Become a Witness

Virtual-reality experiment lets you walk around the Ferguson shooting scene

Since this piece was first published at the end of last year, a great deal of additional material relating to the case has surfaced, most notably the records—and of course, verdict—from the grand jury deliberations. One of the advantages of using a game engine to cover a news story is the ability to import additional content at various different junctures without upsetting the flow or narrative structure of the original experience – something that would be impossible in a textual analysis, where addenda are traditionally suffixed far below the digital or hard copy fold.

What’s New:

A user familiar with the original mobile or desktop experience will notice the key inclusion of new eyewitness beacons, belonging to those who testified during the grand jury trial. Their transcripts were edited and voiced by actors and imported into the scene as audio files, and can be activated by walking into the black beacons. Not only that, but as the user listens to their contrasting accounts, 3D models of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson appear in the scene to provide a better sense of the vantage point each person had. The numbers correspond to their respective witness numbers.

In order to reflect the polarized analyses of the evidence, we also chose to include clue beacons, which allow the user to reflect on both sides of key issues within the case: was Brown charging or fleeing; who initiated the initial confrontation at the window of the police cruiser; did Wilson use excessive force, and so on.


The richest experience is designed for the Oculus Rift, though an optimized version is available for Android through the Google Play Store.

The original experience was designed for desktop and required the Unity Web Player plug in to work. It’s recommended to use an alternative browser to Chrome, which has discontinued its support of this plugin.

For more updates and future VR journalism projects, visit

This is an interactive experience that explores Michael Brown’s death using a combination of graphic journalism and virtual reality. It allows you to move through an immersive recreation of the Ferguson shooting—and view the events based on eight eyewitness accounts. The witnesses’ stories, all given shortly after the August 9th shooting, have been interpreted in comics form by the graphic journalist Dan Archer.

Eyewitness accounts are notoriously fallible and contradictory. The aim of this piece is to compare and contrast the eyewitness reports—and allow you to see how this single incident has given rise to such a wide range of perspectives.

The complete virtual reality experience only works on desktop computers. If you’re reading this on a phone or mobile device, you can bypass the virtual reality experience and view the comics associated with the project here:

If you’re interested the virtual reality experience, please keep in mind that this is an experimental storytelling technology. Fusion is committed to exploring new frontiers in interactive storytelling, and we’ve supported this piece as a partnership with Empathetic Media and the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

The complete methodology for the project is available here.

We think it’s worth sharing with the world as a bold experiment in how graphic journalism and gaming might one day converge—but we recognize that the technology has limitations that some users may find frustrating. The full virtual reality experience only works on a desktop computer, which requires you to download the Unity web player plug-in. It works best with a Chrome browser. Exploring all aspects of the scene requires a significant time investment, approximately 20 minutes.

If you’d like to skip the virtual reality experience and just get a taste of the comics, they’re available here. For the complete experience, here’s how to do it:

Before You Start
This experience runs on the Unity game engine, for which you will need to download a plug-in. Please ensure you have pop-up blockers disabled, then click here to download the Unity web player. It has been optimized for the Chrome browser, and we advise against using Firefox. After you’ve downloaded the plug-in, click the box below.

Fusion_Mini Banners_Ferguson_Desktop

Once you’re inside the virtual reality experience, use the mouse to control where you look, and the cursor keys—or alternatively, W (up) A (left) D (right) S (back)—to move in that direction.

The colored beacons represent the locations of various eyewitnesses at the time of the shooting. Follow the arrows, and walk into the beacons to activate each story. Walking into the beacon will launch a comic that will allow you to read through each eyewitness statement, panel by panel. The panels load underneath the main viewer and will require you to scroll down to read them. Use either your keyboard’s cursor keys or click on the arrows on either side of the panel to go to the next or previous panel. Once you have read the last panel, click on the “X” and click back in the viewer to move to the next beacon.