Virtual Humanity: empathy, embodiment and disorientation in humanitarian VR experience design

Helen Kennedy, Sarah Atkinson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    With 360-degree filmmaking and Virtual Reality (VR) – the audience can now be immersed in the milieu of the filmed location. Hitherto hard to reach territories, and hard to portray narratives can now be realised and experienced first hand – rendering new opportunities for empathetic, political and cultural engagement. The possibilities of these new technologies of capturing and exhibiting locations and situations have drawn journalists, activists and documentary makers to the form. In this article, we examine four such case studies that have sought to make use of the VR cinema 360-degree format to illuminate specific aspects of human experience. In the award winning Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness the filmmakers and VR designers create an emotionally powerful experience based around visual impairment. In the second case study, Home: Aamir, theatre practitioners (National Theatre) create an experience that positions the viewer in an immersive first hand account of one migrant’s journey from the Sudan to the Calais Jungle camp. 6 x 9 was produced by Guardian journalists and places the viewer into a harrowingly realistic and challenging experience of a US solitary confinement cell. The final example, Draw Me Close, (National Theatre and the National Film Board of Canada) is a complex and experimental piece of virtual theatre that examines grief, loss and bereavement. To describe the close engagement required for the study of these four examples we propose a ‘virtual-reality ethnography’ methodology and evolve an initial framework of attention through which to engage with and research the emergent complex experiences being conceived and delivered through VR and 360-degree film-making and experience design.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number2
    Number of pages12
    JournalRefractory: A Journal of Entertainment Media
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018

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