VR and Social Good: An Interview with Nesrin Coskun

Nesrin Coskun is a developer of VR applications that I know through my work at BAU’s VR First Lab. She has recently received attention and support for her work on Happy Place for Butterfly Children, a VR application aimed at those suffering from Epidermolysis Bullosa. What follows is our conversation on her work.

How did you begin working in VR and how does it relate to your profession?

Having majored in Turkish Culture and Literature, Educational Sciences, and most recently on Radio and Television, I was in a desperate search for a better way to communicate ideas, raise awareness on worthy human related topics… topics that are most important for social good and that I am deeply passionate about.

Until I found VR and AR, I explored everything starting from still pictures of photographs, and the movement of cinema, animation… to express ourselves better in search of making a possitive impact at a deeper level.

Well, my search eventually brought me to BAU VR First , Turkey’s first and still only virtual reality development lab, totally by chance. BAU VR First is a joint initiative between Bahçeşehir University, and Crytek, an international game developer and creator of 3D game technology.

Virtual reality transfered people to a medium of imagination. With VR, you are in a a new place both in a visual and agency sense. The user in virtual reality is immersed in a world that is created which is very near teleportation.

I quickly saw the potential and thought that it was the next medium, equipped with high technology for traditional media. VR and AR was capturing the attention of the mass population and evoking imagination. It was not well known by people, so I could shed a new light on the issue that the public has not adapted to. The information age was ending and leaving its place an experiential age.

At the same time, in an attempt to reinforce my studies, I started to master Game Design at Bahçeşehir University Communication Faculty.

When I decided to use this high technology for human good, I started working on VR Projects with a team of developers. The possibilities for the technology were just now being explored.

Shot from Happy Place for Butterfly Children

When did you realize VR’s potential to improve the lives of others?

I had decided to use this high technology for human good and I was looking for a way to do it, then I met ‘’İyi ki Üsküdar Var’’ Platform of Üsküdar Municipality. ‘’İyi ki Üsküdar Var’’ is the official activity platform of the Municipality aimed at social good. The Platform was supporting “Butterfly Children”.

“Butterfly Children” (Epidermolysis bullosa) is the term given to those born with the disease, as their skin is seen to be as delicate and fragile as a butterfly’s wings and who suffer a lot of pain.

It is a fatal disease. And they were children. It mattered to me a lot.

I started to do research on finding a way to help them using the VR technology, in an attempt to improve their quality of life, to make them feel just a little bit more… In my research on academic literature , I saw that Virtual Reality was secure, controlable and influential way in the health sector.

There had to be a way to solve the problem in the virtual world which we could not solve in the real world.

My search on the web lead me to the virtual reality applications, in which one was guided by its research based application, collaborations with the government and a university. I was deeply moved by the service of the application that was designed to distract patients from pain.

With a quick collaboration of the developer company, the application was adapted to Turkish to be tested on users.

How did [this VR event] come about? How was the reaction from visitors of the event?

With my work, I had the attention of both Bahçeşehir University and Üsküdar Municipality. I was invited to make a presentation at ‘’Üsküdar Municipality — İyi ki Üsküdar Var’’ Platform on ‘’What VR is and the Benefits of Pain Relief Applications’’ where I found the chance of letting its elderly residents and patients with rare illnesses test the application.

It was so exciting for the users and for sure it was a success in the light of the unique reactions of the elderly, as well as the reactions of Down Syndrome patients.

I was emotionally exhausted when the almost three hours long presentation was over but there was a good energy and many good stories within.

Observing the positive effects on the users, I was convinced that VR is the next medium for improving the well being of others. It could be used on any type of pain relief, fears, general stresses, minimal traumas that don’t need medication as a supplementary tool within a context of VR therapy for pain patients and people who have limited mobility like the elderly.

In the real world, psychological treatments have time and budgetary limitations. Patients who need constant care as well as the patients who experiences undiagnoded traumas, are left untreated, leading to an unhealthy society.

This was a very good use case of VR and all the possibilities presented by virtual reality had to be used until its limits.

From the Uskudar Municipality event (Nesrin on Left)

Who is giving you material and professional support while you’re developing [this VR experience.

I am supported by BAU VR First Lab, Bahçeşehir University besides the collaboration of the Sweden VR Company Mimerse.

What has gone into the development of [this VR experience] and what is your next step?

So, after my presentation at ‘’Üsküdar Municipality — İyi ki Üsküdar Var’’ Platform on Benefits of Pain Relief applications, Usküdar Municipality made a press release about the presentation. It also had a coverage at the official blog of Usküdar Municipality. Both the University and the Municipality posted the presentation on their social media accounts.

I was invited by the Üsküdar Mayor Hilmi Türkmen to talk about the possibilities of collaboration between the university and the Municipality for VR therapy.

Currently, I was asked to develop experience based virtual therapy applications for Üsküdar Municipality, for social good.

Apart from this development process, what do you enjoy most about VR?

The thing that I most enjoy about Virtual reality is it’s experimental nature. VR is open to experimentation in almost all sectors. Also that VR can be a way to enhance whatever we do and that it can be exported to consumers anywhere, super facinating.