In a pig’s eye: The VR film that wants you to go vegetarian

Empathy is a word that gets pulled, stretched and flattened like dough. The advent of virtual reality promises to bring a new level of empathy in the immersive depiction of the subjects, but whether the result is identification or fetishisation is often

an ethical minefield.

Animal-welfare charity Animal Equality is aiming for empathy in its VR film, iAnimal. The film, narrated by Downton Abbey actor Peter Egan, moves scene by scene through the life of a pig bred for slaughter. We start in a facility full of cages and end in a blood-soaked abattoir. In between is a brief, painful life.

It’s harrowing stuff. The violence in iAnimal is not fetishised, but it is a film with a clear emotional objective. The film often places you within the cages of the facility, the intention being that you are given the pig’s perspective. “You don’t know what you’re in for,” the second-person narration begins; the irony being that you as a human viewer know exactly what you are in for.

Using the visually and aurally immersive qualities of VR to confront audiences with the reality of legal farming practices, at a time when most companies are intent on showing flashy tech demonstrations, is a clever move. It isn’t without its failings, however. Egan’s narration, for example, tends towards telling rather than showing. It is suitably weighty, but tends towards clunky humanisation when the visuals and viewer’s perspective would speak for themselves. ianimal_2

Which brings us on to the question: is something new achieved by showing this footage in virtual reality? Violence in virtual reality has the potential to be potent by offering a sense of “presence”, but does the viewer react in a different way than to seeing it on a TV screen?

You can watch the 360-degree film online, but Animal Equality’s intention is that you see it in VR. To that end, the charity is touring university campuses in the UK, the US, Germany, Spain and Italy.

READ NEXT: Notes on Blindness is one of the first great virtual-reality experiences

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