that if I could and they could see this in
person, there’s nothing they wouldn’t do
to help,” Nexus Fund executive director
Sally Smith told CNN.
But if VR is an empathy machine,
where will all that empathy be directed
in the future? Here in the United States,
meddlers have hijacked Google, You Tube,
Facebook, and Twitter to generate out-
rage and spread falsehoods, with politi-
cal consequences we are only beginning
to understand. VR’s immersiveness and
realism pull even more directly on our
heartstrings. There’s nothing to stop Bud-
dhist extremists in Myanmar, for instance,
from making VR films designed to further
inflame passions against the Rohingya.
“Am I scared by it? Yeah,” Ben Khelifa says.
“If you can create empathy, you can brain-
wash people too.”
In “The Enemy,” the VR storytelling
is even-handed to a fault. In fact, if the
piece has a limitation, it’s that it refuses
to judge the merits of each fighter’s cause.
But that limitation is also a strength. The
parallel questions put to each combatant
allow the visitor to construct “this kind of
model of what’s the same and what’s dif-
ferent” for each fighter, Harrell explains.
“And that can be some impetus to think-
ing beyond the preconceptions you had
of the conflict.”
Without this kind of commitment to
fairness and factuality, VR could easily
devolve into a propaganda tool. But that’s
true of all journalism. We’re fortunate that
a creator with Ben Khelifa’s vision and
conscience is showing the way.
Wade Roush is a technology journalist and
the producer and host of Soonish, a podcast
about technology and the future.
“The Enemy” was staged at the MIT
Museum in late 2017, and will continue
its North American tour in Montreal
and other Canadian cities. For tour dates
This photograph of Jean de Dieu was
among those used to create his avatar.
Jorge Alberto’s hand bears