VR and women in social good

VR for Social Good

The Future is Now!
VR for Social Good 

Virtual reality is one of the most exciting, exponentially-growing industries. Find out how women are using storytelling and VR to transform the way we interact with our world.

by Raya Bidshahri 
&
Ambika Gogna

Welcome to the Future!

Today, virtual reality (VR) is one of the most exciting, exponentially-growing industries. Major players in the field, including Facebook and Microsoft compete to provide users with thrilling virtual experiences. And funding has never been more positive. According to a report by Digi-Capital, Venture capitalists invested $1.2 billion into virtual-reality and augmented-reality startups in the first quarter of 2016 alone. As both hardware and software improve, the emerging industry is predicted to disrupt entertainment, education, and even sports. Yet, it’s one of the most sought-after applications by non-profits who see its potential to promote social good.

Women Pioneers in VR

The “Godmother of virtual reality” and pioneering personality in immersive journalism, Nonny De la Peña, uses her love of technology to inspire change through first-hand experiences with global issues. She integrates VR with the job of journalism—to showcase pressing world problems in a way so anyone can become a part of the story.

In 2012, De la Peña debuted Hunger, which simulated a diabetic man who collapsed into a seizure at a food-bank line due to critically low blood sugar levels. Additional pieces have highlighted injustices toward immigrants, and violence in Aleppo, Syria. She is currently the CEO of Emblematic Group and creates leading content for companies such as Oculus Rift. Her plan is to continue transforming the face of journalism and push the impact further through VR.

“[VR can] inspire them to ask questions, stay curious, and explore.”

Megan Gaiser, former president and CEO of Her Interactive, is a computer game publisher specializing in games for girls. Yet another notable figure, she believes the industry offers more than just video games. It provides an immersive world that can change the lives of young women and inspire them to ask questions, stay curious, and explore.

Gaiser pushed Her Interactive to $8.5M in revenues, and won 29 Parent’s Choice Gold Medal awards by co-creating the highly successful Nancy Drew game franchise. She has now taken her expertise to VR. Her new venture, Contagious Creativity, is a consultancy focused on designing meaningful computing experiences across films, games, and most importantly, virtual reality. One of the core services of Contagious Creativity is to provide “Story Visioning for a higher purpose.”

Gaiser is taking the success from the gaming field and translating it into the VR industry. Named as the “Game Industry’s 100 most influential women,” she leads as the Creative Leadership Evangelist for several gaming non-profits.

Storytelling and VR

The power of VR really lies in its ability to revolutionize how we tell stories. The past few years we’ve seen an outpouring of companies, like Allspice VR, LectureVR, and ZSpace, revolutionize education. Immersive VR education is an impactful way to engage students and bring in the awe factor in learning. It allows to students to travel to the ends of the Milky Way, visit global heritage sites, and engage with historical figures— all within the walls of the classroom.

Beyond education, many non-profits are leveraging this tool. Since social campaigning is all about shifting mindsets and inspiring action, VR could be the ultimate catalyst to harness this change. For instance, last year RYOT, a Los Angeles-based company, released a 360 video documenting the post effect of the 7.8 degree magnitude earthquake in Nepal. They hoped to convey to audiences the catastrophic impact of the earthquake and drive viewers to make more donations. Something RYOT’s cofounder, Bryan Mooser, calls the “ultimate fund-raising tool.”

“The power of VR lies in its ability to provide users with an immersive experience.”

As simulations like this one demonstrate, the power of VR lies in its ability to provide users with an immersive experience—one that in this instance, would have been too dangerous or impractical to achieve without the technology. Clouds Over Sidra, another profound VR film released in January 2015, allows users and potential donors to briefly live the life of a young girl as she explores a refugee camp. The campaign helped UNICEF to raise $3.8 billion, nearly twice what was projected.

This Summer, Facebook’s Oculus, one of the main game-changers in the field, announced an initiative called “VR for Good.” It includes the 360 Filmmakers Challenge, which partners high school students with filmmakers in the Bay area. A second program, 360 Bootcamp for Nonprofits, teams up 10 rising filmmakers with 10 nonprofits.  According to the team, filmmakers “are pushing the boundaries of cinematic VR to tell stories with an impact.”

Though VR remains a male-dominated industry, pioneering women continue to conquer the forefront. To promote this influx, initiatives such as Digital Media Academy’s ‘Made by Girls’ aims to introduce girls to STEM. ‘Girls and Gigabytes,’ an event launched by the White House, brought together African American girls and spread awareness about accessible opportunities for girls in STEM.

Thanks to these efforts, VR has the potential to take storytelling to the next level and drive social change.  “Virtual reality is definitely still a guy’s world,” Nonny De la Peña says. “I’m doing my best to bring women in and encourage women.” A powerful message we hope to see more of in the future.

Do you know any women Role Models in VR? If so, tell us about them through the comments section or on social media. We want to connect with you.

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