How VR has the po­ten­tial to con­nect in­di­vid­u­als in a more pro­found and in­ti­mate way than any other form of me­dia

Computer Arts - - Contents -

We are now able to en­gage em­pa­thy through de­sign, which en­ables us to quite lit­er­ally walk a mile in some­one else’s shoes. New technology means de­sign is be­ing used as a tool to con­nect us pro­foundly, in a way that no other form of me­dia can

Both vis­ually and through sen­so­rial dis­tor­tion, new de­vices are able to tem­po­rar­ily mod­ify our per­cep­tion of the world, in­hibit­ing our senses and sim­u­lat­ing un­fa­mil­iar ex­pe­ri­ences.

Vir­tual re­al­ity (VR) tech­nolo­gies have of­ten been as­so­ci­ated with the gam­ing world and used pri­mar­ily for en­ter­tain­ment. The idea of spend­ing more time im­mersed in the dig­i­tal world orig­i­nally seemed as though it might lead us to be­come self-ob­sessed zom­bies with no abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate with each other. We are, how­ever, be­gin­ning to see a shift away from recre­ational us­age to­wards some­thing that could po­ten­tially con­nect in­di­vid­u­als from dif­fer­ent walks of life in a more pro­found and in­ti­mate way than any other form of me­dia.

Chris Milk, im­mer­sive sto­ry­teller and co-founder of VR com­pany Within, is at the fore­front of this no­tion of aug­mented em­pa­thy. In his 2015 TED talk, Milk de­scribes VR as a ma­chine: “But through this ma­chine we be­come more com­pas­sion­ate, we be­come more em­pa­thetic and we be­come more con­nected,” he ex­plained. “And, ul­ti­mately, we be­come more hu­man.”

The De­men­tia Sim­u­la­tor, de­signed by Cen­tral Saint Martins in­dus­trial de­sign MA grad­u­ate Di Peng, sim­u­lates the symp­toms of de­men­tia by dis­rupt­ing users’ sen­sory per­cep­tions. The de­vice, which sits over the head, dis­torts the wearer’s vi­sion by blur­ring the faces of those nearby. Crit­i­cal com­ments and un­com­fort­able sounds are played into the wearer’s ears, mim­ick­ing au­di­tory hal­lu­ci­na­tions, while a mouth­piece also re­stricts the wearer’s abil­ity to speak cer­tain words. By repli­cat­ing the ex­pe­ri­ences of de­men­tia suf­fer­ers, the sim­u­la­tor aims to cre­ate em­pa­thy, re-eval­u­ate mis­con­cep­tions, and uli­mately help peo­ple to un­der­stand and care for those liv­ing with the con­di­tion.

Royal Col­lege of Art de­sign prod­ucts MA grad­u­ate Heeju Kim has cre­ated the Em­pa­thy Bridge for Autism, which al­lows wear­ers to ex­pe­ri­ence first-hand what it’s like for peo­ple with autism to see, hear and speak. Kim has de­signed a se­ries of de­vices that tem­po­rar­ily change sen­sory per­cep­tion. Tools af­fect­ing vi­sion, hear­ing and speech en­able the wearer to ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fer­ent as­pects of liv­ing with autism. For ex­am­ple, hy­per­sen­si­tiv­ity to light and colour, dou­ble vi­sion, jum­bled or am­pli­fied sound and dif­fi­cul­ties in pro­nun­ci­a­tion are sim­u­lated us­ing the VR de­vice, an ear­piece, and a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ently shaped lol­lipops and can­dies. The prod­uct’s mes­sage is clear: em­pa­thy is the bridge to un­der­stand­ing that peo­ple with autism are like ev­ery­one else, al­though they see, hear and speak in unique ways.

Fi­nally, the Na­tional Autis­tic So­ci­ety’s Too Much In­for­ma­tion cam­paign, which sim­i­larly helps in­crease un­der­stand­ing of autism, fea­tures a VR ex­pe­ri­ence that en­ables view­ers to see the world through the eyes of a 10-year-old autis­tic boy. The cam­paign high­lights the ways in which autis­tic peo­ple of­ten strug­gle to fil­ter out sounds, smells and sights, lead­ing them to feel over­whelmed by too much in­for­ma­tion.



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