HTC Vive’s “VR for Impact” and New Reality Company have released a VR educational experience called Tree on their platform Viveport. The eco-conscious application released on January 24th for Vive and Oculus headsets for $4.99. You can find a link to it in our Weekly Games Spotlight from last Friday here.

Seeing the Virtual Rainforest for the Trees

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are in denial, most people know that climate change and deforestation are taking a toll on our planet. National Geographic says that “swaths [of land] half the size of England are lost each year” and that rain forests might be hacked down to nothing in a hundred years.

NASA’s website prominently displays this fact at the top of their website: the global temperature has gone up 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. Feel like your community or the world’s on fire when it’s nowhere near August? Or devastated at the loss of life when a flood occurs? I can relate.

Getting businesses to stop hacking down trees or scaling back pollution is an uphill battle. So, conscientious global citizens like HTC and New Reality Company are coming together and creating VR experiences to bring environmental causes like deforestation and climate change to viewers attention.

Becoming the Tree and Growing Awareness with VR

The eco-conscious companies were at World Economic Forum (WEF) for an annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Global leaders were in attendance as well, using the HTC Vive Pro and the Vive Wireless Adapter to witness the growth of a tree in the rainforest from seedling to a full-grown kapok firsthand.

The guests got to embody a kapok tree and grow right along with it from a seed growing through the rainforest floor (the body) to a thick trunk buried deep underground (legs) and branches reaching towards the sky (arms).

“The magic with virtual reality is that it has the power create empathy and awareness around humankind’s most pressing problems in new immersive ways,” said Rikard Steiber, President of Viveport.

“New Reality’s Tree is a moving and illuminating experience that serves as an example of how we can use the immersive nature of virtual reality to shine a light on critical issues.”

With the guests entire body becoming the tree, they hope that this will build empathy for the cause and most importantly the trees and Earth’s delicate ecosystem. Hopefully discouraging pollution and cutting down trees and encouraging a change in awareness and action to combat these problems.

Tree has gathered interest at Sundance Film Festival and is one of the first “VR for Impact” grant recipients. And for good reason! “Virtual reality’s greatest capability is to tell powerful stories,” said Milica Zec, co-founder of New Reality. Winslow Porter, co-founder of Next Reality adds, “Tree has been able to connect with viewers in an intimate way that has made climate change personal to them.”

There’s an old saying that builds empathy. It goes: Try and put yourself in another’s shoes. In Tree’s case: Step into a virtual experience and become the tree, trunk and all. The first 1,000 copies of Tree bought will have their proceeds donated to the Rainforest Alliance.