The Keyword is ‘Action’: RYOT’s VR App Champions More than Empathy

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RYOT (pronounced “riot”), an American news media company founded in 2012, recently launched iOS and Android apps for its VR content, who are empowering readers to get themselves involved with the issues about which they learn about via immersive media.

ryot-1RYOT was founded on the idea that every news story should have an actionable element, something that provides readers with the ability to become more than distantly interested in, concerned or depressed by a topic. The company wants its users to go beyond empathy, beyond compassion, to the point where they are ready and willing to make a difference.

RYOT’s VR app is cardboard-compatible but also functions in the now-familiar viewfinder or window mode, allowing users to experience RYOT’s content by moving their phone and using touch to look around. As it happens, the free app includes significantly more content (twenty-one videos) than RYOT’s online VR portal (nine videos). More is in the pipeline: RYOT has produced thirty VR films to date and has partnered with the Associated Press to develop a content series, for which RYOT has some fifty pieces in production or post-production. The ambition evident in RYOT’s production volume reflects the company’s desire to become, as co-founder Bryn Mooser put it, “the first media company for immersive content.”

According to Mooser, in RYOT’s terms, the outlet “gives you the power to ‘Become The News’ by linking every single story to an action.”

RYOT’s VR output encourages individuals to act by coupling 360° video narratives that humanize crises and longstanding humanitarian issues with links to aid organizations’ webpages. The site’s “Nepal Quake Project” links to a donation portal detailing which organizations and forms of aid donations fund; “Welcome to Aleppo” follows the same template. Still, there are presently several videos that do not feature links to outside resources, and when accessed via RYOT’s app, even those pieces that do feature links on the website portal lack them. This is in no way to take away from RYOT’s work or commitment to action; many videos sans-link were developed in cooperation with aid organizations whose names (e.g., Save the Children, One.org) are signifier enough for interested users to figure out to whom RYOT recommends they donate. Moreover, the incorporation of here’s-what-you-can-do-to-help information into VR video will inevitably be refined and streamlined with practice. Besides, given RYOT’s co-founders’ histories in activism, it is difficult to doubt their intentions.

Both Mooser and co-founder David Darg have demonstrated a commitment to meaningful and productive activism throughout their careers. Beginning in 2010, Mooser served as Country Director for Artists for Peace and Justice (APJ) in Haiti, where he worked on building an APJ secondary school in Port-au-Prince. Darg, meanwhile, serves as Vice President of Operation Blessing International, a humanitarian aid nonprofit that endeavors to provide those in need with sustainable, long term solutions for combating poverty. Mooser and Darg’s latest project appears poised to expand their activist ambitions by bridging the real and virtual spheres of contemporary activism.

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