I don't know how to code, much less for VR, but that doesn't stop some of my UX friends and I from joining hackathons.

In July 2015, we attended the Timewave Virtual Reality Hackaton and came up with a concept called Not You

Being a team made entirely of women, we gravitated towards creating something that would address gender norms and stereotypes, many of which are rooted in sexism. We are exposed to these norms as children and they are continually reinforced, (sometimes inadvertently, sometimes explicitly taught) throughout our lives.

You might not realize it but by telling a girl, "you're pretty strong for a girl", you are reinforcing the gender norm that girls aren't supposed to be strong and maybe shouldn't behave that way because it's un-ladylike (whatever that means). It's more than just a back-handed compliment; this type of comment is called a microagression and it keeps groups of people down.

What's even more dangerous is that many of us subconsciously buy-in to those norms and stereotypes placed on us. What I mean is that, in this case, many women themselves buy-in to the norm that girls are not strong and then perpetuate it by inadvertently teaching this to other girls.

It's a hard subject to tackle but VR allows us to not only create new worlds, but it also allows us to be anyone or anything. Since norms are taught to the young, we first designed an experience geared towards young girls and boys. However, when we stopped to think who was doing the teaching, we pivoted to design the experience for adults. 

Click this   photo to see 360 view.

Click this photo to see 360 view.

In the Not You world, participants will get to experience what it is like to be a 13 year old girl at school. They will encounter other characters like a teacher that asks them, "You signed up for shop class, are you sure you didn't mean home-ec?" In the end, some text will appear that speaks to the fact that gender norms are taught and ask participants to be more aware as they continue their daily lives. It should be a quick, immersive experience, about 5-7 minutes in length. 

We also gave thought to expanding the project to incorporate other Not You stories to address issues like racism, socioeconomic disparity, and environmental impact. VR booths with these experiences could be set up in recreational areas with high foot-traffic around the city. These issues don't usually elicit excitement so hopefully the novelty of VR would get people interested enough to try it out.  

As I mentioned, none of us know how to code so we didn't actually build this VR experience out. However, for the hackathon, we improvised and created a mini prototype with a Theta 360 camera, Littlstar's mobile app, and a Google Cardboard. We presented our concept in story-form (what we know best) and while we didn't win any accolades, we were happy to participate and experiment with this new medium.

Since then, I participated in the 2016 Virtual Reality Lab which was sponsored by NYU's ITP and MAGNET, and worked with another team on Not You. The Lab held workshops on Unity, GoPro's Omni rig, and headsets like the HTC Vive, Occulus Rift, and Samsung Gear VR. I still don't know how to code or even use Unity proficiently, but I had fun playing with all the technology and getting my feet wet in storytelling and shooting for VR.

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