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Empathy: Can we Create Empathy Through Virtual Reality?

 

Walking through the street of Denver on November 10th 2017 reminded me of a story of what happened to me in November 2016. I was walking on the same street and the 2016 story started coming to my mind of how I met one man whom I talked to. He said, “you speak good English, where are you from?” I answered Nigeria, and he replied, “do they speak English in Nigeria?”

I explained to him that Nigeria is a colony of the British and that almost all Nigerians who went to high school can communicate in English and we also discussed further until I reached my bus stop and had to bid him farewell.

What has my experience with this man got to do with Virtual Reality and Empathy?

There are so many people like the man who has never seen someone like me before or who has heard a different story about my country and as such, the stories they heard or the stereotypes they may have about my country may affect the way they relate to me, since it is not everyone that is ready to hear someone else out or see them as a unique human.

What if the story of people like me can be captured through storytelling while Virtual Reality is used as a medium to send the message across to the people so they can be in the shoes of those who are directly affected by the challenges in the world?

With the help of the United Nations, Pathos VR[1] is capturing and telling the compelling stories of people through Virtual Reality which will be widely distributed as a part of the curriculum of high schools in the USA.

This is to enable high school juniors to learn about the stories of others and feel what it is like, to be in the moccasins of others rather than what is being spread by medias.

According to NPR, virtual reality is a very effective way to feel like you are there in the room because you have a real sense of how these people live[2]. Although, the same article mentioned that one of the significant disadvantages of people walking through the moccasins of others through a VR experience is that it may lead to burnout and fatigue of the participants.

The stories of the Slum of Kibera and the stories about how stereotypes have separated the United States of America citizens regarding communication and collaboration struck me and I can say the empathy through these virtual experiences made me listens more especially to the words that are not spoken.

Immediately after the 7minutes VR experience, I feel the need to speak to more people and learn more about them and also try to understand people as much as possible – to me, understanding people is as a result of empathy, and VR experiences seems to be the right technological tool to help people to be more empathetic.  As it gives people more power to walk in the shoes of others.

Though this is a relatively new field and just as the NPR suggested, it might later be overused and become irrelevant.  And also, it is relatively expensive to come up with virtual reality experiences like that of Pathos as the CEO exclusively tells me it cost the team like four months to come up with 7 minutes video.

I think this is a field that can be further explored and used for good regarding development and getting people to act and be more empathetic.

 

Footnotes:

[1] http://pathosvr.com/portfolio/strangers/

[2] https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2017/01/09/508617333/can-virtual-reality-make-you-more-empathetic

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