VR: A New Tool For Social Advocacy

Tomorrow women throughout the country will convene in virtual reality to experience an immersive artwork celebrating past trailblazing female accomplishments. They will gather to have a conversation about the tremendous progress women have made and the work ahead to further that progress toward equality. The entire conversation will be live streamed to allow anyone in the world to listen and participate. It will push the limits of current social VR technology, and it will also be a unique example of social VR and art will converging for a social cause.

It all began one evening in early December when my friend Drue Kataoka and I got together in VR. We met in an experience called Rec Room, which offers a variety of social games like paintball and charades. Drue and I sequestered ourselves in a paddleboard court, and sat on the virtual floor for over two hours talking about our hopes for VR: the opportunities we could imagine for connecting people, the possibilities for unleashing limitless creativity and the potential to create a new, inclusive world. I told Drue I was founding a company focused on bringing people together in VR around common goals, and she offered her support.

A few days later, she called me with an amazing idea. Drue had just read an article about the Women’s March in DC, and she started thinking about how we could use VR as a platform to amplify and extend the momentum already building around the marches. She told me that she planned to create a 3 dimensional virtual reality version of Yes! Now is the Time, a piece she originally created the first version of as a poster during the presidential campaign to celebrate historic women’s accomplishments. She asked me, “What if we convene women who are thousands of miles apart in the same virtual space to experience the art and spark a conversation about women’s leadership in the 21st century? We could make the virtual event open to all, and shine a light on some extraordinary women.” She invited me to partner with her to make it happen.

I’ve never before been faced with an opportunity that converges my personal passion and values, my professional aspirations, and a unique historical moment. I got chills as I listened to Drue’s vision. For years, I’ve been working to make the technology industry more inclusive. One of the things that drew me to VR was the emphasis on inclusivity I saw in my local Seattle community, and the ripple effect that could have more broadly. At each meetup I attended and each conversation I had over coffee, I heard awareness of the underrepresentation of women and minority groups. Yet I witnessed willingness in these conversations to learn, adapt and grow, and eagerness to build a diverse industry space.

I accelerated the formation of my company ConveneVR in order to be ready to produce the event Drue envisioned. She and I spent weeks testing and prototyping for the event. We called friends who were busy with their own VR projects to help. The founders of PlutoVR and BigBoxVR both said yes, and volunteered many hours over the past few weeks. Drue worked diligently to produce a stunning piece of art in VR that takes the original piece off of the page and into a breathtaking immersive experience.

The vast majority of current VR content is focused on gaming, and there are some amazing games available that I’ve found essential to get oriented in the medium. There’s exciting VR research and development happening in many other spaces, from healthcare to education. We are now exploring VR as a tool for social advocacy, and as a place where women can convene and have their voices heard.

We hope you will join us on January 26th for this experiment in producing a live VR event for social impact. We’ve had to improvise countless times along the way, and we’ll be working until moments before going live to make it the best it can be. We hope everyone, from diehard VR enthusiasts to those who have never worn a headset, will feel welcome to join us in this cutting-edge celebration of women’s firsts, and the new opportunities for social VR that lie ahead. The link to the live stream will be available on January 26th at http://www.ConveneVR.com and http://www.Drue.net