Virtual Reality: The Future of History

By Phill Powell

When we think of virtual reality, we automatically associate it with cutting-edge technology. And even though VR’s promise is now being realized, we still usually think of VR as something involving the future.

But VR technology can do a lot more than just take gamers to stunning and thrilling new realms. This futuristic technology is also being developed as a tool – maybe the strongest tool yet seen – to help people study the past.

Gazing Backwards Through the VR Looking Glass

VR technology is already being used for this purpose, and its fully immersive visuals are a historian’s dream come true.

Up until now, we’ve relied upon other sources to help us see previous times – first by physically touring ancient ruins, then with books and finally through the moving images of film.


Colosseum Lives shows what you’d see – if you were inside the structure 2,000 years ago.

While each of these methods can be a great teacher, they also require a certain amount of imagination on the user’s part.

VR, on the other hand, gives us the ability to tour ancient ruins, see how previous civilizations lived and do it all from the user’s perspective.

INTO THE ARENA…

Not only does VR let you see history, it lets you experience it first-hand…as if you were actually there, walking around in it.

Don’t believe us? Just check out this amazing virtual tour of the Roman Colosseum, one of the engineering marvels of the ancient world, as rendered for use with the Oculus Rift VR headset:

The Colosseum Lives VR tour offers extras the history books can’t, such as impressive flyovers of the enormous arena, the perspective you would see if you were a gladiator doing battle, plus trivia that shows just how advanced a structure the Colosseum was. Fun fact: It had working elevators and a retractable roof.

With a simulation this complex and complete, you can hear the roar of ancient crowds and feel something of the same spectacle those early viewers had. And when you view it while wearing the Oculus Rift, the whole experience takes on added 3D intensity.

EXPLORING PYRAMID POWER

Some historical VR content seeks to entertain as much as illuminate, and these creations live at the intersection of virtual reality and game development. Case in point: a VR Google Cardboard VR game that dazzles you with images of the exterior and (especially) the interior of one of the famous pyramids of Egypt.

But it’s more than that. It’s also a puzzle game that sends you down into a pyramid’s hidden burial chambers and through dark, narrow passageways.


This sim takes you deep inside a typical pyramid. (Let’s hope you can find your way back out…)

The goal is to locate a series of ancient runes. Doing so grants you escape from the pyramid’s semi-spooky clutches. The sim’s audio track features weird music and enough heavy breathing to remind you of Darth Vader. Combine that with the pyramid’s ominous ambience, and you’ve got a game experience that can send you running for your “mummy.”

REPLACING THE IRREPLACEABLE

Virtual reality is a boundless technology that not only shows us the past, but can also restore the past once it’s gone.

Dedicated researchers and historians are now showing how VR can help virtually replace objects and structures lost to the ravages of time or human destruction.

Temple_of_Bel_3D_model
Syria’s ancient Temple of Bel was destroyed in 2015. Its digital reconstruction lives on at #NEWPALMYRA. (Photo: #NEWPALMYRA Project Gallery)

Projects such as Project Mosul and #NEWPALMYRA seek to digitally reproduce, catalog and archive examples of culturally significant works, so they can be enjoyed forever by succeeding generations.

Such restoration projects illustrate the power of virtual reality software and show that VR is a miracle technology that exists in all time zones – past, present and future.