Today I am giving a talk at MTSU’s Walker Library about social issues in VR. Can VR act as an empathy engine for social issues? This talk is the kick off for a new research project about the stickiness factor of social issues in VR, specifically about domestic violence. What makes the empathy and short term social change stick? Can that stickiness scale up?
So what really excites me about VR is the possibility to change the way we empathize with others or to educate ourselves and others about situations that would be difficult to understand without the ability to experience something very different then our own experiences. It seems even more important during the current political and cultural climate.
The VR/AR students I had this past semester have started the first tip toeing into this field of study by collecting information about homelessness in the middle Tennessee region, as well as by filming a few VR spaces where the local homeless rest their heads at night.
From a purely technical standpoint, while the project was interesting, it didn’t really capture the experience. So far, the videos look more like a camping trip – which is far from the actual experience. If not visually dynamic, I think more information needs to add to the visualization in VR. For example, audio stories were also recorded and added to their project site, and that helps some.
If you look at examples of the Syrian children playing in rubble that they NYT VR app shows, the difference is huge. While the issues are different, of course, the idea that your home is not what most consider a home, a visual experience can by dynamic and create a different sense of empathy than reading an article about it. I’m sure the terrain play a role, as well as other factors. It will be interesting to see what comes of our continued experimentation of augmented and virtual play.