Will virtual reality make you a better person? It's been touted as the "ultimate empathy machine," and one that will connect people who are otherwise emotionally and physically isolated. The promise of the technology has come a long way since BiPiSci last took a VR tour. Find out why researchers say virtual reality is no longer an exclusive club for gamers, but a powerful tool to build community. Seth puts on a VR headset for an immersive experience of a man who's evicted from his apartment.
What do games do for us--and what do we owe them for that? It's an odd question, but it seems to come up, in one form or another, whenever a gaming controversy hits the news. Gaming is no longer a young medium, but it's still somewhat opaque from the outside, which makes games an easy target for crusades from those wont to crusade: most recently, with local-news insistences that Fortnite is rotting your children's brains. But every question about gaming's value is met, within the world of videogaming, with a chorus insisting that games are good for you, games are your friend, and--perhaps most concretely--games actually make you more empathetic. It's this assumption that buoys the Games for Change Festival, the 15th edition of which begins today in New York, as well as a dozen other games advocacy groups.
Henry, a VR animated short about a hedgehog, received an Emmy for Outstanding Original Interactive Program. It's part of the juried Emmy awards given before the ceremony on Sept. 18, and it's the first piece of VR narrative to win such an award. The eight-minute short was produced by Oculus Story Studio, an internal division of the VR headset maker focused on crafting narrative that works best in virtual reality. Dau's animation background may have prepared him for this role in some ways, but he said VR short films are now having to throw out much of the rules.
The interactive experience Your Hands Are Feet is a smorgasbord of feelings. Creators Amelia Winger-Bearskin and Sarah Rothberg wanted to pinpoint the feeling of shoes not fitting quite right. Ill-fitting footwear is not a catastrophe, but a mild annoyance that bugs you throughout the day. You can still get things done, but not as easily. It's as if, in their mind, their hands were feet. If it does not make sense in words, that's okay. The point of their demo -- whose first playable version debuted at the Engadget Experience today -- is that virtual reality can convey this feeling in a way that other mediums, like text, can't.
Another middle school teacher who dropped his students into the virtual lives of refugees was Charles Herzog in Londonderry, Vermont, whose class tried VR in December near the end of a unit about forced migration. The Google Cardboard viewers that Herzog's students used were bought by his partner in the project, the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont. According to Tarrant's professional development coordinator, Rachel Mark, empathy education fits into Vermont's required "Transferable Skills," specifically "Responsible and Involved Citizenship," which includes the ability to "demonstrate ethical behavior and the moral courage to sustain it."