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VR for social impact: presenting The Choice to the Polish Sociological Association

We have been invited to present The Choice for the Polish Sociological Association. Joanne-Aśka Popińska will talk about why she decided to work on such a controversial subject as abortion, and why she chose VR as a medium to tell these thought-provoking stories. She will describe how she is using space and interactive narrative to immerse the audience in the story, and how she is designing the user’s role, to make them an active participant. As a sociologist herself, she is using proximity and physical relations in space (social distance) to create a feeling of being present with another person.

Virtual Reality is a fascinating medium, often associated with games, business solutions, or education. In our work, we use VR to raise awareness about important social issues: reproductive rights, violence against women, climate change. In our recent project, The Choice, we invite the audience to have a personal conversation with women who had an abortion. They share various reasons why they decided to terminate the pregnancy, and the viewer is encouraged to ask them direct and in-depth questions. We believe that personal conversation is the key to create a real and long-lasting change. And that it can create a social impact.

It’s truly remarkable to see that our work is being recognized. We have been invited to many events and were interviewed by numerous media to talk about our unique approach to VR storytelling. This time, we have been invited to talk about The Choice with a very special group: sociologists. Why special? As documentarians, we see how sociology and documentary often share the same interests and curiosity about similar issues. What’s usually different, is the methods they use. It is a great pleasure to know that what we do, is interesting from the sociological perspective as well.

Joanne-Aśka Popińska has been invited by the Polish Sociological Association, to talk about The Choice and how she is using VR to create social impact.

In recent months, Poland has been struck by an unstoppable wave of women’s protests. In the fall of 2020, Polish Constitutional Tribunal has banned abortion in almost all situations. We wrote about it here: Poland just banned abortion. Since then, Polish women have been protesting without a break. Police have been trying to crush the protesters with beatings, gas, and arresting even teenagers for “civic disobedience”.

In the light of these events, Popińska has been invited to talk about her work and how she is using VR to ignite a conversation, with the goal of bringing people together. Can VR enhance mutual understanding? And can creating this virtual dialogue be an answer?

Popińska will share why she chose VR for such a controversial topic, and how she is using its fundamental features to immerse the audience in these conversations.

Being a sociologist herself, Popińska believes that personal conversation is the best way to address stereotypes. Meeting real people, hearing their testimonies, feeling their emotions is powerful, as it creates a very personal connection. And this connection can bring change in attitudes and behaviors.

Popińska is using VR to make this conversation possible. In The Choice, she introduces women who had an abortion, and through an interactive narrative, she immerses the audience in this dialogue as if it really happened. When the experience finishes, the audience has a very profound impression of really talking to the subjects. They feel as they have met these women in person, they talked to them, they sensed their emotions and their thoughts. It creates a very personal and intimate bond. And it makes the issue personal — to the viewer.

Popińska’s ultimate goal is to not only take a stance on reproductive rights but to show that the conversation is an answer. Today’s world is full of antagonisms and misunderstandings. Appeals and speeches seem not to change it, the conflicts are only being ignited. Is a simple, personal conversation an answer? Early presentations of The Choice are showing very promising results.


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