Bear 71 VR is an interactive multimedia non-fiction web based Virtual Reality (VR) documentary co-created by Jeremy Mendes and Leanne Allison in conjunction with the National Film Board of Canada. It tells the true story of a female Grissly bear living in Banff National Park in Canada. The bear was caught and tagged with an electronic device which allowed it to be tracked and closely monitored by wildlife conservation offices from 2001–2009 (Allison & Mendes, 2017). The web-based documentary was originally released in 2012, but was re-released in 2017 as a VR work with an abstract VR environment, providing enhanced exploration opportunities and experiences for users (Kolm, 2017).
The story begins with film of the snared distressed bear beginning the process of human monitoring. The bear is given the number 71 as an impersonalised form of identification which is immediately juxtaposed to the personal style audio narration from the bear’s perspective. This narration is heard throughout the remainder of story and acts to create a bond, and a sense of empathy between the bear and the user. Users can then navigate around the interactive map that is a VR representation the bear’s home. This map contains a collection of videos and images of the park and its wildlife taken using cameras imposed upon the natural landscapes. Video footage and audio narration of the life of Bear 71 is interspersed throughout the story. The story sadly culminates in her untimely death on a railway track protecting her cubs from an oncoming train. This scene exemplifies the negative consequences of human encroachment on nature.
Bear 71 is targeted for users over 12, who also have the ability to use digital tools. The themes, including the controversial treatment of animals in the story, mean that it is not suitable for a younger user. Furthermore, to navigate through this story, users must possess the required basic technological knowledge and skills.
There are a multitude of themes evident throughout this narrative. One of the most prominent is the uncomfortable concurrence between the natural world and the technologically advanced world. This is best exemplified by the narrated words “It is hard to say where the wired world ends and the wild one begins” (Allison & Mendes, 2017, 4.18). Another significant theme is the ever-increasing human impact on natural environments and wildlife. The ultimate example of this is when Bear 71 is killed by a train in her natural environment. This is designed to highlight the role that humans are playing in the process of animal loss and extinction. This theme is further supported in the story by the use of the word “refugees” in reference to the bears’ ever decreasing habitable land (Allison & Mendes, 2017, 3.12).
There are many advantages of using multiple media forms in storytelling (also known as transmedia storytelling). Transmedia storytelling encourages readers to search for information and investigate in a range of formats (Lamb, 2011). In addition to the artefact itself, there are further opportunities for engaging digitally with others about the narrative through social platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr. Another significant benefit of this type of digital literature is its non-static quality, with continuing opportunities to make modifications according to technological developments. Evidence of this is that Bear 71 was re-released with VR. This was developed in the framework WebVR, allowing VR experiences to occur within a browser using a multitude of devices (Kolm, 2017). It is important that these modifications are easily accessible on current devices to maximise patronage. The aim is to make VR experiences available irrespective of the device being used (WebVR, n.d.).
Bear 71 can be used in the classroom particularly for the New South Wales Stage 4 Geography curriculum outcomes related to human interactions with environments and perspectives on geographical issues (NESA, 2015). Furthermore, it can be used as a stimulus to facilitate discussion around the ethical use of technology, and in general to facilitate the development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) skills. ICT capability is one of the General Capabilities embedded in the Australian Curriculum. In particular the English Curriculum requires students to use ICT when they interpret multimodal texts (ACARA, n.d.). Multimedia narratives can be especially useful in a variety of ways to enhance student learning. Elements can be used to support readers experiencing difficulties, aid comprehension and understanding of concepts and contribute to the tone of the story (Lamb, 2011).
A potential negative associated with this artefact is that it provides a very one-sided perspective of some issues and especially that of human impacts on nature. It lacks a more rounded consideration of how human interference and monitoring may, in some instances, act to protect and care for the natural world. Despite this, Bear 71 raises some pertinent questions about technology and our modern world, ironically delivered as a modern form of digital literature.
Allison, L. & Mendes, J. (2017). Bear 71 VR. National Film Board of Canada. https://bear71vr.nfb.ca/
Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. (n.d.). Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Capability. https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/f-10-curriculum/general-capabilities/information-and-communication-technology-ict-capability/
Bear 71. [@iambear71]. (n.d.). Tumblr. https://iambear71.tumblr.com/
Iambear71 [@iambear71]. (2012). Twitter. https://twitter.com/iambear71
Kolm. J. (2017). NFB re-releases award-winning doc in VR. Strategy. https://strategyonline.ca/2017/03/02/nfb-re-releases-award-winning-doc-in-vr/
Lamb, A. (2011). Reading Redefined for a Transmedia Universe. Learning & Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12–17.
NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA). (2015). Geography: K-10 syllabus. https://educationstandards.nsw.edu.au/wps/portal/nesa/k-10/learning-areas/hsie/geography-k-10
WebVR. (n.d.). What is WebVR? https://webvr.info/