How VR Has the Power To Make You Care


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Across The Line‘ is the latest example of VR attempting to evoke empathy.


Alice Bonasio

Alice Bonasio writes: There’s an iconic scene in Blade Runner where Harrison Ford’s character Deckard meets the replicant Rachel for the first time, but he doesn’t know she’s not human. He then uses a test called Voight-Kampff  to determine whether or not she’s a real person. The test consists of a series of questions designed to elicit emotion. The idea – which is beautifully challenged later on in the film – is that machines are incapable of such empathetic responses.

Empathy, in other words, is what makes us human.

With an emerging consensus that the immersive nature of VR is particularly effective in triggering those empathetic responses, we’re seeing artists throughout the creative industries exploring new possibilities for storytelling – with a purpose. Chris Milk’s UN-Commissioned Clouds Over Sidra showed the plight of refugees through the eyes of a 12-year old Syrian girl, while the National Theatre’s Immersive Storytelling Studio production HOME/AAMIR transported viewers to the infamous Calais ‘Jungle’ camp.

VR can even make people feel more empathetic toward more abstract things like the environment, as was recently shown with the Crystal Reef project – showcased this year at the Tribeca Film Festival by researchers from the Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) at Stanford. The simulation, where you watched the devastating effects of ocean acidification caused by man, served to connect people to the consequences of their own actions in a much more tangible way.

[Read the full story here, at]

Journalist and Filmmaker Nonny de la Peña – Co-Founder of the Emblematic Group and affectionately known as the “Godmother of VR” – has long explored the power of Virtual Reality experiences to break through viewer apathy. Her pioneering work often transports viewers into uncomfortable situations – such as a line for food handouts outside a shelter in LA, where you see a man collapsing from hunger next to you – and makes them re-think their outlook on often controversial issues.

The latest of those projects is Across The Line, an experience which tells the story of a young woman going to an abortion clinic. I viewed it recently at London’s Raindance Film Festival – where it was selected for this year’s VR showcase Arcade – and spoke to la Peña and their partners at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) to find out more about how the project developed and what the reaction to it has been like so far. Read the rest of this entry »

Illusion: Porn Makers Want Sexual Fantasies to Become Virtual Realities


Are you ready for your VR Kanojo? 

 reports: In June, hundreds of people thronged a small virtual reality event in Tokyo’s Akihabara district, forcing the organizer to cancel it halfway through.

“In the future, some say we might see people giving up on real-life relationships in favor of virtual romance — a possibility that could emerge as the technology becomes more immersive, which is likely to raise a moral question.”

What drew such a big crowd so quickly?

A VR-based porn demonstration.

“It was unexpected,” said Kento Yoshida, head of the group that organized the event. “But it proved that many people have expectations for VR adult content.”


Industry insiders claim that adult VR content may be the key to spreading the technology to the general public, just as it did with videotapes and the internet.

[Read the full story here, at The Japan Times]

They said VR’s potential is huge because it could eventually lead to virtual sex, either with a digital character or a real person in a different location. The technology can also be used to fulfill one’s secret fantasies more easily.

“There’s a certain degree of adverse reaction to adult content. I’m concerned that it might damage the image of VR.”

While admitting that the erotic possibilities made possible by VR will provoke critics of adult content, they said it will still be meaningful to have a new option for sex.

Yoshida, who is also president of Tokyo-based adult video maker VRG, said most people remain unaware of VR’s potential, which is why he held the Akihabara event.


“Illusion plans to release a game called ‘VR Kanojo’ — ‘VR Girlfriend’ —  that lets players virtually enter an imaginary girlfriend’s room to have sex. The producers say they are focused on making players feel the girlfriend is really there.”

“At that time, people didn’t really know what VR was … so I thought that adult content would be the most catchy topic to use to get people more familiarized with VR,” he said.

The technology opens up a whole new horizon for people with sexual fantasies, he said.

For instance, if people harbor a desire for abnormal or illicit sex, fulfilling that desire may be difficult or risky in real life, to say the least. But VR can make it all possible, Yoshida said.

“VR headsets allow people to effectively jump into whatever they see, so this kind of immersive experience could lead to virtual sex with digital characters or other people.”

It can also help others who are too shy to express their feelings or start a relationship.

“VR is the best way to satisfy their sexual needs,” he said.


[ALSO SEE – For Japan’s ‘stranded singles’, virtual love beats the real thing]

VR headsets allow people to effectively jump into whatever they see, so this kind of immersive experience could lead to virtual sex with digital characters or other people, Yoshida said.

But achieving high-quality virtual sex means conquering several technological barriers, including the lack of physical sensation, he said.

Other Japanese firms are already cashing in on the trend. Read the rest of this entry »

Virtual Reality Gets Real 

It’s been around for decades, but virtual reality has been anything but real for most people. That’s about to change as a slew of new virtual-reality technologies get set to tempt your walletSome of them are even available in time for this year’s holidays.

[See the VIDEO here]

This is Scientific American’s 60-Second Science. I’m Larry Greenemeier. Got a minute? Virtual reality started off as a way for scientists to visualize their research. Ken Perlin, a computer science professor and pioneer in the field of virtual reality, explains:

[Ken Perlin:] The first people who seriously developed virtual reality were Ivan Sutherland and his student Bob Sproull back in 1968. They built a very large device, which they nicknamed the “Sword of Damocles” because it was a very large contraption that hung over your head and carried the headset with it as it moved around on a giant boom arm.”

The latest generation of VR technology is a little different. Some new consumer headsets, including Samsung’s Gear VR and even Google’s very basic Cardboard visor rely on your smartphone.

New gadgets expected to launch in 2016 will be a bit more sophisticated.

[Perlin:] “The major commercial releases of virtual reality that will appear in the first half of 2016 track your head, and they track your two hands.

[Perlin:] “In order to have a full social experience with other people of being in a world together, you also need to know where your feet are. Once you know your head and your hands and your feet, then you can build a computer graphic representation of everybody.”

This version promises to address a major problem the technology faced in the past.

[Perlin:] “Motion sickness was a problem when the delay between my head movement and the graphics that I saw exceeded a certain threshold, generally about a 10th of a second. Modern technologies that make use of these inertial trackers in the headsets have pretty much gotten rid of that.”

Virtual reality will first invade our homes offices and classroomsthrough games and educational tools. But Perlin thinks the technology will become much more than that over time. Read the rest of this entry »