How “Real” Could It Be?
“…this kind of reaction ended up being the kind of reaction we saw over and over and over: people down on the ground trying to comfort the seizure victim, trying to whisper something into his ear or in some way help, even though they couldn’t,” says De La Peña. “And I had a lot of people come out of that piece saying, ‘Oh my God, I was so frustrated. I couldn’t help the guy,’ and take that back into their lives.”
The Empathy Machine, For Better or Worse
“In Extravaganza, a media executive tries out the headset, which he’s been told is an ‘empathy machine.’ But all it plays are puppet shows full of (literally) balloon-breasted women and crude racial stereotypes, who are slaughtered — to the man’s amusement — by a monocled 19th century explorer. According to creator Ethan Shaftel, it critiques the way that a new medium can reproduce old forms of bigotry. “This puppet show was clearly made for people like him, by people like him, and it’s certainly not making the world any better,” said Shaftel. The technology might be new, but “this show’s already been made and programmed, and will never change.”
One of the worst possible outcomes of widespread VR in documentary filmmaking and journalism is that people may simply become desensitized to content which they would normally evoke empathy, due to overexposure to and even manipulative tactics in immersive media. Citizen journalism, for example, now utilizes video captured by those who have experienced current events to convey news from a bystander’s perspective. “Media outlets have begun to harness the unbridled power of citizen journalism by establishing social media profiles, engaging with their viewers and attempting to grow online communities,” writes Anastasia Passaris on the Clipchamp Blog.
This is the same type of footage that was streamed live on Facebook, capturing the aftermath of Philando Castille’s fatal shooting in Minnesota, as well as the events unfolding during the devastating festival shooting by Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas. These user-shot videos containing violent, terrifying images, are becoming commonplace in social media feeds as well as on the news. Would further immersion help the average viewer truly understand how that situation felt? Or would these representations be treated as perverted facsimiles of sorts, that allow users to enter and experience those situations without having to level with the profound consequences and emotions that follow said experiences?