Virtual Reality: There’s urgent need to expand cases in Nigeria — Olaosebikan
Mosope Olaosebikan is the founder of Civic Innovation Lab and the Art Tech District. In this interview, he speaks on the inspiration behind the immersive experiences with history through the Oculus headsets, and the hopes for the future where ecosystems are enhanced by virtual reality.
What inspired the fusion of art, history, and technology for the Discovery Museum?
We realized stepping into the digital age that museums started to get associated with “archaic”, and not in a flattering way. Technology was seen as separate from art, history, and museums as a whole — mutually exclusive concepts we couldn’t fuse into one, and my team found it ridiculous. It became a question of figuring out ‘What makes a museum special?’, and after much thought, we landed on immersion and connection. Museums communicate by providing access to your past while making connections to your present. With that, we knew the concept of what a museum should be had to evolve to reflect the times. Researching over time, we explored ways to bring innovation into our space and after a lot of time spent creating and curating, we came up with what we have now: the first Nigerian museum to offer a digital journey into the past, present, and future of Nigeria and its people.
Why did you decide to leverage virtual reality as a core strategy for the visitors?
Museums play an important role in our communities. They help us understand different experiences and moments in time through art or memorabilia. So while we could only see or feel these things before, VR became an excellent tool that allows us to live these experiences and moments. We could easily show you pictures and items depicting the Nigerian Civil War that ended in January 1970, but VR allows you to live through it, hard as it might be. Although the old way was insightful, there was an underlying lack of connection because words or images couldn’t sufficiently describe these events. Now with VR, we can.
Why is it important for people to have immersive experiences with history through virtual technology?
Nigeria has a rich, albeit complex history. However, for the longest time — no thanks to colonialism, we didn’t have access to these stories. Even when by a stroke of luck we got an insight into our past, these versions were often gentrified. This caused a huge disconnect between Nigerians and our history, cascading from one generation to the next. Museums have over the years done what they could to educate Nigerians about the past, but with ongoing cases of stolen artifacts still being held on foreign soil; its clear resources were limited. Creating an immersive VR experience ensures that everyone who comes in leaves our space changed. You don’t just hear these stories, you get to experience them as well. This is important, not just because we need to catch up with the rest of the world, but also because we need to build a deep connection to our past in a bid to properly move forward.
How have Nigerians embraced the immersive virtual reality experience so far?
The reception has been incredible! We had high hopes of launching the museum with its VR component, however, the enthusiastic response we’ve received surpassed the ideas we had in our heads. It has resulted in what I believe to be a seismic shift in tourism and storytelling. In less than a year, we’ve had over 2,000 unique visitors with some coming back to experience it again. At this point, we are working on expanding our reach to other states within the country.
Meta’s Oculus headsets are one of the VR tools in the Discovery Museum that give visitors an enjoyable experience. Why Oculus?
When it comes to VR, it doesn’t get better than the Oculus! It makes a lot of sense logistically as the Oculus Quest is an all-in-one VR headset that works without restrictions from wires or attachment to a PC or mobile phone. So for us, it is easy to set up and bring our visitors the experience they desire on the go. And for the people coming in, it allows for full immersion into the experience without being conscious that they might trip over wires or some other minuscule appendage. But even if you take away the logistical benefits of the Oculus, we still have this portable device that sucks you into what can only be described as a hyper-realistic interactive adventure. Oculus VR has made a concept we only saw in science fiction films an actual reality. Then there’s the Facebook Developer Community which offers support in ways other VR providers don’t; from locally made applications to suggestions and solutions to problems.
What was your first immersive experience with the Oculus Headset like?
Nothing prepares you for the first time. We’ve all read stories and seen pictures of events that happened in our very complicated past, however, while it’s normal to walk in with a strong sense of what to expect, once you put on that headset, everything changes in an instant. As someone passionate about exploring new and exciting things in the tech world, I was pumped to use the Oculus headsets. Shut off from the world around me, this new world felt real — a little too real. It was a thrilling adventure for me as a Nigerian revisiting history, and as a tech enthusiast exploring the future of storytelling.
What are your thoughts on the future of Virtual technology in a country like Nigeria?
Nigeria is evolving at a rapid pace. Just like other countries, we are constantly looking for ways to innovate into the future across the board from financial services to healthcare and creativity. VR will play a vital role in pushing us forward. In the health sector, I can see VR becoming a key tool that allows for collaboration between medical practitioners. You can be a patient here in Nigeria with doctors across the world working on your surgery simultaneously. For arts, you can be an art lover in London by visiting the Discovery Museum in Abuja. With the circumstances surrounding the lockdown of last year motivating productivity in the face of distance, VR could very easily enable immersive remote meetings and other work-related activities thereby filling the void left by our lack of in-person interaction.
Could you share any misconstrued beliefs about virtual reality that you have heard?
So far, our visitors have been enthusiastic to try our VR experience. We haven’t gotten wind of misconceptions or unsubstantiated beliefs about the experience.
How important is it for creatives to embrace virtual reality technology especially in making their works of art more palpable?
We can all admit that VR is exciting for visual art as its immersive nature expands the relationship between the audience, the artist, and the art they create. You can be a musician in Nigeria holding a concert and have fans in Poland experience your show in such a realistic way they feel like they can almost touch you. We have galleries all over the world opening up art to a wider audience through VR and we at the Discovery Museum are also working on ways to have visitors from everywhere dive into Nigeria’s rich past. All of these examples are proof that VR is the future of Nigeria’s art community not just because of the reach it offers, but also the opportunity to experience art in such a heightened way unlike anything we’ve seen before. The opportunities are out of this world! Every artist should want this for their work. It is the core of why we create in the first place.
How can stakeholders drive an ecosystem led by VR?
There’s an urgent need for stakeholders to collaborate on ways to expand VR use cases in Nigeria. For the Discovery Museum, we use VR as a tool to tell poignant stories. However, the Oculus team needs to explore ways (such as setting up a local office) of working with other stakeholders like the government and the health sector in a bid to create more VR use cases. With use cases increasing, there will be an influx of more VR-driven businesses across all sectors fostering a healthy ecosystem.
Written by Olayinka Ajayi for The Vanguard