Nonny-de-la-Pena-headshotChris Milk’s TED talk last year popularized the idea that virtual reality has the potential to be the ultimate ’empathy machine.’ Emblematic Group‘s Nonny de la Peña has been one of the original pioneers of exploring empathy in VR through a series of immersive journalism pieces ranging from torture in Guantanamo Bay, homelessness in LA, the Syrian refugee crisis, and most recently domestic violence with Kiya and what it’s like to walk through an abortion clinic protest with Across the Line. I had a chance to catch up with Nonny at Sundance to get more insight into how she cultivates empathy within VR, but also why she’s so motivated to always stand up for the underdog within her work.


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  • Zobeid

    I have to express some skepticism. I’m not sure that putting on a VR headset is going to fundamentally change the viewer’s response to a simulation, or that it’s going to be a “revolutionary” advance over the same kind of scenarios that have been long been presented from a first-person perspective through a computer monitor.

    A VR headset is an aid to immersion (immersive-ness? immersivity??), but it’s only an aid. It’s not automatic, and it’s not a substitute for the other elements of immersion that have been learned and practiced (and often ignored, too) over the years in so many games and simulations. Sometimes the hype train goes off the rails in painting VR as a radically different medium from anything seen before.

    • Ian Shook

      I agree that It’s hard to avoid the hype of VR (again) but the only way to train or prepare for something is to do it for real; and VR is as real as it gets without actually doing something. I wish more of the videos made for GearVR would work on a DK2. I’d love to take my news in that way – At the location of the news anchor reporting. Seeing the things happening like I’m there – and feeling it as much as I can.

      • user

        Usually the news anchor is there AFTER it already happened ;)

  • I like Nonny’s vibes. Immersive tech or not, she’s got a good attitude to what she’s doing. I’m not convinced that empathy can be generated that easily in VR, she’ll still have to use all her journalistic nous to get the most out of it.