Virtual Reality Materials and Experiences

   Endangered large

Virtual reality (VR) refers to a set of technologies which build on existing 3D rendering technologies, with the aim of creating experiences which completely immerse a user in a virtual environment. The related term of Immersive Media (also known by the acronym XR) refers to a set of technologies used to create experiences, which either completely immerse a user in a virtual environment (Virtual Reality), augment the real world with virtual elements (Augmented Reality) or combine elements of the two (Mixed Reality). Key technologies include headsets, tracking systems, real-time 3D software and 360 video.

Digital Species: Media Art

Trend in 2022:

No change No Change

Consensus Decision

Added to List: 2021

Trend in 2023:

No change No Change

 Previously: Endangered

Imminence of Action

Action is recommended within three years, detailed assessment within one year.

Significance and Impact

The loss of tools, data or services within this group would impact on a large group of people and sectors.

Effort to Preserve | Inevitability

It would require a major effort to prevent or reduce losses in this group, including the development of new preservation tools or techniques.


Oculus Rift, VR tours, art installations.

‘Critically Endangered’ in the Presence of Aggravating Conditions

Lack of established frameworks and tools; technology is relatively poorly understood in the digital preservation domain; many of the technologies are proprietary; technology is seen as inherently fragile and therefore risky to collect and preserve; emulators do not currently support XR applications; expected to be difficult and costly to migrate, a process itself dependent on access to vulnerable source materials.

‘Vulnerable’ in the Presence of Good Practice

Effective replication; emulation; strong technical documentation; preservation pathway; good descriptive cataloguing; trusted repository.

2023 Review

This was a new 2021 entry submitted through the open nomination process. These VR technologies are finding use in many sectors, including archaeology, architecture, contemporary art, documentary film, gaming, forensics, science and engineering. While these technologies are not new per se, having experienced a first wave in the 1990s, they have experienced renewed interest recently as a result of a new generation of hardware. There are connections between this entry and others relating to both Media Art and Gaming, but it has been included as its own entry to emphasize the issues of preservation that pertain to the interconnected set of specific hardware and software components that access to XR experiences is contingent on. VR is challenging to document due to the individual nature of the experience, and components tend to become rapidly obsolete due to a fast rate of technological change as the industry pushes newer, higher fidelity hardware and software. This results in the potential to lose access to XR software applications, as old VR applications can no longer communicate with new XR hardware. The reliance on proprietary software and hardware components, as well as the lack of industry standards, poses a further risk.

The 2023 Council agreed with the classification of Endangered with overall risks remaining on the same basis as before (no change to the trend).

Additional Comments

The current wave of materials made using XR technologies represent a unique point in time for the continued development of the technology and therefore represent a significant piece of computing history. Individual materials/experiences created using XR technologies present their own significance beyond this, which, noted elsewhere in this entry, can be represented in a wide range of sectors.

The impacts of the loss of access to virtual reality materials could be widely felt, given their wide-ranging uses across many sectors — most notably collections and archives containing materials accessed using these technologies. Simultaneously there is a risk of a loss of understanding of this technologies' development during the 2010-present period, which is likely to be of historical significance in and of itself.

Media artworks are often made with a network of knowledge that can be precarious. Documentation around production processes can be minimal, and hence acting quickly with known processes can gather information before the knowledge and people networks start to disperse. This can mean preservation of production environments and associated workflows can be preserved alongside the media.

Case Studies or Examples:

  • The Preserving Immersive Media Knowledge Base resource, created to help share information between members of the digital preservation community who are caring for virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), 360 video, real-time 3D software and other similar materials. This site was born out of Tate's Preserving Immersive Media Project with funding from the Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision. See Preserving Immersive Media Knowledge Base (n.d.). Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023]

  • Resources and outputs from the Preserving and Sharing Born Digital and Hybrid Objects From and Across The National Collection project. See V&A Research Projects (n.d.) ‘Preserving and Sharing Born Digital and Hybrid Objects’. Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023]. In particular the VR case study included in the project report. See Arrigoni, G., Kane, N., McConnachie, S., and McKim, S. (2022) ‘Preserving and sharing born-digital and hybrid objects from and across the National Collection’, Project Report. Available at:

  • The Tate Preserving Immersive Media project, which is developing strategies for the preservation of artworks which utilize immersive media such as 360 video, real-time 3D, virtual, augmented and mixed reality. Preserving Immersive Media (2018 - ongoing) Tate. Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023].

  • Richardson, J. (2023) ‘Virtual Reality is a big trend in museums, but what are the best examples of museums using VR?’, Museum Next. Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023].

  • The issues and approaches raised by the Tuvalu Future Now Project, a set of three major initiatives designed to preserve its nationhood, governance and culture in the event of a worst-case scenario. The third initiative is the development of a digital nation. It includes digitising and transferring access to government and consular services and all accompanying administrative systems into the cloud to enable elections to continue to be held, and government bodies to continue in their roles. It also includes a virtual copy of Te Afualiku, the first island in Tuvalu to be digitally recreated through satellite imagery, photos and drone footage, creating a digital twin to not only help inform decisions around urban planning and development but also examine how to use augmented and virtual reality to allow displaced and future generations of Tuvaluans to continue to exist as both a culture and a nation, complete with ancestral knowledge and value systems. If this concept becomes a reality, the Tuvaluan people will be able to interact with one another in a digital dimension, in a way that imitates real life and helps to preserve shared language and customs. See Fainu, K. (2023) ‘Facing extinction, Tuvalu considers the digital clone of a country’, The Guardian. Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023].

See also:

  • NEW MEDIA MUSEUMS: Creating Framework for Preserving and Collecting Media Arts in V4, initiated by the Olomouc Museum of Art as a joint international platform for sharing experience with building and maintaining collections of new media artworks across different types of institutions. The aim of the project is to find workable methods for heritage institutions to build and maintain collections of media arts, which are necessary for safeguarding this area for the benefit of society. See Central European Art Database (2021) ‘NEW MEDIA MUSEUMS: Creating Framework for Preserving and Collecting Media Arts in V4’. Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023].

  • The Collaborative Infrastructure for sustainable access to digital art LIMA project, to prevent the loss of digital artworks and to commonly develop the knowledge to preserve these works in a sustainable way. The project ‘Infrastructure sustainable accessibility digital art’ invests in research, training, knowledge sharing and conservation to prevent the loss of both digital artworks and the knowledge to preserve them. See LIMA (n.d.) ‘Collaborative infrastructure for sustainable access to digital art’. Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023]

Scroll to top