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The New York Times VR app launches with portraits of refugee children

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At a time when virtual reality is changing the way we experience entertainment, it was only a matter of time before news outlets turned to immersive storytelling. The New York Times was one of the first major news outlets to announce its VR efforts last month. Today they launched the NYT VR app with three poignant portraits -- a 9-year-old Sudanese boy, a 12-year-old Syrian girl and an 11-year-old boy from eastern Ukraine -- to highlight the plight of 30 million children who have been displaced by war. The Times is making a Google Cardboard kit available to its domestic subscribers along with their Sunday editions on November 8, but the stories can also be viewed without a headset on both iPhone and Android devices.

"By creating a 360-degree environment that encircles the viewer, virtual reality creates the experience of being present within distant worlds, making it uniquely suited to projects, like this one, that speak to our senses of empathy and community," said Jake Silverstein, editor-in-chief of the New York Times magazine, in his introduction to the VR series. "What better use of the technology could there be than to place our readers within a crisis that calls to us daily with great urgency and yet, because of the incessancy of the call, often fails to rouse us at all?"

This isn't the first VR experience that highlights the magnitude of the war. Earlier this year, the United Nations collaborated with UNICEF, VRSE and Samsung Milk VR to produce Clouds over Sidra, a VR film based on a 12-year-old Syrian girl's experience at a refugee camp in Jordan. The film validated the potential of VR to evoke a strong sense of empathy. Now, with the NYT turning to VR as an extension of its stories, a larger shift seems underway.

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