Why VR is more Virtual than Reality in Iran

By Zahra Alipour, for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iran Business News.

About two years ago, Italian photographer Matteo Lonardi traveled to Tehran as part of a project called “Reframe Iran.” His goal was to portray Iran away from “the news headlines” and “politics” by using virtual reality (VR) webcams from inside the studios of Iranian artists. But one wonders how well known this new technology is inside Iran and how often is it used.

Many of the artists who participated in Lonardi’s project are actually not very familiar with the technology. Hooman Mortazavi, an Iranian graphic designer and painter who took part in “Reframe Iran,” told Al-Monitor, “I think we have to wait another 10 to 15 years before witnessing the production of a serious and grounded work of virtual reality inside Iran. Here, digital communications, facilities and outputs are a novelty.”

Mortazavi has won awards for his work — including several from the Graphic Biennial of Tehran — and mainly works as a digital media consultant. Yet he told Al-Monitor, “I don’t have a project that I can categorize as digital media. Interestingly enough, I lean more toward primitive technology. In a country where personal and group communications are considered security issues, a country 40 years behind when it comes to up-to-date technology, a country that engages in content filtering … doing digital work is pointless.”

VR products first appeared in Iran in 2012, after Oculus Rift was unveiled on the international stage. However, the technology made its real debut soon after Google’s inexpensive virtual reality headset, Google Cardboard, was introduced. Amytis, an Iranian media institute noted for having developed the computer game “Battle in the Gulf of Aden,” was the pioneer in producing VR headsets. “Battle in the Gulf of Aden” was unveiled in 2014 at the Fourth International Festival of Parks, Amusement Parks, and Leisure Technology & Equipment of Tehran. Only a year or so later — in November — Amyset headsets suitable for smartphones were made available to Iranian consumers and are being sold for 350,000 rials ($11.70).

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