Woman Using VR Headset via Shutterstock
The power of virtual reality is at times questioned, but can serve as a tool for good.
Over the past few months, there have been numerous exhibits and online videos available in the VR space meant to raise awareness of significant issues that affect society today. PSFK was able to experience charity: water’s exhibit, which showcased a film on a 13-year-old Ethiopian girl’s daily treks to retrieve drinking water, and The New York Times‘ use of VR to revitalize the narrative of 30 million homeless children trapped in warfare. Undeniably, even without the use of virtual reality, these pieces are powerful because of potent narratives and excellent filmmaking. Nonetheless, VR’s technological capabilities take storytelling one step further and allows for viewers to truly immerse themselves in an experience.
The idiom that talks about walking in someone shoes has been made more plausible then. Viewers not only see the perspective the director wants you to see, but are given access to 360 degrees of any scene. It makes the experience more wholesome and realistic, providing more opportunities to take control of the experience to understand the story that is being told. This, in turn, creates empathy.
For the most part, empathy is what drives social change and value. It involves engaging with the difficulties that other people face and advocating on behalf of those who often do not have their own agency or platform. The only way we can truly be empathetic is to try to truly understand someone’s environment and situation. In this regard, VR is one of the best mediums for creating empathy because it places viewers in the middle of an event, not as someone simply peering in. This is not to say that VR is a replacement for real-world action and collaboration. Obviously, a VR film on the day in the life of a Syrian refugee is surely not the same as what a refugee must suffer in his-her every day. Yet, this deep immersion allows for the power of storytelling to take a lasting hold of viewers.
Unfortunately, a VR film or experience does not guarantee results; what happens after is ultimately up to you. However, it is a convincing platform that can help push grassroots efforts and create a deeper and richer sense of empathy than forms that came before it. The stories of the marginalized need to be heard and dispensed. It is then up to us to do something with the narratives we witness inside these virtual worlds.