Using Virtual Reality as an Empathy Tool to Demonstrate Social Injustices.
You might remember the Freaky Friday movies, where a mother and daughter switch bodies for the day, so they finally realise what it’s really like to be the other person. The technology to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is here, and it is Virtual Reality. Virtual reality is a useful tool to teach empathy, and Stanford researchers are proving that Virtual Reality experiences can not only teach empathy but can also impact someone to retain and act on the compassion taught via the VR experience for a long time to come!
This medium is great news for social activist organisations as there is finally a tool that can give one perspective on what it’s like to walk in the shoes of someone else. This medium can raise awareness of bullying, sexism or provide a global perspective to poverty and suffering. VR is the tool that can make a difference and truly develop empathy and compassion
Why is VR a solution to creating empathy? No other technology can showcase perspective, power imbalances, and identity quite like VR.
In VR, you can be immersed into a new body, whether it’s a different age, race or gender which also makes it an excellent tool for demonstrating inequality. Presently the discussion of accepting immigrants and refugees is a constant topic. Whether you agree or disagree with the idea, it is still essential for people to be educated and to gain perspective before forming an opinion.
Recently Alicia Keys posted a video called “Let Me In” (See Below). This video turns the tables on Americans and shows them what it would be like as an American Citizen to be turned away from another country if America were under attack and Americans had nowhere to go. This video showcased the importance of perspective “What If It Were You?”.
Virtual Reality provides an answer to the question “What If It Were You” as you can be immersed into any situation.
What if you were in a refugee camp or you had to flee your home? What decisions would you make and what would you hope others would do for you? BBC recently came out with an online test to emulate a Syrian Journey “Syrian Journey: Choose your own escape route” but if you could see, hear, and react to these questions in VR it would create even more of an element of sympathy. Unless you are in these situations, no one can honestly answer these questions. VR is powerful because it can simulate these scenarios and have people make these difficult decisions themselves within a VR experience.
You could utilise this same strategy in an anti-bullying campaign; you could show the power imbalance created by bullying. Imagine being able to show a bully exactly how it felt to be bullied and to demonstrate the significance of their adverse actions (even for a moment)? That would be revolutionary, and that’s the capability VR has to create empathy.
2016–2017 is a time where the topic of women’s rights has been a constant topic of conversation, especially after the United States election. Despite the protests, the viral speeches and campaigns the people that predominantly still care about this issue are women. Virtual Reality could be the tool to give men a new perspective on what it’s like to be a woman. Virtual reality presently has a predominantly male audience which could be harnessed to promote women’s rights to men to develop more awareness to these issues. A small experiment, like showing the harassment a woman can face by just walking down a street in New York can be useful to understanding biases between males and females.
This article shows the “Women of New York” virtual reality experience and the positive effect it had on the people in the room: (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/men-are-unlocking-the-virtual-reality-of-being-a-woman-get-ready/.)
So when considering a medium for how to showcase inequality and giving perspective to your audience look to VR as it just may be the right tool to spread your message or campaign.