Innovation

How virtual reality can save humanity

Truc de Ouf's Gentry Lane says society is losing its humanity, but a powerful storytelling tool like VR can help revive it.

Image: Erin Carson/TechRepublic

There's something wrong with humanity.

Great division between wealthy and poor; turmoil in government, outgrowth of public sanitation system; major health crises; public sex; public preoccupation with sports and violence; and the rise of other strong militaries— these are all hallmarks of decline in society.

The talk was given by Gentry Lane, CEO and founder of TDO Productions, a VR production studio aimed at social good.

She defined humanity as the quality or state of being kind to other people or to animals.

"We walk by really horrible situations as if they're not there and that's a loss of humanity," she said.

Gentry posited that the root isn't one thing, not just video games or just movies, but an incremental, repeat exposure that's desensitizing people to violence or whatever the case may be. Meanness has been normalized in the form of indifference, apathy, complacency, and anonymous aggression.

So, audience sufficiently depressed, she joked, there's hope. Gentry thinks that virtual reality is the most powerful storytelling tool out there because it can give people the ability to experience things they never have before, and assume the perspective of another person. And, she said, it can build humanity back up faster and better if people work toward normalizing positive social behavior.

She identified four reasons VR has this power:

1. 0% suspension of disbelief: If people can get caught up in a television show or movie, imagine what happens when they're looking at a world that's contained in a box.

2. Captive audiences: Captive audiences mean less noise, and less noise means a stronger message. "We can make people cry, we can grab them by the hearts," she said.

3. VR is unregulated: This won't last for long, but it means that no one is saying to any great degree just yet what gets made and when.

4. No gatekeepers: VR doesn't have to get past people who are concerned with audience numbers and advertisers and not taking risks "We have the power to be super crazy creative," Gentry said.

But, there's a huge responsibility attached to VR, Gentry said, involving taking people back and forth across the "reality bridge." There's a reason why people take off a headset and blink wildly—for a moment, reality doesn't feel real.

Gentry suggested operating under a few guidelines because "We can do better than the sort of content that's coming out right now." Zombies and haunted asylums are cool VR experiences, but they're low-hanging fruit. She recommended a spin on the campground rule: Leave people better than you found them, whether it be better educated, informed, or whatever. She also recommend writing a manifesto to essentially create standards for the kinds of experiences you create.

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About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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