The Enemy – A Virtual Reality Experience in Museums

Lightning Talk
Cody Oliver, MIT, United States

1.) What if you could offer a museum goer the opportunity to stand with and listen to the experiences of a war combatant? How would they react and what type of experience would they have? What if you could use storytelling to dispel stereotypes and craft an experience that challenges a visitor’s perception of conflict zones. At the MIT Museum, we brought this experience to the public. The Enemy developed by Ben Khelifa and developed by MIT Professor D. Fox Harrell during a visiting artist residency hosted by MIT’s Center of Art, Science & Technology (CAST).

Virtual reality has been placed in museums for a few years now as an exploration format to view art and explore where it adds value for a visitor’s experience. The MIT Museum’s wanted to bring in an exhibit that pushed beyond the boundaries of a simple “wow” moment. The visitor is welcomed into the exhibition and presented with a tablet containing information about their preconceptions about war and specific conflicts linked to the VR experience. They are asked how they feel about war, their knowledge or connection to the Israeli-Palestinian/Democratic Republic of the Congo/El Salvador conflicts, and basic demographic information.

This experience was developed by interviewing the combatants from their respective conflict zones. The motion capture and 3D scanning resolution provided an engaging representation of the person interviewed. The reason for such a high level of detail was that Ben Khelifa and Professor Harrell were trying to create an interactive module to study empathy and preconceived notions about conflict zones. After completing a digital survey, it is linked to the experience and then measured against how the participant expressed themselves while interacting with combatants. The measurements were a result of gestures the visitor made regarding the combatant. Cues such as standing distance, eye contact, or moving away while hearing them tell their stories.