Empathic Actualities: Toward a Taxonomy of Empathy in Virtual Reality

  • Joshua A. FisherEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 10690)


This paper seeks to formalize the language of empathy surrounding Virtual Reality (VR). The immediacy of VR documentaries has been claimed to be so vivid that users are more capable of empathizing than through previous media. This is a laudable but ambiguous claim. Empathy’s multiple definitions complicate how designers use the term. Further, the relationship between users, designers, and subjects in reality needs clarification if claims of empathy are to be made. This paper proposes that VR does not facilitate a direct relationship between a user and an experience’s subject in reality to achieve empathy. Instead, VR designers establish role-plays to achieve an empathic actuality—an emotionally charged interpretation of life—which may result in compassion or sympathy. Users end up empathizing directly with a VR designer and their presented representations, not their subjects in lived reality. A review of existing experiences is discussed to clarify claims of empathy and put forward a foundational taxonomy.


Virtual reality Design Empathy Documentary theory 



This work and the taxonomy in this paper were heavily influenced by discussions with Professor Janet H. Murray at the Georgia Institute of Technology.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Digital MediaGeorgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA

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