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Experiencing Homelessness in VR

Guest post by Steven Sato

"The Fundamental Attribution Error, as coined by Stanford Psychologists, describes how we blame others when bad things happen to them, but blame the external situations when bad things happen to us. There is a misconception that losing one's home is due to who you are and the choices you make. Becoming Homeless: A Human Experience seeks to counter this irrational tendency.” - Stanford - Virtual Human Interaction Lab

Virtual Reality is sometimes classified as an “empathy machine”. While I do not disagree that it can drive empathy, or even open our eyes to our own prejudice and judgmental nature, empathy is just one of many powerful attributes of VR. That said Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab has created an experience entitled Becoming Homeless: A Human Experience to allow people to experience something we hope we never have to. The aim, as stated above, is to examine how we might blame others for bad things that happen to them but never really consider why things happen to ourselves.

At my school, I have the honor of running our VR elective, and as much as an elective should be fun, this one is also very educational. In fact one of the days the students got to experience Becoming Homeless.

You start out by listening to the radio. The economy is going downhill. You lose your job, you sell your assets, you are evicted. You live in your car and are confronted by the police. While on a bus, you try to maintain your personal belongings while being harassed by a stranger and finally, everything culminates with the opportunity to listen to real stories from people who have become homeless. You can click on bus passengers and hear their story and their circumstance that led them to this point.

During the elective a student asked me why he was arrested? I said well I don’t know if you were arrested but let’s save that question for later. So at the end of the elective we all had a discussion about homelessness. We prompted the student to ask the question again and we said perhaps you weren't arrested but someone called the police on you. We asked if anyone had had any experience with a homeless person and all said no. We asked them if there were a homeless person in their car for an extended period of time on their street would they call the police? Some said yes, some said no. We asked those that said yes why? And they responded with, they must be dangerous, they must be drug users, etc. Some countered the yes answer with thoughts like, those are just stereotypes and you don’t know their circumstance like we heard from the people on the bus.

If we’re talking Jeremy Bailenson’s advice and using VR for the Impossible, Rare, Expensive, Counterproductive and Dangerous then perhaps this experience falls into the counterproductive. Logistically to place students in an environment to do all of the things they did in VR would be a logistical and time nightmare, not to mention costly and simply impractical. However, through the power of Virtual Reality we were able to condense a powerful set of experiences in an immersive format where strong memory and impact was made. This resulted in a deep, thoughtful discussion and reflection on homelessness and how each of the participants perceive the issue.

I highly recommend this experience and find tremendous value in what Jeremy Bailenson and Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab is doing. Find out more and download the experience for the HTC Vive here.

A former #CPDinVR panelist, Steven is the Technology Director for a K8 Independent School in Los Angeles with 19 years experience in education. He is a Google Certified Innovator, the Co-Organizer of the LA Immersive Edtech Meetup Group, the Co-Host of the VR Podcast and is an Immersive Experience Producer who harnesses AR and VR to redefine learning opportunities.

#VR #empathy #guest

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