2/27/2018

VR, “The Ultimate Empathy Machine,” is Finally Making Strides Where it Counts


As enthusiasm for VR’s gaming capabilities wanes, its applications to the fields of mental health, rehabilitation, and community-building has only grown.

During his popular 2015 TED Talk, immersive artist, entrepreneur, and director Chris Milk suggested that virtual reality could potentially be the “ultimate empathy machine.” This is something Milk learned from experience earlier that year, when he collaborated with the United Nations on the VR film, Clouds Over Sidra, which takes you inside the life of Sidra, a 12-year-old Syrian refugee. At that point, stories of the Syrian refugee crisis dominated the news, but often failed to reach many Americans on a deeper, more human level. But one thing VR can do that the nightly news can’t (not yet, at least) is give viewers intimate access to the experiences of others, creating an immediate, almost disarmingly real understanding of another’s world. It’s as close to walking in someone else’s shoes as you can get without literally putting them on.

Milk isn’t the only one who believes that in VR, we have the potential to become better listeners, caretakers, and global citizens, using pixels and haptic tech* to tap into a shared universal experience. As enthusiasm for VR’s gaming capabilities wanes, curiosity about its applications to the fields of mental health, rehabilitation, and community-building has only grown. Dozens of projects and research studies currently under development are breaking ground in areas ranging from opioid addiction and substance abuse to physical therapy and PTSD, all of which have the cumulative effect of potentially overhauling the entire field of patient care....more