How Augmented Reality and Empathetic Storytelling is Changing Audience Engagement

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In an ever-evolving media landscape, journalists and content creators are struggling to “catch” as many eyes on their content as possible, but new augmented reality apps like Pokémon GO offer innovative avenues for storytelling.

For the unfamiliar, augmented reality is a new form of virtual reality, which supplements or “augments” real-life interactions with the physical world by covering it in digital, visual information.

Take the Pokémon GO game. Users walk around in real, physical locations and through the app, they can interact with Pokémon in the area. Popular destinations, like landmarks or monuments, serve as PokéStops, where players can restock items and battle one another.

Pokémon GO is just the first in what surely will be a lucrative trend in gaming and apps.

According to TechCrunch, $1.2 billion was invested in virtual reality technology in the first quarter of 2016 alone. With these immersive entertainment experiences showing no signs of slowing down, how can journalists and other content creators use augmented reality apps like Pokémon GO to interact with their audience?

Potential Pokémon GO Application Program Interfaces

An application program interface (API) is a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications. Melody Kramer from Poynter suggests that if Pokémon GO were to release an API that allowed users with coding capabilities to create in-app content, the possibilities for journalists could be endless.

For instance, let’s say a PokéStop in Pokémon GO is located at a nearby popular restaurant. What if publications or bloggers could insert pop-up links to food reviews, archived articles about that restaurant, a list of upcoming events taking place at the restaurant, or published photography from that location?

Users could receive notifications about the content related to their current area just like they do when a new Pokémon appears. Targeting popular PokéStops, journalists and publishers could find a well of new story ideas, like location-based, historical information articles.

Empathetic Storytelling and Social Awareness

In AdWeek, Gian LaVecchia described how virtual reality storytelling is positioned “to help build deeper levels of human connection, compassion and cultural empathy,” giving storytellers the “opportunity to transform what was previously a one-dimensional (perhaps even transient) relationship between brands and consumers and deliver added story dimension, one-of-a-kind experiences and new cultural perspectives to better celebrate our shared values and interests.”

Companies like Empathetic Media already are using augmented reality to foster empathy in their audience. By partnering with the Red Cross in Pancevo, Serbia, Empathetic Media created the awareness campaign #STOPtrafficking2016 to raise awareness for human trafficking.

If users downloaded Empathetic Media’s free augmented reality app ARc Stories, they could be escorted through Pancevo by Red Cross Volunteers and interact with generic stop signs which would trigger audio, visual, and map-based stories about human trafficking.

Speaking with Journalism.co.uk, Katharina Finger, business developer at Empathetic Media, said, “We wanted to show people that human trafficking doesn’t just happen in other countries, but also in their own country, and they shouldn’t ignore it. In cooperation with the Red Cross, we created an anti-human trafficking route, where people were doing this walk together to find out more. This is what we want to foster, people actually seeing stories for themselves, not just reading them, and making up their own opinions by discussing the topics together.”

By turning real, everyday objects into sources of information, Empathetic Media is engaging audiences and enlightening them to newsworthy, social causes.

What are some other potential journalistic avenues for augmented reality apps like Pokémon GO and companies like Empathetic Media? Sound off in the comments with your ideas.

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Nick Harley is an Associate Customer Content Specialist at PR Newswire. He also works as an entertainment journalist and assistant print editor for Den of Geek.

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