Virtual Reality and the Future of Peacemaking
Julie A Gregory, DiploFoundation
ADVANCED, BEGINNER, INTERMEDIATE
When conflict parties engage in armed hostilities, their conflict narrative and supporting experiences become their outstanding reality. For mediators, trying to shift harsh confrontational logic and entrenched beliefs relating to the conflict can be a long and relentless process, filled with numerous potential setbacks and threats to a successful outcome.
As a visually, auditory, and movement immersive medium, virtual reality (VR) offers the peacemaking field transformative opportunities unparalleled to date. Notably, it provides a unique capacity for the sharing of perspectives. VR could bring the buried reality of a conflict to the forefront of dialogue, creating greater opportunity for leading conflict actors (e.g. conflict party leaders and representatives) to experience a mindset shift.
As the makers and breakers of peace, conflict leaders and appointed representatives need strong support in working through the psychological roots and causes of the conflict. If they refuse to acknowledge the existence of opposing perspectives, they will have little chance of creating the conditions for long-term peace. A continued confrontational and single minded attitude will be perceived and mimicked by their followers, limiting the likelihood of an end to conflict. As one international mediation expert  expressed in an interview as part of this research, ‘If you [a conflict party] cannot take the perspective of the other or begin to take their perspective, or understand how they perceive you, you will never be able to resolve the conflict…
Some of the key points of the paper include:
- Given its relative novelty and limited application to date, VR has yet to be investigated as a tool for the mediation of armed conflict. In order to shed light on this issue, this paper builds on 30 expert interviews with international mediation and VR experts.
- Parties in armed conflict need strong support in breaking down the entrenched confrontational narratives that perpetuate the conflict. VR holds unique potential for conflict parties to participate in fully immersive perspective taking.
- In the mediation of armed conflict, VR technology could be used for conflict parties to better understand the consequences of the conflict on non-combatants, to witness the mediated dialogue from a different visual perspective, and to learn about other peace processes in an engaging and interactive format.
- In deciding whether to introduce VR into a mediated process, factors such as trust, understanding, mandate, time, VR expertise, confidentiality, and consent must be thoroughly evaluated by the mediation team.