University of Georgia

Grady College unveils virtual reality lab

By Dayne Young

Students at the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication can now have hands-on experience with virtual and augmented reality.

Grady College has opened the Virtual Environment Room and Gaming Experience lab to allow students and faculty members to engage in the VR world.

“VERGE allows students to experience a state-of-the-art lab and be able to better discuss what audiences and target markets are experiencing,” said Grace Ahn, advertising associate professor and VERGE co-director.

The lab features 15 immersive stations that allow up to 20 students to experience virtual reality at the same time. Some stations are capable of full body tracking. Others simply require wearing goggles.

“Video games are starting to merge with other forms of storytelling, giving the audiences more opportunities to interact differently with the narratives we encounter,” said Shira Chess, entertainment and media studies assistant professor and VERGE co-director.

One popular station is Beat Saber, an immersive music game in which players slash boxes representing musical beats with light sabers. Other stations include virtual reality experiences in fishing and golf, among others.

Grady College professors expect upcoming VR advancements to include more mobile and wireless hardware systems.

“Businesses are already training employees through virtual reality,” Ahn said. “We must open students’ eyes to see how they can relay messages and tell stories through the medium.”

Another advancement is the development of social VR, where users create avatars and interact with others from around the world.

“The exciting thing about VR and the VERGE lab is that we really don’t know where it is going, entirely,” said Chess. “It is a nascent form and it is up to younger generations to redefine what storytelling might look like within this format.”

The VERGE lab will be used for undergraduate and graduate student research. The lab was funded by the university’s student technology fund. It is located at Grady College Room 504 and will be primarily available to classes.