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Sharing Syria’s pain: immersive journalism project aims to boost empathy

Signal of change / Sharing Syria’s pain: immersive journalism project aims to boost empathy

By Will Ingram / 04 Nov 2015

A team of designers has created a virtual reality film where participants can ‘experience’ the war in Syria. It includes a realistic rocket attack and shows the growth of a refugee camp.

The World Economic Forum commissioned the work of immersive journalism, called Project Syria. It is hoped that virtual immersion in the conflict will inspire a unique feeling of empathy towards the plight of Syria civilians in users, who will literally see the conflict through their own eyes.

The virtual reality film is viewed by using a headset and earphones, giving 360° vision. Civil and business leaders participated at the Davos World Economic Forum this year.

Created at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, the virtual reality was premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

Image credit: Jordi Boixareu / Flickr

So what?

Could virtual reality make us better people?

One preconception of widespread virtual reality is that it would create reclusiveness, individualism and a removal from the real world. This is especially relevant considering that children are spending more and more time consuming electronic media.

However, this is a brand new way that machines can profoundly change our emotions, encourage pro-social behavior and ultimately make us more human. Participation in virtual realities is a form of active engagement rather than passive consumption.

Laboratory studies using virtual realities have already shown that they can significantly increase racial empathy and environmental empathy.

Other situations have been designed for virtual realities, for example participating in protests, but Project Syria is the most vivid to date. VICE News have produced the first ever virtual reality news broadcast, and the medium is looking like it will rapidly become mainstream. New devices for viewing virtual realities are continuously entering the market.

How could virtual reality technology improve our ability to work effectively as teams, whether that’s across distances, or between generations? Could businesses show younger employees what it’s like to be part of an ageing workforce? Or perhaps depict workplace bullying scenarios?

Despite building empathy for others, it is still an individual pursuit. Will replacing physical realities with virtual ones change our motivation to act on these new-found empathies out in the real world?


Tech Crunch (Feburary 1, 2015) What it feels like

Fast Company (January 27, 2015) Could Virtual Reality Make Us Better People?

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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