Empathy

Figure 1.13: In Clouds Over Sidra, film producer Chris Milk offers a first-person perspective on the suffering of Syrian refugees.
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Figure 1.14: Students in Barcelona made an experience where you can swap bodies with the other gender. Each person wears a VR headset that has cameras mounted on its front. Each therefore sees the world from the approximate viewpoint of the other person. They were asked to move their hands in coordinated motions so that they see their new body moving appropriately.
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The first-person perspective provided by VR is a powerful tool for causing people to feel empathy for someone else's situation. The world continues to struggle with acceptance and equality for others of different race, religion, age, gender, sexuality, social status, and education, while the greatest barrier to progress is that most people cannot fathom what it is like to have a different identity. Figure 1.13 shows a VR project sponsored by the United Nations to yield feelings of empathy for those caught up in the Syrian crisis of 2015. Some of us may have compassion for the plight of others, but it is a much stronger feeling to understand their struggle because you have been there before. Figure 1.14 shows a VR system that allows men and women to swap bodies. Through virtual societies, many more possibilities can be explored. What if you were 10cm shorter than everyone else? What if you teach your course with a different gender? What if you were the victim of racial discrimination by the police? Using VR, we can imagine many ``games of life'' where you might not get as far without being in the ``proper'' group.

Steven M LaValle 2016-12-31