Nonny de la Peña
The Godmother of Immersive Journalism
Let’s get real: Virtual reality pioneer Nonny de la Peña, founder and CEO of the Emblematic Group is pretty much the creator of the immersive journalism genre. With 20+ award-winning years in print and TV media, she’s a master at using cutting-edge technology to create what she calls a “duality of presence” for her audience. By doing so, they feel and remember the stories not only with their mind, but also with their bodies. Her Emblematic team also tackles branded content, creating, for example, a VR stock market app for The Wall Street Journal, while Nonny also serves as the founding program director of Arizona State University’s Narrative and Emerging Media program. There, she champions young women and people of color to enter the same fields in which she’s left her indelible mark.
Nonny de la Peña’s impressive film Please, Believe Me takes “viewers” on an interactive experience with Lyme disease. The story utilizes mini-games and deep fakes to take audiences back to the 1990s, reconstructing one woman’s struggle to be taken seriously at a time when many doctors stopped believing in Lyme disease diagnoses. Viewers “watch” as a tick bites their virtual hand while feeling haptic vibrations. Later, they’re beamed into an infected body and must physically fight Lyme-disease cells. Nonny and her Emblematic team also work to open up technologies to those who otherwise wouldn’t have access. Their collaborative REACH.Love webVR platform was launched in 2019, allowing anyone without a coding background to use a simple drag-and-drop interface to share their work and experiments via a web link. In collaboration with The New York Times, Nonny created We Who Remain, the first VR film shot in an active conflict zone. The audience is ushered into the heart of the war where students, mothers, journalists and rebels struggle to improve their daily lives amid combat that shows no sign of ending.