For a religion that’s now over 2,000 years old, Christianity has always worked hard to embrace cutting-edge tech. When Johannes Gutenberg invented the modern printing press in the 15th century, the Christian Church jumped at the opportunity to distribute religious materials more easily, and the Bible became the first major work to be printed by the new technology.

Fast-forward to the 20th century, and the advent of radio, TV, and then the internet saw huge numbers of Christians flock to the nascent technologies. Christian rock emerged to dress conservative religious views in an aesthetic that was more palatable to a new generation of Christians, and Christian video games have been around for nearly as long as video games themselves.

Now, the world’s largest religion is turning to virtual reality to spread the word of God. Earlier this year, Wired profiled DJ Soto, a preacher who uses the multiplayer service AltspaceVR to preach to a virtual congregation wearing Oculus Rift headsets. In 2016, Jesus VR offered a 40-minute virtual reality retelling of the life and eventual crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

7 Miracles, a film from HTC’s own Vive Studios, isn’t just the latest example of this trend; it’s an acknowledgment on the part of one of the leading headset makers that religion might be a new opportunity for VR.

For all the talk of VR having potential as a social platform, modern headsets are an uncomfortably isolating experience.
Image: Vive Studios

Although billed as the world’s first feature-length VR movie, it’s more accurate to think of 7 Miracles as a collection of seven 10-minute-long vignettes, each of them focused on one of Jesus’ miracles as described in the Gospel of John. It’s nothing if not a straight telling of one of the least controversial portions of the Bible that wouldn’t feel out of place as a special attraction in Sunday School.

That wasn’t enough to prevent Vive Studios from being able to premiere the film at the Raindance Film Festival earlier this year in London. I was invited along to view three of its seven episodes, all of which should eventually be available for purchase across multiple VR platforms

In the context of a religion that’s constantly turned to new technologies to spread its teaching, 7 Miracles is nothing new, nor is it an unusually impressive use of VR. But Vive Studios isn’t trying to convert VR enthusiasts into Christians. Instead, it wants to convert Christians into virtual reality believers.

Speaking to Joel Breton, Vive Studios’ VP and the film’s executive producer, I got the impression that 7 Miracles could have been about any topic, so long as it appeals to a big audience that’s not already filled with VR early adopters. Find a topic that appeals to this group, and you can get them to try VR once. Get them to try VR once, he theorizes, and “they’ve got a very good chance of trying it again.”

It turns out the “billions” of Christians worldwide make for the perfect test case. “When I look at where’s my target audience, that’s a nice audience to be engaged with,” Breton concluded.

Knowing he wanted to target this audience, Breton then approached Panogramma, a Brazilian VR production company led by Rodrigo Cerqueira, who had been producing VR content since 2015. Over time, the project morphed into what would become 7 Miracles, with Cerqueira handling directing duties.

The result is a film devoid of blood, politics, and really of much in the way of conflict at all. It’s content to simply retell the popular stories rather than attempt to comment on them. The first episode, for example, is set at the Marriage at Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine. It’s a story that’s so well-known that it’s basically become a cliché as an event that’s seen as shorthand for Christ’s divine powers, and yet, 7 Miracles plays it completely straight. The camera sits among the disciples as they eat at the feast, we see Jesus instruct the servants to fill containers with water, and we’re eventually treated to a slow-motion shot of water turning red as it pours out into a cup.

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