Media Up To Now
Media informs the way we act in society. The things we say in our daily life are often phrases that have entered our subconscious as our original thoughts. In theory, this isn’t harmful; it is just part of the purpose of art. However, due to the way power is structured in countless facets of our society, our media frequently lacks diverse representation. The dominant representation leans heavily in favor of showcasing heterosexual white men. This consistently leaves out those in the LGBTQIA+ community, people of color, minority religious groups, women, and persons with disabilities.
Without this representation, unchecked stereotypes can permeate our everyday actions. There are few in power to prevent this from happening. The harm caused by these stereotypes compounds when the majority of the gatekeepers of media benefit from the privilege of being a part of this system. Without interruption, it is easy to see how this system perpetuates itself.
What Is Media?
Media is comprised of the various communication channels we subscribe to (intentionally or otherwise) i.e. movies, TV, books, blogs, news, social sites, advertisements, etc.
The easiest place to see bias in media is with news stations. As an example, we can look at the narrative that local news channels often spread: the criminal of color.
“In a 2012 study, for instance, participants who consumed just one minute of negative news or entertainment on Latinos were much more likely to rate Latinos as unintelligent—even those participants who were disposed to have positive opinions about Latinos at the beginning of the study.”
More recently social movements have revealed the bias in media to the masses. The previously silenced finally have a dominant voice. This added representation does not mean that our erstwhile gatekeepers are harmed. They too are benefiting by the growing synergy in our society. Ideas that certain folks couldn’t conceive of are revealing truths about us all. Where there once was a harmful overindulgence in the majorities psyche, there is now content to teach empathy and understanding.
Enter Immersive Media
Meanwhile, a new form of media has impacted the mainstream over the past few years. This new immersive media is not just a new industry for the unheard to confidently express themselves. This medium also has the ability to share ideas with an emotional power that hasn’t been possible until now. VR has been called an “empathy machine” due to its ability to place users in the body of an avatar that lives a life they couldn’t typically experience in their own physical reality. Some articles can be found on Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab website https://vhil.stanford.edu/topics/immersion-presence/. Immersive content allows participants in the experience to establish a virtual presence. This means they can connect to the content as if they were genuinely experiencing it.
This new industry is not safe from inheriting harmful systems. Like any media, the power of storytelling can be exploited in the form of propaganda. In these early stages of XR we have to be vigilant and actively promote a diverse and inclusive ecosystem. Diversity doesn’t just come in the form of on-screen representation. It comes in the form of hiring and industry culture. It is not enough to have diverse hires if their perspective isn’t contributing to the overall message.
Mostly we need this cost-prohibitive technology in everyone’s hands. There is an inherent flaw in the previous sentence. How do we get such expensive equipment into the hands of those who are not only under represented but also economically underserved? There are still ways to make these tools accessible.
“We understand that not everyone can afford to dispose of thousands of dollars for higher-end HMDs. Thus, we encourage groups to also learn more about mobile spatial computing, as several concepts apply and are adaptable to both.”
–Creating Augmented and Virtual Realities by Erin Pangilinan, Steve Lukas, and Vasanth Mohan
Mobile VR/AR is the most accessible at the moment because if you want to view mobile VR it is as cheap as a $15 cardboard device (assuming you have a phone already). Philadelphia public Access station PhillyCAM is hosting an event titled Democratization of XR. The purpose of this event is to open up a space to listen to the community about what they expect from immersive media and how they can utilize it as a public access channel to promote all voices. As local VR Arcades open in cities across America, I would propose they host similar events in the spaces they are undoubtedly gentrifying. Companies like Strivr and Equal Reality use virtual reality to promote empathy through diversity and inclusion training.
I want to take a moment to shout out some XR projects we’ve been following.
As Ara, learn to hunt, gather, and fight to reclaim her cultural legacy in the lost art of falcon hunting against a force of automated colonizers. Bond with a baby falcon and go on an adventure on PlayStation®4 or immersive VR with PlayStation®VR. This game comes from Outerloop Games and creative director Chandana Ekanayake
Max Ellinger’s The Goodbye Room: Escape Your Ex is a tender and queer first-person adventure similar to games like Gone Home and Life is Strange. Featuring volumetric performances, environmental storytelling, experimental gameplay, and interactive 3D 360° video cutscenes, The Goodbye Room sits at the intersection of cutting-edge technology and personal storytelling.
ARVR Academy is an organization dedicated to diversity and inclusion in immersive and emerging technologies through education and professional development efforts. They seek to increase the representation of people from underrepresented communities across entrepreneurial, technical, and creative roles in the industry. The board is comprised of Amy LaMeyer, Liv Erickson, Suzzane Leibrick and Erin Pangilinan . Pangilinan is also lead editor and contributor of afformentioned book Creating Augmented and Virtual Realities. Along with contributors like Jazmin Cano this essential book is helping to set the ground work for knowledge transfer that includes all kinds of perspective.