18. Oktober 2018, Christopher Nicholas - International Committee of the Red Cross 

War at the front door: A virtual reality challenge inside urban conflict by the International Committee of the Red Cross

 

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is constantly testing new ways to tell the stories of people trapped in and affected by war. Virtual and augmented reality allow to tell their stories in an even more compassionate way than before. With the first VR-applications in the form of The Right Choice and Enter the Room the ICRC is only scratching the surface of immersive storytelling. There is much more to come. 

 

When we think of virtual reality (VR) we think of science fiction. We think of places and realities that we would otherwise never be able to experience in the real world. VR has the power to transport us to the edges of the universe or into the midst of a living memory of a deceased loved one. The possibilities of immersive storytelling seem infinite and the potential for the use of VR as a tool to create proximity and empathy for subjects and characters is thrilling.

Ready Player One – the latest movie from Steven Spielberg -- depicts a grim reality in which VR dominates everyday life. Whether Spielberg’s vision one day rings true, it is safe to say that this technology at the very least will have a strong impact on the way we interact with our environment and the way we tell stories in the coming years.

We at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are constantly testing new ways to tell the stories of people trapped in and affected by war. Virtual and augmented reality allow us to tell their stories in an even more compassionate way than before. 

As a first for our organization, we used VR to develop an immersive interactive film called The Right Choice that puts users next to a Syrian family trapped in urban warfare. The experience gives viewers a choice in the face of attack. But in the end none of the options leads to a positive outcome, underscoring how war gives civilians nothing but bad options.

The protection of civilian life in conflict is our main mission. With The Right Choice, we want to test consumer VR potential to build empathy for people trapped in warzones. By surveying people in major cities once devastated by war, we want to find out if this kind of personalized interactive approach resonates with audiences, can change someone’s perception or incites behavioral change. We want people to truly understand the question: “Run or hide – what to do?”

In early 2018 we released “Enter the Room,” an augmented reality (AR) experience that transports the viewer through a portal into a child’s bedroom in urban conflict. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and we had over 70.000 downloads. Given that more than 68 million people are fleeing conflict worldwide, it is clear for us that we must try everything possible to give these people a voice. VR and AR can serve as a platform for their stories.

With The Right Choice and Enter the Room we are only scratching the surface of immersive storytelling. We, however, are already using VR for training purposes on the laws of war for authorities and belligerents through an ICRC virtual reality team based in Bangkok.

What if one day we can use VR and AR technologies to facilitate remote surgeries in conflict zones or repair water systems with the help of engineers based in a completely different part of the world?

The Right Choice, which is available for download on the Google Playstore and the iOS Apple Store, is another step in our efforts to reduce suffering in war. We hope to continue using AR and VR for greater impact in pursuing our 150-year-old humanitarian mission.

You can watch the trailer of The Right Choice here

 

Christopher Nicholas - International Committee of the Red Cross