“It was as if we were back in rural Montana.”
The first time former F.B.I. special agent Max Noel watched “Unabomber: The Virtual Reality Experience,” which launched on the HTC Vive Monday, he was extremely impressed by being able to revisit the cabin that Ted Kaczyinski had lived in for 24 years. The virtual reality (VR) recreation of the cabin includes Kaczyinski’s book collection, his bomb making accessories and even his signature sunglasses.
“They did a fantastic job,” Noel recently told Variety. “It was an amazing experience.”
“Unabomber: The Virtual Reality Experience” has been produced by Immersion VR and the Newseum with support from Vive Studios. It initially debuted on-site at the Newseum in Washington D.C. as an extension to its existing Unabomber exhibit, which aims to tackle the complicated ethical issues around the publication of the Unabomber manifesto.
In the experience, viewers can make the decision on whether or not to publish the manifesto themselves, and then also step into the role of an F.B.I. agent visiting Kaczyinski’s cabin, and piecing together the clues. “We want to give people the opportunity to join the investigation and become a member of the task force,” said Newseum CTO Mitch Gelman.
The experience isn’t exactly a video game, even though there is a chance to make a deadly mistake hidden away in Kaczyinski’s cabin. Instead, it’s more of an interactive, virtual museum’s exhibit, complete voice-over commentary from people like Noel and fellow special agent Terry Turchie, who had been in charge of the investigation. There are also a lot of newspaper clippings, and even additional videos to watch for anyone who wants to dive in deeper.
The goal of publishing the experience was to go beyond the Newseum’s walls, said Gelman. “We want to be able to reach people wherever they are,” he said. This also includes reaching gamers and other VR users who may not necessarily seek history lessons in museums. “We have a generation that is growing up on video games,” he said. The goal was to produce media that would speak their language. “VR is an incredibly experiential form of storytelling,” Gelman said.
The Newseum previously commissioned a VR experience about the Berlin Wall, and is now working on a piece about journalist Nellie Bly’s 72-day trip around the world in 1889. Gelman said that the Unabomber VR experience was expecially interesting to the museum because of its strong first amendment context. “More speech is better,” he said. “This is a case that actually showed that this can be true.”
The experience went of sale for $4.99 on Viveport Monday, and will come to Steam at a later time.