Virtual Reality Creates Actual Empathy

On November 13, 2015 Europe experienced it’s worst terrorist attack in 11 years. Paris, France was detrimentally attacked, inducing upheaval in Europe; however, Parisians were determined to protect their way of life and move past the violence. Through vigils, Parisians expressed their strength. These expressions were captured by the New York Times utilizing virtual reality so that users may not only read about the vigils, but experience them. Ben C. Solomon and Leslye Davis wanted to “film around the places of remembrance: in the squares, at the attack sites and at memorials that Parisians and visitors had quickly constructed as a way to transform sadness into strength”. They wanted their audience to understand how the Parisians felt at that time. Through virtual reality, Solomon and Davis were able to convey “both the grief and the strength that [they] encountered on every street corner”. Using virtual reality as a medium allowed the journalists to “create a more textured experience” and “bring [their] audience to the streets of Paris in the most visceral way” possible.

The virtual reality experience provided by the New York Times allowed people to understand what it is like to be in Paris following a time of tragedy. Often, the depth of the situation gets lost when people are not experiencing the event themselves. For example, an American can choose to turn off the television or radio and listen to something besides the news, creating a detachment from the situation. With virtual reality, people can experience the event rather than simply hearing about it, creating empathy from the viewer.

When I viewed the virtual reality film, I was stunned. It is difficult to understand the impact of something without experiencing it, but the virtual reality film brought me closer. Paris, my favorite place in the world, had been attacked, and it felt personal. Through virtual reality, I was able to be in my favorite place and grieve for it without buying a plane ticket I cannot afford. The virtual reality film united everyone with France and truly created solidarity among people. Solomon and Davis state that “as a reporting tool, virtual reality is still in its infancy; its power to create empathy is just beginning to be understood”. But that power is definitely there.

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