Culture 2 min read

Negative Impact of Using VR Documentaries for Charities



Organizations now depend on the immersive experience from VR documentaries for fundraising. But, a researcher points out that it could be “poverty safari” in disguise.

Aside from gaming, another everyday use of virtual reality is in creating Immersive documentaries.

Simply strap on a headset, and you’ll find yourself anywhere. From a flooded island in South America to a drought-prone region in Africa, the public can now interact with otherwise inaccessible circumstances.

As a result, reputable organizations like UNICEF and World Vision are using VR documentaries to support charity efforts. While the method has been financially rewarding, a University of Surrey researcher, Dr. Ciaran Gillespie points out the negative impact.

He said:

“Virtual reality promises a wealth of interesting, dynamic new narrative perspectives but offers little in the way of solutions to the problems it depicts.”

The Downsides of Using VR Documentaries for Charities

VR encourages users to be emotionally engaged with the subject matter. While that’s a good thing, Dr. Gilliespie believes that there’s also a downside.

He argues that VR ownership is higher in wealthy western markets. So, charities risk using technology to provide a superficial understanding of existing problems.

Gillespie expressed concerns that such a shallow view could reinforce the West’s separation from the developing regions. VR documentaries could be a mass-market version of the ‘poverty safari’ approach, he says.

For example, VR documentaries like UNICEF’s “Clouds Over Sidra” portray resistance to foster sympathy for suffering. Meanwhile, according to the Surrey researcher, the film should have challenged the structures that create suffering.

Also, since VR promises a first-hand experience, proponents often position it as a more honest form of communication. But that’s not the case.

Like any other movie, VR documentaries have authorial framing to direct how the viewers interpret what they see.

Directors, camera operators, and editors often influence what we see in these films. As such, the documentaries may not be an accurate depiction of events.

Dr. Gillespie concluded:

“Charities need to question how they are recreating economic, racial, and gender hierarchies by using VR as a platform for the wealthy to satisfy their curiosity and gaze safely upon the despair of the supposedly less civilized world.”

Read More: Pros and Cons of VR, AR as Teaching Tools

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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