Project Details

Emblematic Group

Virtual reality helps news audiences empathise

Project URL:
Project Twitter: @EmblematicGroup

Organisations Involved Emblematic Group (@EmblematicGroup)
Al Jazeera America
Frontline (@FrontlineSMS)
Google (@google)
The Associated Press
The New York Times

  • Audiovisual

Veteran journalist Nonny de la Pena’s intern burst into tears. She had been on the streets of Los Angeles researching a story on the city’s food banks, when a man waiting in line collapsed onto the ground. His blood sugar was so low from hunger that he went into a coma. 

While journalism allows us to see, hear and read about global problems, it is difficult to empathise with people in situations we are unable to experience. Whether it’s police brutality in the US or bombing in Syria, news reporting can feel removed, preventing us from feeling empowered to analyse the situation and act to help solve problems it highlights. 

De la Pena has established the Emblematic Group to bring real-life experience to people through virtual reality (VR), so that “our audience can have critical thinking when they see these pieces and can make some judgement for themselves.” 

In 2012, with the help of her intern, she created ‘Hunger’ – a short VR experience that put people on the same street as the man who collapsed while waiting to receive food donations in LA. The response was overwhelming – when Hunger premiered as the first VR film at the Sundance Festival, the audience got down on their knees to try and comfort the man, and many were crying by the time they took off their headsets.

A number of commissions followed. Emblematic VR productions have tackled civilian bombing in Syria, the use of force by US border police that led to the homicide of undocumented migrant Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, and the tragic shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin by neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. 

De la Pena has won the i-3 award at the 2016 Mirror Awards, which honour excellence in media reporting. To follow her work, visit

Image courtesy of Emblematic Group

Last updated: 10th of August, 2016

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