Dan Tucker is apologizing again. We’re stepping over cables, ducking under scaffolding and trying to hear each other over the drone of drilling on the first day of Sheffield Doc/Fest. Things are running a little late and the Alternate Realities Arcade, a staple feature of the festival that highlights VR and AR’s work in the documentary field, isn’t quite up to where it’s meant to be. Tucker points to a hole in the wall leading into a dark exhibition space and explains that an inflatable mushroom crowd will fill the gap, promoting Gabo Arora and Saschka Unseld’s nuclear disarmament piece, The Day The World Changed. There’s a sense that something special is just a few hours away from being born (and, as this 3D scan shows, it was), though right now tensions are a little high.

But Tucker needn’t be so apologetic; it’s painfully clear that we’re on a late start simply because Doc/Fest is trying to make a VR exhibition unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. The actual work speaks to that.

Frankly, Alternate Realities did more to validify VR’s artistic potential this year than the entire gaming industry could muster in an enormous LA-based convention hall running concurrently. In a backroom of the Trafalgar Warehouse in which the arcade is situated, a handful of experiences shown to me on laptops and mobile headset easily drowns out the busy work in the background.

As always, Doc/Fest’s curated list of experiences is rarely an easy watch. This year’s arcade is made up of two floors that Tucker explains he pieced through in order to provide two different experiences. On the…

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