Skip to main content

The “Tree” VR experience allows viewers to embody a kapok tree, which is considered sacred among indigenous peoples in Peru and other areas in and around the Amazon rainforest. | iStock / Getty Images Plus

This article is part of a series, in collaboration with the Civic Paths working group at the University of Southern California.

Seeds. Universes summarized into atoms. Atoms expanding into universes. Zoom-ins and zoom-outs that we tend to forget, rediscover, reinvent.

I was always fascinated with the potentiality of a seed across species. Beginnings and ends compressed into essence.

And then I got immersed in the journey of a seed — though a virtual reality experience offered by The VR Society during their “VR On the Lot” program in Los Angeles in 2017.

Tree,” directed by Milica Zec and Winslow Porter, is a short VR experience in which you inhabit a sacred rainforest tree, the Kapok tree, from the seedling stage into full-grown maturity.

Your humanhood turns into tree-hood, while repurposing “your arms as branches” and “your body as the trunk.”

However, after a process of evolutive growth, while everything seems peaceful and harmonious in the heart of the remote forest, the epic growth of the tree-protagonist is brutally and abruptly stopped by an anonymous human force.

The Rainforest Alliance commissioned the piece to help advocate for rainforest preservation — and combat the all-too-common process of deforestation — as a measure against the climate crisis.

The VR installation is elevated by sensory extensions such as temperature fluctuations, forest smells, powerful winds and other elements you can feel and touch. However, it was not the technological ride that felt primarily magical to me — but the conceptual one.

We humans often encourage exchanges with other cultures — but we rarely encourage a perspective shift with other species.

How would our planet change, if we were to regard it from the perspectives of other species as well as our own?

How could our villages or cities look like if truly inclusive with other species of plants and animals?

Is it possible to co-exist with other species in a habitat designed for all of our needs?

Interested in learning more? This piece was originally written as a part of “Plant Stories,” a storytelling initiative of the Civic Paths Group at the University of Southern California.

Source: Immersive Seeds: What We Can Learn From a Sensory Journey as a Rainforest Tree