Visualizing An Invisible Cyber War with ‘Zero Days VR’

yasmin-elayat There’s an invisible cyber war that’s happening between major nation states, and Zero Days VR takes you inside of it in a completely new way using virtual reality. You go on a journey into a hyper-stylized cyberspace world where you embody the Stuxnet computer virus as it navigates programmable logic controllers, changes code, and destroys Iranian nuclear centrifuges.

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Zero Days VR is one of the most powerful VR documentaries that I’ve seen so far since it uses the unique affordances of VR to visualize what’s at stake for weaponizing security vulnerabilities, and it uses these volumetric affordances to innovate what’s possible in immersive storytelling. The end result is a visceral and embodied experience of an otherwise complex and abstract topic of cyber warfare that is probably one of the most important stories in our world today.

Zero Days VR is based upon the journalistic work of Alex Gibney’s Zero Days documentary, but it’s not a promotional experience for the movie but rather a self-contained experience that uses VR to tell aspects of the story that didn’t work as well in the 2D version. The VR experience tells the story as if the main character is code, and they created different immersive environments that reflected testimony from a range of computer experts as well as a number of official government denials.

At Sundance, I had a chance to talk with Scatter’s Creative Director Yasmin Elayat about directing Zero Days VR, and how this project came about through the use of their Depthkit technology in Gibney’s documentary. We also talked about their failed experiments to make this into a non-linear and interactive experience. It turned out that too much journalistic integrity and overall context was lost when they surrendered control over the linear release of evidence, and so they had to abandon the more interactive components of the experience that they were building off from their previous experience on interactive VR doc CLOUDS created by James George and Jonathan Minard.

Zero Days VR was released on June 8th on Oculus Home for both the Oculus Rift and Gear VR, and it also won an award for Narrative Achievement at Unity’s Vision VR/AR Awards.

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