VR in Community Engagement and Activism
Right now, it seems that the role of VR in activism is mainly in its ability to replace detached sympathy with a more real form of empathy regarding a subject. As is easy to guess, placing a person in another’s shoes, or even in the shoes of an endangered animal, destroyed landscape, or dangerous factory, allows people to understand the world from other perspectives in a deeper way than was previously possible. For example, VR has been used in animal rights activism where the viewer was put into a “scene of two industrial farm facilities—chickens and pigs held in miserable-looking cages and pens, doomed for slaughter.” This up close look at a gruesome reality forces the viewer to lock into a more attached perspective of the issue presented; with greater understanding of an issue comes greater empathy. It’s also important to note the novelty of virtual reality. With this new technology you can better express views, further social movements, and highlight injustices.”
At this point in time, stepping into a VR world is still a very new experience for most people. One one hand, the novelty can be extremely fun, in effect instilling a sense of joy into the experience and message it is trying to give. On the other hand, the novelty can be jolting and even disturbing. This too can be effective if the artist or director’s purpose is to do something like turn an audience off of eating meat by giving them a virtually real tour of an abusive slaughter house.
My main question concern regarding VR and activism is how is the experience distributed and to whom? It seems like very few of the communities who are truly in need of help or reform would be quick to jump to a technology as new as VR.
In Pittsburgh there are a few VR interest group meetups, however! It seems as though most VR discussion happening on the local level is focused on progressing the technology itself and sharing demos to groups of interested techies. The groups I found in Pittsburgh are called Steel City Virtual Reality Enthusiasts, Reality Computing Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh Unreal Engine 4 Meetup.
“SFVRCC – San Francisco Virtual Reality Creative Community.” SFVRCC – San Francisco Virtual Reality Creative Community. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.
Smith, Shana, and Emily Ericson. “Using immersive game-based virtual reality to teach fire-safety skills to children.” Virtual reality 13.2 (2009): 87-99.
“Steel City Virtual Reality Enthusiasts.” Meetup. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.
Thomson, James A., et al. “Influence of virtual reality training on the roadside crossing judgments of child pedestrians.” Journal of experimental psychology: applied 11.3 (2005): 175.
“Virtual Reality Slaughterhouses Could Be the Future of Animal Rights Activism | VICE | United States.” VICE. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.