanding the societal implications of these new technologies. “Grasping how these new technologies are understood and how they impact ideas of ‘truth’ and identity is important as virtual reality and AI methods advance into the future,” she explains.

Oliver Tomkins, director of the film, echoes her sentiments, stating, “Jenna came to me with a proposal too big to be confined to just the written word — this energetic, complicated audit of virtual unreality and its toll on us and our faculties and this video essay is just one slice of that brilliant boundary-defying idea.

Professor Marian Ursu, Professor of Interactive Media and Co-Director of XR Stories at the University, believes the film addresses a society on the cusp of a major transformation, where the boundary between the actual and the virtual is increasingly blurry.

The New Virtuality” isn’t just a film—it’s a reminder of our dynamic reality, urging us to reconsider our relationship with technology as we navigate through a world where the ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ are becoming indistinguishable.

As we dive deeper into the age of digital immersion, it’s crucial to understand the potential implications and benefits of VR and AI. The conversation around these technologies is just beginning, and “The New Virtuality” adds an insightful voice to the discourse.

What do you think about this merging of realities? How do you see the future of VR and AI shaping our understanding of truth and reality? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. Let’s keep the conversation going.

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