Pierless Bridges

The Joan and Ralph Lane Center for Catholic Social Thought and the Ignatian Tradition

Volume 2: 2021 Social Analysis with Reflection

Encouraging User Action on Environmental Justice Through Virtual Environments


Inspired by Laudato Si and the Universal Apostolic Preference to show care for our Common Home, the goal of my research is to affect user action on environmental justice through the means of an online, desktop, virtual environment. In this virtual setting, users embody first-person perspective, virtual scenarios that demonstrate the effects of environmental pollution and degradation. Research has shown that by embodying people in different identities, you can change their attitudes toward others.

Although virtual, this experiential embodiment of our environmental context is core to Ignatian pedagogy. This work takes this one step further with the goal of changing users’ behavior in terms of environmental impact by embodying participants in situations that would allow them to have a direct experience of being an animal, for example, or experiencing environmental degradation in their own communities. Imagine this.

We propose a virtual environment where users see the effects of a released balloon first-hand by embodying an animal’s perspective in the ocean and ingesting and/or being entangled in the debris. The purpose of this experience is to have users change their behavior by not partaking in balloon releases and also actively educating others and encouraging them not to release balloons and other plastics into the environment. This technique encourages a comparatively low cost action for users to take, as opposed to other suggestions made to reduce individuals’ impact on the environment that may be more complicated to respond to in an immediate way, such as eating less meat or driving your car less. Participants in this virtual reality experience will learn context, experience it more deeply, reflect on what they saw and heard and felt, and will move toward a course of action and a re-evaluation of how they live in creation.

BESTE YUKSEL is a fifth-year tenured track assistant professor in the Computer Science Department at the University of San Francisco. She has created the Human-Computer Interaction teaching and research programs at USF. She is the founder and director of the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Lab, which carries out research into brain-computer interfaces and virtual reality.