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A Qualitative Exploration of Climate Change Virtual Reality

Authors: Urooj Raja*, University of Colorado At Boulder
Topics: Qualitative Research, Qualitative Methods, Communication
Keywords: Virtual Reality, Climate Change, Public Engagement
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Virtual Reality (VR) is a computer-mediated, perceptually rich technology that is experienced through a headset, joystick, keyboard, haptic or touch controls, and or some sort of other computer interface. VR allows for the user to enter a vivid and immersive artificial world that comes “alive” via computer-simulated three dimensional images that are coupled with visual, auditory, and touch sensory 3D cues (Fox, Arena, & Bailenson, 2009). As an emerging and potentially disruptive technology it has the potential to promote greater environmental engagement (Ahn, 2015). At present, not much is known about how people, especially first-time users, attach meaning and construct understandings around environmental VR experiences. Drawing on 30 semi-structured interviews and four focus groups with participants directly after experiencing a VR simulation about coral reef bleaching, I find that distinct themes (storytelling, exploration, immersion) emerge that can help researchers understand how and in what manner environmental VR operates. I also talk about access issues, particularly among gender lines that emerged in the course of this research. I close the paper with discussing some implications for how these findings can be harnessed to help increase public engagement on environmental issues, chief among them climate change.

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