I don’t believe it is fair to say a VR work necessarily fosters a greater since of empathy, as Janet Murray states: “some 2D still photos are worth 1000 VRs” (Not a Film and Not an Empathy Machine, page 4). However, the very meaning of empathy is the capacity to feel or understand what someone else is experiencing, and VR is a medium of experience; it has the most precise tools to cause an empathetic response. The trend of re-identifying the “viewer” as the “experiencer”, a topic that Jessica Brillhart explores in both her Language of VR blog series and her Ted Talks presentation, is evidence that the people contributing to and pushing the VR world forward are focused on the experience rather than the framed narrative presentation more typical of a 2D work.
Murray also explains that a VR work does not inherently produce an empathetic reaction from the experiencer, VR is “not an empathy machine”, but rather the art of a successful VR work comes from the filmmaker’s ability to navigate the experiencer to specific, intimate moments and this cultivates an personal relationship to the subject. If the activity of the work continually happens away from the camera, we remain a voyeur and the full capacity of VR is not used. Brillhart speaks about eye contact as a key devise at making a meaningful connection. Murray explains that we are all failing at this new medium because it is so new and we don’t understand what success yet in this medium nor do we know how to fully manipulate it. I believe it is this interaction with the camera/viewer/experiencer that truly reaps the benefits of out trial and error. This is the essential question of what is working and what is not working to develop an empathetic response. This idea that we are all failing currently gives me confidence to push ideas and make mistakes in this new medium.