What is gained in experiencing the pain of others?


My personal interest in creating Immersive projects is that you can fundamentally change people – their opinions, beliefs and ways of seeing others and the world at large.  (Read Are you ready for Immersion  or the Power of Empathy in Immersive Media for a little more background if you missed those). So, shifting understanding to create the space for empathy is fantastic, but what about your own personal journey?

One of the big issues Immersive Media points us towards is the value of stepping into someone else’s shoes – but this is a rabbit hole of almost infinite depth. Let me pose the question like this.  If you could experience the pain of addiction or a terminal disease first-hand.  Would you awaken a more profound consciousness without ever picking up a drug or stage-4 cancer?

In my experience it has been pain and trauma that has carved the most interesting and wondrous people, like that glorious line from Leonard Cohen says,

 There’s a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in. 

So can we get the benefits of the cracks, without playing the part of Humpty Dumpty?

Enter Immersive Media.  We are now exploring first-person alternative realities created for audiences to “live” within.  The obvious concern is that we create these worlds which are so much “better” than the real world that we abscond from the “here” and just live in that digital “there”.  There are other possibilities though.

If you believe that through our suffering, mistakes and experience of the “cracks” we grow as human beings.  Then is there a benefit to walk – and return – from darker Immersive worlds and engagements?

Without doubt I have seen works of genius on drug addiction, I think Requiem for a Dream and Trainspotting must stand amongst some of the best, but what if we no longer watch, but become digital participants?  What if you could experience living inside a crack house, and see it rot a human being into a decayed zombie within minutes?  Rightly you could argue that you might miss the very persistence of the experience over time. I mean who would even stand for long term exposure?  But you could get as close to rock bottom as it is physically possible to be.  And then, experience the slow rise from out of the abyss.  Immersive Media offers us that unique opportunity to “play the movie through”, to not merely imagine, but actually see where the road leads.

This is the theme of a new project that we are developing.  To see how far we can transfer the wisdom of recovered addicts – from drugs, shopping, gaming, sex, work and gym.  The spirit of the production has been shaped over years of work, but with the recent work of Johann Hari specifically, for I believe there is a space for seeing how we can use media to move from voyeur to something deeper.

I would strongly recommend watching the wonderful TED talk Johann gave, or reading his book “Chasing the Scream” for insight into the philosophy around drug addiction that really breaks with tradition.

Hari’s revolution is to look at the causes and escape from addiction with new eyes, but of course that is about science and methodology.  As content creators our job is to give ordinary people the opportunity to experience the “cage” from the inside.   We can do more than empathise with the pain of others.  We can open up doors to learning that are not about knowledge, but about wisdom.  When we are prepared to walk alongside the pain, and share it, we will not come back without change in ourselves.

There are many things to fear from a digital world.  But there are wonders too, and we should embrace those and give them light.

Brett Lotriet Best is the Founder & Creative Director of EdenRage Media, check out their Immersive Media work at www.edenrage.tv.  Go on, take a bite!

 Image courtesy of Oscar Keys.

Feel free to add your comments, observations or musings