How is virtual reality being used in Asia to help address global challenges?

An open invitation to all enthusiasts of VR to develop content that will drive sustainable development by engaging people to take action.

By Kay Vasey, Founder & Chief Connecting Officer, MeshMinds

Does a VR experience have the potential to be life-changing? VR storytelling offers the viewer a window into places that would otherwise be off-limits to most people in the real world. The unique first-person perspective of a VR experience is has been shown to deepen engagement and bring the viewer closer to reality than traditional storytelling mediums.

Greenpeace reported a doubling of the number of sign-ups for donations as a direct result of offering a mobile VR experience of the rainforest at Glastonbury Music Festival in 2017. Charity: Water has reported a similar increase in conversions when comparing those that had viewed The Source, a VR experience on access to clean drinking water.

VR initiatives focused on developing meaningful content are setting the stage for a bright future for tackling environmental and humanitarian challenges. VR headset technology developers, such as Oculus, have launched the VR for Good Creators Labwith the purpose of leveraging VR and 360˚ film to drive social change. HTC VIVE announced a $10 million funding program in early 2017  called ‘VR for Impact’ to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. UNVR has been set up to explore how to harness VR as a game-changing medium for impactful storytelling. Both the UN and the World Economic Forum are looking to partner with VR content creators keen to explore the limits of this “ultimate empathy machine”. The next step is to launch regionally focused programmes that engage local audiences in global challenges.

MeshMinds is an impact investor in creative technology for good. We bridge art and immersive technology for a better world. The work of the artists we enable changes how people think about the world around them by creating empathy and emotional connection – and helps to drive change for the better. We need to focus on global challenges from local perspectives to ensure inclusive solutions that will drive positive action in the Asia-Pacific region.

An example of the type of work MeshMinds supports is the award-winning “Oceans We Make VR”,  by Warrior 9 VR,  one of Singapore’s leading immersive content creators. The VR experience aims to teach people about the horrific plastic pollution in today’s oceans. The experience starts on a boat, in the middle of the ocean, with the viewer about to dive into the water. By gamifying the diving experience, viewers first relax and enjoy the virtual floating sensation. Viewers have reported that the experience is so realistic that on jumping into the water, they held their breath. However, in less than three minutes, they are overwhelmed and engulfed by plastic. The “scoreboard” at the end is certainly sobering. Collecting just 35 pieces of the more than 5 trillion pieces currently in the ocean suddenly brings home the scale of this real-world problem.

MeshMinds offers the following steps as a thought-starter for how to build high impact VR experiences that directly lead to human behavioural change in Asia:

Step 1: Engage VR content creators in Asia in meaningful conversations about global issues from local perspectives by demonstrating real-world value and commissioning impactful, immersive experiences via a dedicated impact investment fund.

Step 2: Work in collaboration with multinational technology companies in Asia to continue developing VR experiences focused on agendas for a better world, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Step 3: Partner with organisations in Asia that are making a difference and link VR content creators to those opportunities for action.

Step 4: Measure the impact of the created VR experiences to help us better understand how to develop meaningful and transformational experiences for an Asian audience, available in all local languages in the region, that will create empathy and invite global citizens to act.

Step 5:  Give VR content creators in Asia a voice by amplifying their work and scaling across the globe!

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