UN Embraces VR as a Means to Raise Global Awareness on the Syrian Crisis
The United Nations has embraced virtual reality as a veritable way to raise awareness about the plights of people around the world having created a trio of short VR films with Vrse.works: Clouds over Sidra, Waves of Grace, and My Mother’s Wing.
My Mother’s Wing is a short film that tells the story of a Palestinian mother who lost her two young sons in a school shelled by Israel in 2014 during the Israel-Gaza conflict. It was featured earlier this week at the Tribeca Film Festival.
UN senior adviser Gabo Arora, who created the three films had previously explored these types of stories through conventional video but according to him, virtual reality adds another level of immersion to the storytelling.
Arora said that “The leap into virtual reality was really a constellation of factors coming together to bring this technology to help sensitize people to the challenges we work with throughout the world. In some ways it’s a revolution for us; in other ways, it’s just a way to drive impact in new and innovative ways. We have limited means and limited resources to do so, so we choose to prioritize pressing issues that have some sense of urgency and an important notion of time and place,”.
Clouds Over Sidra, he points out, is an example of showing an intimate picture of an overwhelming situation.
According to him, “by concentrating on the story of one girl in the overwhelming context of the crisis in Syria and neighboring countries, we are able to tell a compelling story that is meaningful to viewers at a time when they are already focused on the broader issue in the news,”.
Waves of Grace is the story of a Liberian woman’s quest to help survivors recover from the Ebola virus.
Aside from the Tribeca Film Festival, these three VR films have been shown at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals and the World Economic Forum in Davos and Dalian, China. The UN has also incorporated the pretty basic Google Cardboard VR technology into there fundraising efforts.
“We have equipped UNICEF street fundraisers (the ones that carry clipboards and speak to potential donors on the street) in 40 countries with inexpensive headsets to show an abbreviated, two-minute version of the film to potential donors on the street,” Arora says.
Data collected shows that the rate of donation increases to 1 in 6 from 1 in 12 when people have seen the films, in other words, doubling the rate of people who take action. On top of that, according to Arora, average donations have increased by 10%, which means that not only are people giving more often but they are giving more.
In Arora’s words, “One of the things I hear a lot after someone has watched the film is that how powerful eye contact is. When you look someone in the eye in virtual reality, you feel like you are connecting in a way that you do not in film. Unlike in film and video, you can’t look away.”
Research firm Greenlight VR says that mobile VR headsets are expected to increase from 1 million in 2016 to 122 million by 2025, with tethered VR headsets being forecast to grow from 1 million in 2016 to 13.6 million by 2025. Samsung launched Gear VR last fall, Facebook launched Oculus Rift in March, and HTC released Vive this month. Sony ships PlayStation VR this upcoming October.
Arora rounded up by saying that “As VR becomes more prevalent in other parts of life, be it in gaming, entertainment, or educational uses, we can have more impact with more people through our films, since our films are available for free download on Vrse’s iPhone and Android apps, we can get our films into the hands of each and every VR headset user. The immersiveness of the experience depends a lot on the sophistication of the headset, but we aim for a wide impact and are excited about the increased availability of devices.”