Empathy for the game master: how virtual reality creates empathy for those seen to be creating VR

This article rethinks the notion of virtual reality (VR) as an ‘empathy machine’ by examining how VR directs emotional identification not toward the subjects of particular VR titles, but toward VR developers themselves. Tracing how both positive and negative empathy circulates around characters in one of the most influential VR fictions of the 2010s, the light novel series-turned-anime series Sword Art Online (2009–), as well as the real-life figure of Palmer Luckey, creator of the Oculus Rift headset that launched the most recent VR revival, the author shows how empathetic identification ultimately tends to target the VR game master, the head architect of the VR world. These figures often already inhabit a socially privileged position. A better understanding of how VR channels empathy towards VR creators points to the need to ensure a broader range of people have opportunities to take up the role of VR game master for themselves.

Journal of Visual Culture, Volume 19, Issue 1

Paul Roquet

About Paul Roquet

Paul Roquet studies the role of media technologies in the cultural history of the senses. Ambient Media: Japanese Atmospheres of Self (Minnesota, 2016) explores how music, video art, film, and literature come to be used as tools of atmospheric mood regulation, theorizing what it means to treat media as a sensory resource for self-care. His current project rethinks virtual reality and other head-mounted media as part of a broader history of sensory enclosure, tracking the social stakes of shifting the perceptual environment into a digital realm. Each of these projects work closely with Japanese materials and social contexts, drawing on Japan’s complex history with media technologies to offer new perspectives for a global media studies. His essays have been published in journals including Animation, Journal of Japanese Studies, Journal of Popular Music Studies, Representations, Sound Studies, and the Journal of Visual Culture. For more details visit proquet.mit.edu.

 
 

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