How would you react when faced with the starkest of choices?
Most of us have been lucky enough to have never experienced urban conflict first-hand. VR, however, can give us a sense of what the chaos looks – and feels – like, allowing us to better empathize with the millions of people who live this reality everyday.
VR has been used multiple times to help showcase the dreadful consequences of the ongoing Syrian conflict. In 2015, American entrepeneur Chris Milk brought us Clouds Over Sidra, showing audiences how VR technology could be employed as a powerful “empathy machine,” a term he used to describe the medium during a TED talk that has since gathered over 1.5 million views.
The theme was also explored from different angles through BBC animations such as We Wait and Enter the Room, which were the first projects produced by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
ICRC’s The Right Choice takes the technology even further, providing users with one of the first interactive VR experiences offered by the humanitarian sector. The film is a product of the Google Daydream Impact Project which aims to make a positive difference in society through the application of immersive technologies such as VR and AR.
In the experience, you’re placed next to a Syrian family trapped inside their home due to the rampant urban warfare currently making its way through their community. The title reflects on the families terrible reality, forcing viewers to make split-second decisions in a life or death situation. In the face of an attack, you have a choice as to how you approach the deadly scenario. Sadly, none of your choices lead to a truly positive outcome, an unfortunate reality for many civilians caught in the center of war.
“New technology, including virtual reality, can be a powerful tool to help a large audience understand the human cost of war,” believes Jennifer Hauseman, director of communications and information management at the ICRC.
The Right Choice was filmed in Lebanon with guidance from ICRC workers who had direct experience of the Syrian conflict. It was produced in collaboration with several creative agencies such as Don’t Panic London, Visualise and Stoked Films.
By polling users of the experience, the ICRC wants to understand more about people’s perception of urban warfare and learn how VR can influence behaviour and build empathy around those affected by war.
“This film asks: What would you do if you came under attack?” explains Christopher Nicholas, ICRC’s project lead for the film. “Virtual reality transports viewers from the comfort of their homes to the horrors of the battlefield in a visceral and powerful way,” he adds.
The Right Choice is a direct result of I Saw My City Die, a report published by the ICRC in 2017 that highlighted the impact on civilians of fighting in cities and towns in Syria and Iraq and revealed how urban offensives accounted for eight times more conflict-related civilian fatalities than ongoing fighting or fighting in other areas. Put simply, urban conflict accounted for 70% of all civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria during that time.
The main purpose of The Right Choice is to test VR’s ability to build empathy for those who are still trapped in active war zones. By surveying people in major global cities once devastated by war, the ICRC hopes to discover whether or not it is possible to change an individual’s perception and incite behavioral change. Audience insights from this experience has the potential to affect future investment in VR as a critical tool for educating people and raising awareness, as well as action, for various humanitarian issues.
”It can be hard to raise awareness around some situations – especially when they are distant. We are thankful to have partnered with ICRC to leverage VR to give insight into a complex situation, and helping give a voice to those left behind,” concludes Sarah Steele, VR Program Lead at Google.
Image Credit: Red Cross