As technology has grown and changed over the years, so has the way we interact with technology as well as other people using it. Social media has granted people the ability to communicate with family, friends, and strangers all over the world. And new technology like virtual reality has given us an interactive way to communicate with people all over the world as well as the ability to learn more about the world around us.
It may be easy to initially write off a virtual reality console as a system designed purely for gaming and entertainment, but there is so much more to these headsets than games.
Chat rooms allow people to enter spaces that look and sound real and communicate with avatars of people from all over the world, and organizations create interactive content that can boost interest in social change, making the virtual reality social impact more clear than ever.
One big social impact of VR that people often gloss over is how the equipment uses visuals and sounds to simulate an immersive experience that can truly allow somebody to understand what it’s like being in somebody else’s shoes. Unlike traditional media where a person can only be on the outside looking in, certain virtual reality apps and games allow people to truly become immersed in another life. This immersion makes VR special, especially when it comes to creating a one-on-one emotional connection that can change how a person sees the world.
The chat room aspect of VR can also greatly increase the virtual reality social impact, as it allows for conversations with real users all over the world. These chat rooms are designed to look as realistic as the world around them, and instead of conversing with faceless entities, users talk to avatars of real people who seem as if they are truly right in front of them.
The COVID-19 pandemic greatly increased the desire for in-person social connections, especially during lock-downs, which increased the popularity of VR. Humans desire social interaction and the ability to communicate with people in a way that feels authentic. To that end, a digital world that feels authentic can go far in improving the VR social impact on people and make them feel less alone during a time when they can’t be physically close to their loved ones.
Thanks to the ability to truly walk in another person’s shoes using VR, some organizations have taken to using this immersion to drive people toward social change. In fact, the companies responsible for creating some of these systems actively encourage it. HTC and Oculus started programs like VR for Good in order to show how virtual reality can be used to forge connections and foster awareness of the need for action on global issues.
Research has found that a single VR experience is able to trigger a more emotional reaction to issues and even influence the user’s actions after the video game or stream. For example, the Stanford Ocean Acidification Experience created a free simulation for VR that takes the user down to the bottom of the ocean, where the user can experience the ocean throughout the years and watch as coral reefs are corroded and the water becomes more acidic. A Stanford study showed that their simulation caused a greater sense of empathy in people than just watching a video about the topic would have; thanks to this immersive situation, subjects felt as if they had truly experienced the damage to the reefs for themselves and felt more driven to want to do something about it.
Virtual reality is still a relatively new concept in the grand scheme of things, so there’s still so much potential for the VR social impact to grow and change over the years. As technology continues to evolve, it may be easier for companies to create applications that will feel even more immersive. Users may be given greater abilities to talk to people in a variety of social situations, learn how others live, and build relationships as well as empathy.