This review was originally created in May 2018 for HTC, targeted to their original Vive/Vive Pro (VIVEPORT). It is reproduced here without alteration.
Homelessness is generally defined as being without a permanent apartment or house. There is obviously a myriad of causes for this particular issue, but at its root are almost always circumstances that go beyond a person’s ability to control. Becoming Homeless: A Human Experience,is an exploration of how one particular series of these types of events can lead to no longer having a permanent place to live.
Becoming Homeless has been called “probably the most studied VR content perhaps in history,” and a game based around “educational content and the idea of ‘VR for good’ and for other use cases that are outside of entertainment.” Of course, it’s really not a game, but an educational journey, with only limited interactive possibilities as you’re moved from one set piece to another.
Developed at the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University and led by Professor of Communication, Jeremy Bailenson, this experience is based on thousands of data points from people who have become homeless. The question that the Stanford University team is asking here is can a virtual reality experience reverse what is known as the “fundamental attribution error.”
The fundamental attribution error states that when something bad happens to you, I blame your character, and when something bad happens to me, I blame the situation. This experience is about reversing that bias and is designed to show that, for some people, the journey to becoming homeless is not about who they are, but instead about situational factors. Becoming Homeless highlights one such set of situational factors in its three major scenes, which take place over a period of approximately seven total minutes.
The first scene takes place in your apartment. There’s an eviction notice and you’re asked to leave because you can’t pay the rent. While you look for a new place, you decide to sell objects in your apartment to make rent. You have enough time before eviction to sell six items in your apartment, like a laptop or painting. It ultimately makes no difference.
In the second scene, you’re relegated to living in your car in a rough neighborhood as a policeman comes to investigate. After receiving multiple citations, you sell your car to pay the fines and avoid jail time. Fortunately, you’re at least able to apply for a free pass that allows you to ride public transit at night for warmth and shelter.
Unfortunately, in this harrowing third and final scene, you can’t really relax on the bus because there’s someone behind you who you’re warned to watch out for, along with the ever-present potential of having your backpack and remaining possessions stolen as you try and divide your attention. It’s on this same bus at a different stop that the experience concludes and you’re able to hear three different moving stories from real people who have been homeless.
The research shows that an experience you have in VR tends to change your behavior and attitude in the real world. Even at around just seven minutes and with few opportunities for genuine interaction as you play seated, it’s clear that Becoming Homeless can have that power. And you can even further heighten the educational impact of this already haunting VR experience by pairing it with the recommended reading of “Chapter 3 – Walking in the Shoes of Another,” in Bailenson’s recent book, Experience On Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do.
Score: 3 out of 5 stars.
Becoming Homeless: A Human Experience is free for HTC Vive owners, and is available on Viveport.