Could virtual reality revolutionize the way queer communities connect?
It makes sense that Google’s #prideforeveryone virtual reality (VR) project begins with the words, “Today We March Together”. Forget for a moment the technical challenges that face mobile VR, like disorientation and nausea, and think about what it can do that regular video cannot. It can provide a sense of presence (meaning you feel like you’ve been transported someplace else) and agency (meaning you are free to look around and explore your new virtual surroundings). VR, done well, sits apart from traditional video in its capacity to generate unique emotional responses for those who experience it.
Google launched #prideforeveryone in 2016, aiming to, “bring that sense of excitement and community to people that would not normally [get to attend]” (quoted in USA Today). They filmed 25 pride parades around the globe using 360 degree capture, creating a total immersive visual experience. The finished experience features vibrant scenes with a voice over that helps emphasize both the positive spirit of the events and their message of empowerment. The video closes with the words “Be who you are. Love who you love”, along with the spoken line, “Please don’t be afraid, you have all of us together with you."
The pride movement has grown tremendously since its beginnings on Christopher Street, New York, following the Stonewall riots of 1969. At their core, pride events are a time for us to celebrate being queer in public spaces, cherish the progress made in terms of rights, and be reminded of the work that still needs to be done. Their positive impact is reaching more and more people. However, there is a limit to where and who pride parades can be held.
Google’s virtual pride can be accessed by virtually anyone, anywhere. The package has been made available through Youtube 360 and is tied into their VR platform, Google Cardboard. They’ve also provided VR headsets to non-profits, notably Sergio Urrego Foundation, a Colombian charity supporting queer youth. A recent viral video showed founder Alba Reyes, the mother of a gay student who committed suicide, using #prideforeveryone as a tool to teach about equality. The response is emotional. “I could feel, I could see with such intensity, all that love, all that care…” remarks one student.
If VR can deliver the presence needed to transmit the positivity of pride and bring that to people in less open communities, or to people that are not open to themselves, then it is truly revolutionary in how we conduct outreach. Whether used as a tool by organizations like Sergio Urrego Foundation, in supplement to existing online communities, or as a means in and of itself, it takes the key element of pride being in a public space, and allows people who do not have the luxury of safe public spaces to experience it.
Google is not the first company to explore virtual pride experiences, and 2016 also saw Apple and Netflix running major campaigns. But it seems Google has successfully leveraged VR to communicate the spirit of pride to those that can greatly benefit from it. Technology increasingly forms the backbone of how marginalized people connect to communities, and whilst it cannot replace the experience of actually being at pride, VR may be the next step in sharing its message of equality and hope. We watch with both eyes open.
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