Monday, December 4, 2017

Ethical Issues In VR

Claire Klodell

Empathy is the single most important quality for young children to acquire, while they are beginning to perceive the world around them. Without it, we are merely nothing. We serve no purpose. How can we be expected to understand ourselves if we lack the ability to understand each other?


We read books to establish a false reality and put our minds in the place of the characters. Yet, words pressed onto paper can only allow our minds to wander so far. In one of my freshman classes, Professor Eric Williams introduced us to a concept where the audience can be holistically immersed in a scenario. Virtual reality is on the rise, and the potential impact it carries to tell a story is remarkable.

The New York Times hired a group of journalists in the past who were familiar with 360-video cameras to establish “The Daily 360”, which featured one new video a day. The readers were able to look past what their peripheral vision blocks, unlike watching a stationary film. This allowed the audience to gain a whole new perspective on a story, and curate emotions which otherwise would have never been produced with a simple story. Unfortunately, this extension of the New York Times did not last very long.

Virtual reality footage also has the capability to expand in ways which have not even been thought of yet. Especially in this political climate, it is crucial for people to holistically understand both sides of a story before forming an opinion. I feel very strongly that the use of virtual reality will heavily influence the way journalists tell stories. It introduces a completely new format of storytelling which can help an audience better understand a foreign concept. The future of storytelling is now brighter than ever, and I’m not just saying this because it’s through the lens of a VR camera.

Ethical Issues

Michael Madary and Thomas Metzinger, two philosophers from Germany’s Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, wrote their own six-step code of ethics for VR Journalism. “In keeping with the American Psychological Association’s principle of non-maleficence, experiments using virtual reality should ensure that they do not cause lasting or serious harm to the subject,” they write.

According to Madary, “users should be aware that evidence exists that advertising tactics using VR could have ‘powerful unconscious influence on behavior.” A potential downside of holistically immersive virtual reality, is that it can allow for opportunities of intense behavioral manipulation.

A major concern the Virtual Reality Society brings up is the concept of desensitization. Typically, this issue is geared towards games which include violence, especially those where the first person player is a shooter. “Desensitization means that the person is no longer affected by extreme acts of behavior such as violence and fails show empathy or compassion as a result. In some situations, gamers actively seek out this type of scenario for the adrenaline rush and sense of power,” they write.

What Next?

Since virtual reality is constantly expanding, the code of ethics should follow this consistent evolution. In the following link, Ana Serrano discusses the ethical dilemmas of living life inside the bubble of a virtual reality world.  

1 comment:

  1. Some of the ethical issues presented in your blog about Virtual Reality are similar to those represented by the "pornification" of society. Where Virtual Reality focuses on violent or aggressive behavior and pornification centers around sexual behavior, they both are contributing to the desensitization of society. Both are also contributing to a society in which we no longer see people as people but as mere objects. When people become nothing more than objects to be objectified, we see those people as, "there is no person 'there' to be emancipated or regarded as an equal." (Ess, 2013). Objectifying people in society has given rise to the number of people whose behavior would be deemed unethical or immoral. Society has already been desensitized by the pornification of digital media which has caused many to disconnect from society. VR on the other hand risks pushing those already disconnect even further, possible to the point in which they check out from reality altogether. Movies like "Ready Player One" are already glorifying how much better a virtual world is compared to the real one. Eventually at the rate that technology is advancing, people will lose the ability to communicate in a fashion that allows them to make those meaningful connections to others.

    Ess, C. (2013) Digital Media Ethics (2nd ed.) Malden, Ma: Polity Press