Violence, Virtual Reality and Young Men: Co-creating a transformative violence prevention virtual reality experience

Year: 2019

Author: Hall, Stephen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

It is not surprising that Australian young men struggle to develop non-violent masculinities in a society where violence is omnipresent. The significant problem of male-on-male violence is treated as a public health concern, where some schools and community groups run violence prevention programs. The more successful of these programs are ‘gender transformational’ addressing how young men view themselves as men - their masculinity, and the link between problematic masculinities and violence.

These violence prevention programs have weaknesses that the emerging technological paradigm of Virtual Reality (VR) could help address. Virtual Reality is used in educational and clinical settings for experiential practice, a key challenge of implementing violence prevention programs. Moreover, VR’s unique affordances of presence, embodiment, increased empathy and perspective taking, can be transformative - VR is used to help patients overcome trauma or specific fears.

In this paper, I outline how a VR experience has been co-created with young males, via qualitative inquiry, to address two shortcomings of violence prevention programs. Firstly, fostering critical reflexivity in young males concerning their masculinity and place in society and secondly, safely practising non-violent responses to aggressive situations. I then discuss the results of a qualitative evaluation of this VR experience.

The VR experience created through this process is powerful and affective, taking participants on a journey of self-discovery, learning and challenge. Critical masculinity theory and transformative pedagogies underpin the experience. The co-creative qualitative approach uncovered the experiences of violence of a cohort of young metropolitan males, including aggressive situations, the traits of the violent protagonists and the scenes, objects and environments that could foster reflexivity.

The design required interactivity, learning content and real to life scenarios. Therefore, a 3D game engine was used as an interactive platform which contained learning content in the form of two-dimensional videos in addition to branching narrative scenarios created using 180 and 360 immersive film.

This study contributes through a more nuanced understanding of a cohort of young metropolitan males' violent experiences, their masculinities, and how VR might help shift their views of being men.