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Chapter 4 narrates the history of VR, explaining how it shifted from a technology that, in the 1980s and 1990s, promised freedom from one’s body to today’s fantasy of embodying another. Central to this reconceptualization of VR is the work of LA-based immersive journalist Nonny de la Peña, who translated research out of the academic laboratory and offered Hollywood filmmakers a glimpse of VR’s narrative potential. LA-centered institutions, including the University of Southern California and the Sundance Institute, played significant roles in VR’s development prior to Facebook’s acquisition and renewed Silicon Valley interest. Many of the “VR for good” experiences produced in the 2010s were designed for privileged viewers to take on the perspective of marginalized individuals. This chapter unpacks the racial dynamics at the heart of many of these empathy experiences, underscoring that being another can only ever be a façade and must be approached with caution.

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