Virtual reality and male-on-male violence prevention: An exploratory study

Author: Stephen Hall

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 5 Aug 2024.

Hall, Stephen, 2021 Virtual reality and male-on-male violence prevention: An exploratory study, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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Male-on-male violence is a significant and persistent societal issue in Australia and was the fourth leading cause of death among young people aged 15–24 years in 2014-15 (ABS, 2015). Young male perpetrators are often strangers to the victims, and most violence occurs at a place of entertainment or recreation (ABS, 2015). Some schools and community groups run violence prevention programs; the more successful of these programs are ‘gender transformational’ addressing how young men view themselves as men – their masculinity, and the link between problematic masculinities and violence. These violence prevention programs have weaknesses that the emerging technological paradigm of Virtual Reality (VR) could help address.

In this practice-based study, I explore how a VR artefact, the Island was co-created with young males, via qualitative inquiry, and which uncovered experiences of violence, as part of a heutagological approach to address two challenges facing violence prevention programs. Firstly, fostering critical reflection in young males concerning the masculinity they hold, and secondly, safely practising non-violent responses to aggressive situations.

The Island VR experience is powerful and affective, taking participants on a journey of self-discovery, learning and challenge, through five scenes: ‘Exploring’; ‘Learning about men’; ‘Learning about de-escalation’; ‘Experiencing an aggressive situation’; and ‘Reflection’. The Island is centred on the participant and their agency to interact with the objects, the learning and the narrative. Scenes are a mixture of VR and granular branching narrative 360 film. Critical masculinity theory and transformative pedagogy underpin the Island experience.

The Island was evaluated by another group of young men to discover what and how they learned and if they felt the Island could change young men’s views of their own masculinity and, also, safely practice de-escalating an aggressive situation.

This study’s contributions are relevant to producers of VR experiences that seek to be transformational, creators of video-based learning content who wish to transition to VR, and curriculum writers of violence prevention programs and those who wish to use VR as more than a didactic learning experience.

Keywords: Violence Prevention, Virtual Reality, Heutagogy, Immersive Film, Branching Narrative, Male-on-Male Violence,

Subject: Sociology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Ben Wadham