Virtual reality will change our lives. A pretty bold statement to make but in the last twenty years, two technological advances (desktop computers and smartphones) have rocked our digital world and VR will be the third to do this.
As a digital do-gooder, I believe if there is greater understanding between people in the world, we will all be happier and better off. VR certainly has the potential to help us all be more empathetic to each other, so let's see how some charities are already doing this.
Google Trends - interest in “virtual reality” over time.
United Nations Virtual Reality - Clouds Over Sidra
Clouds Over Sidra is the first film shot in virtual reality for the UN. It tells the story of Syrians living in a refugee camp and uses VR to generate greater empathy and new perspectives on people living in conditions of great vulnerability.
The impact of VR like this is huge. According to their website, on the eve of the Third International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria, Clouds Over Sidra was shown to top donors and decision makers. Commitments originally projected 2.2 billion USD pledged; the conference ended up raising 3.8 billion USD.
WaterAid - Aftershock VR (get your free headset)
WaterAid directed a story in which you’ll find yourself in post-earthquake Nepal, as plumber Krishna embarks on the challenge of restoring his community’s damaged water supply.
I like the way Krishna moves around you and you need to move to keep up with him. What’s most powerful about this video is the similarities you’ll draw between Krishna and your average plumber working in the UK e.g both hard working and look forward to moments like having dinner with his daughters and wife. You’re never made to feel sorry for Krishna, you develop empathy, a modern narrative that more charities need to adopt.
Aftershock VR did make me feel a little sick during the earthquake scene. The shaking camera was a bit much for me. We all have different levels of sensitivity to motion and I’m not sure if this sick feeling was intended for the viewer but it’s something to be wary of when making a VR experience.
Through the WaterAid Aftershock VR campaign website you can get a get a free headset and if you would like, you can make a donation to support WaterAid to provide access to life-changing basics like clean running water.
Alzheimer’s Research UK - A Walk Through Dementia
Designed to put you in the shoes of someone living with dementia, A Walk Through Dementia’s aim is to help you learn about dementia.
During the supermarket shopping experience, you are required to take actions like pick up tea and navigate the store. This is a nice example of how some simple choices can make you feel more engaged in a VR experience, although I did feel some motion sickness whilst moving around the store. The feeling of being in someone else's shoes is a really clever technique for helping someone learn about a condition. This could be used to educate people about a whole range of sensitive issues.
Amnesty International - 360 Syria
Syrian media activists used 360° photography to document the devastation caused by barrel bombing on cities across Syria.
This VR work aims to hold the Assad regime accountable for its atrocities. The mixture of still photos, videos including interviews with Syrians and images of what a barrel bomb contain shocked me more than anything I have seen on television about Syria.
In 360 Syria, you pick the information that you want to view. For me, it’s an insight into how broadcast news could change for the better and allow us to select the news items we want to watch depending on our own predisposition.
War Child - Duty of Care
This is not a VR experience but it's a point of view shot. I’ve included Duty of Care because even without a VR headset it’s emotionally powerful and you can easily see how this could be turned into a 360 video or VR game. I’m hoping forward thinking VR developments will come from Warchild after they have started teaming up with games studios.
In the next few years, gaming will be where VR really takes off, replacing traditional ways of playing computer games. If charities can team up with games developers, they might stand a chance of getting some of the VR generations attention.
Google Cardboard is the most affordable way to try VR but loads of other major tech companies have also launched their own products. I purchased a Samsung Gear VR headset for £65 from a high street retailer to immerse myself in some of the different ways charities are using virtual reality for social good.