What can publishers do to try to prevent public concern around the ethics of virtual reality?

Virtual reality is a powerful tool that allows users to immerse themselves into different worlds. Journalists use virtual reality as a means of storytelling: it allows them to give viewers a sense of what it is like to be in a certain scenario. However, publishers need to be very careful as virtual reality can also be very harmful to viewers, especially when immersing them in violent situations.

In a published article, VR creator Catherine Allen said: “You could, for example, give a prologue that gives them some context and tells them what they’re going into, instead of randomly dropping them into a situation.”

Publishers should inform the audience on what a the story is about so that they don’t get traumatised, most especially if the content is graphic. For example, Nonny de la Peña’s project Syria revolves around innocent Syrian children involved in war. If a publisher created similar content without informing the viewers, some of the viewers might be terrified of war and thus may get scarred from viewing this content.

Although warning people about the content may spare some from trauma, the person in the virtual world is unable to control what they see, thus may not be completely prepared. In the case of project Syria, with bombs detonating, the player may face their attention towards the noise of the bomb and end up witnessing horrendous images such as dead bodies. It can therefore be argued that publishers are unable to fully prepare viewers for witnessing tragic and graphic images.

The media have portrayed virtual reality in a negative manner. “For example, virtual reality porn is getting a huge amount of coverage in UK press right now” Catherine said. She further stated the Daily Mail reported this 17 times. Information such as this has led to society believing VR is horrible.

Publishers could aim to change the audience by shedding light on the more positive effects of VR. For examples, Skip Rizzo of the University of Southern California treats war veterans with PTSD using VR. His methods have been used to treat over 2000 veterans in different hospitals around the country (Belman, 2015). If publishers report more positive stories and uses of VR such as the previous one, people may change their perspective on VR.

In addition, publishers can prevent public concern by testing their ideas on subjects. This can be done by handing out surveys and questionnaires to participants and seeing their response to the VR, what they liked and disliked about it, and what they want changed. By doing so, publishers can create the most immersive stories suitable for viewers. However, the publisher would need an enormous amount of participants for this to be valid, since a few participants cannot generalise to all the audiences: as one person’s perspective can differ from another

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