Virtual Reality by Older Adults, Time and Connectedness

Tanisha Jowsey*, David Ryan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalBook/Film/Article reviewResearchpeer-review


In this paper, anthropologist Tanisha Jowsey reviews a virtual reality interactive film from The GeriActivists project, produced by illuminart®. Director of illuminart®, David Ryan, responds.

I often jest with people ‘I am not only technologically incompetent but also technologically intolerant; a nasty combo’. While others grab the controls of an Xbox I grab a pair of gardening gloves. So it is with surprise that I recently watched—and became enthralled by—three 360° virtual reality (VR) immersive films produced by illuminart®, at the 2018 Annual International Arts and Health Conference in Port Macquarie, Australia.

In 2017, David Ryan and his team of multi-media artists from illuminart® engaged with older adults (55 years plus) from low socio-economic backgrounds in Western Sydney (St Marys) for several years to co-create three 3-minute virtual reality experiences (Houston 2018). Project participants included Llandilo Maltese seniors from ‘heirloom farms’, who were asked to imagine life in their community in 2068 (50 years in the future). Over a three-month period, the Persian community co-created an original song, which they performed as part of Persian Picnic, one of the three films (Finn-Powell 2018). When I sat down on the stool to trial the VR it was with a strange sense of curiosity. Daunting memories of various science fiction films flashed into my mind (The Matrix (1999), Star Trek (1991 S5:E6), The Butterfly Effect (2004), Ready Player One (2017) and so forth), while I read the list of risks and warnings that I was required to read before consenting to put the headset on. There was a risk of vertigo. I get that just standing up from my desk. There was a chance that I might fall off my chair. Again, this is something I’ve achieved without VR headset (and evidence suggests that VR might actually be protective against this (Singh et al. 2012)). So with the risks analysed, and Mary Douglas now coming to mind (Douglas 2013; Douglas and Wildavsky 1982), I put the headset on.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)196-202
Number of pages7
JournalAsia Pacific Journal of Anthropology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes


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