Looking through the eyes of another person is a powerful experience.
It’s often hard to relate to people who harbor a different worldview than us. We tend to wonder why people with different political or religious beliefs see things the way they do. Even when we’re doing our best to sympathize with the trials and challenges that others face, to truly understand a person’s point of view can be challenging when we don’t have first-hand experience of what they’ve been through.
Virtual reality gaming is going to change that. As the medium is used increasingly as a storytelling method, players will have more and more opportunities to walk a mile in the shoes of strangers. With the right push, VR can be used to teach us to be more caring and compassionate to others. As VR expert Chris Milk stated in a TED talk last year, virtual reality is “the ultimate empathy machine.”
Seeing Through Someone Else’s Eyes
There’s an incredible freedom in entering someone else’s body—under the right circumstances.
An organization called Be Another Lab, for example, has created a series of experiments designed to help participants see the world through new eyes. Using virtual reality, participants are able to use someone else’s body as if it’s their own, whether that means giving disabled participants the chance to experience what it’s like to be a professional dancer, or even helping participants learn about what it’s like to be a person of a different gender.
Be Another Lab helps players overcome disabilities and learn about what others see when they look at themselves.
These experiments are designed to help participants see the world in a new way and, through doing so, gain a greater understanding of how other people think and what they feel.
This is a fantastic first step to developing compassion for others, but by virtue of the very complex set-up that some of Be Another Lab’s experiments require, there’s no mass-media opportunity for people to experience other bodies firsthand.
With the options available through VR gaming equipment, however, it’s possible to let far larger audiences in on the eye-opening experience of taking on a new persona.
Caring for Others and Ourselves
Different creators are finding diverse, unique methods for encouraging empathy through virtual reality, with the mission of making society a more caring place.
One VR documentary, Clouds over Sidra, has been commissioned by the UN as a way of highlighting the challenges faced by Syrian refugees. The documentary, created entirely in virtual reality, is designed to help audiences better identify with Sidra, a twelve-year-old girl who is the subject of the documentary.
Clouds over Sidra is an attempt to combat compassion fatigue with virtual reality.
The video uses VR to make Sidra’s experience feel more real to the viewer, in an effort to combat compassion fatigue.
Using VR to gain a new perspective isn’t just beneficial to helping people get a better understanding of others—it can also be used for self-reflection. Research at University College London has found benefits in using VR to help patients with depression provide themselves with a form of self-therapy. Patients are shown a simulated VR scenario in which they comfort a crying child—then, afterwards, they’re shown the same scene from the child’s perspective, and hear their own voice comforting them.
Comforting a child in VR is used to show patients how to cope with depression.
Allowing the patient to experience the scenario from both perspectives gives them a chance to consider their own circumstances in a new light and imagine what advice they’d give themselves if they weren’t in the thick of depression.
Documentaries and single-scenario simulations, however, are just the tip of the VR iceberg. As scientists, social activists, and therapists gain greater understanding of the implications of the new technology, they have one key field to turn to for inspiration: video games.
Compassionate VR Gaming
With their highly detailed environments and engaging characters, video games have long been a medium in which audiences tend to develop strong bonds with those around them. From getting invested in saving the world to falling in love with an NPC, there’s plenty that video gaming can teach us about ourselves and each other.
As virtual reality grows in popularity, many gamers are discovering games like Loading Human, which allow for an even greater level of immersion through fully three-dimensional graphics, powerful storytelling, and nuanced, complex characters.
Players are discovering the joys of Loading Human for themselves. Source: GameHard4_0 via Twitter.
Only Chapter One of Loading Human has been released so far, and yet already players are falling in love with Alice, the main character’s love interest, and growing wary of the suspicious Dorian. This is because players develop a strong bond with the protagonist, Prometheus, as they find themselves driven by his actions.
Because players actively step into Prometheus’ shoes, acting on his behalf in a virtual world, those gamers who’ve embraced Loading Human thus far have developed a strong affinity with this character, and find themselves hooked on the game’s rich narrative.
It’s through games like this that the foundations of VR-based compassion training and therapy are laid. Prometheus is but the first step—as virtual reality matures, gamers and non-gamers alike will be given more opportunities to see the world through others’ eyes and learn more about their fellow human beings.
Learning to Care
It’s probably safe to say that compassion doesn’t always come naturally to human beings. We’re often busy, distracted, or simply worried about our own hardships and mishaps, which can make it difficult to consider the feelings of others and take on what we all too often perceive as an extra burden by caring for them.
There is hope, though. As virtual reality gains supporters, and as games like Loading Human show the potential power of this medium for exploring other people’s lives, perhaps compassion will become more commonplace.
It’s a distant star to reach for, but it’s a journey worth embarking on, regardless.
Loading Human is now available for PS VR, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive. To try out the first chapter for yourself, order the game today!