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27 October 2021

Students explore virtual reality as a tool in conflict prevention

Can virtual reality be used as a successful advocacy tool to raise awareness of global challenges? War Studies staff and PhD students got to find out last week when they took part in a virtual reality (VR) experience that transported them to northern Iraq to hear from victims of the Yazidi Genocide.

Historian Tom Holland testing out the virtual reality experience

Hosted at the Department of War Studies by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, the experience was part of the Nobody’s Listening campaign. This fresh approach to advocacy in partnership with Yazda, a multi-national Yazidi global organisation, aims to raise awareness about the genocidal campaign led by the self-declared Islamic State (ISIS) against the Yazidi people.

Using a blend of 360° documentary filmmaking, Yazidi artwork and the latest virtual reality technology, participants were taken to the Kocho village in Sinjar, northern Iraq. Beginning in the homes of a Yazidi family, the VR experience took students and staff through the initial ISIS attack, before enabling users to branch off into individuals’ storylines, including a young woman abducted and sexually enslaved by ISIS, her brother who survived a massacre, and an ISIS fighter who attacked the village.

Commencing in August 2014, ISIS invaded the Yazidi regions of northern Iraq, systematically killing any Yazidi men and boys over the age of 12 who refused to convert to Islam. Those who converted and were over the age of seven were indoctrinated and forced to commit attacks against their own community, killing older women and sexually enslaving women and girls as young as nine.

Nobody’s Listening brings this tragedy and the lived experiences of the Yazidi community to life for international audiences, allowing participants to get a glimpse at the reality of those who suffered at the hands of ISIS.

Nobody’s Listening uses virtual reality technology to refocus attention back on the threat still posed by ISIS, the ongoing plight of survivors and affected communities, and to amplify their calls for justice and recognition for the genocide."

Ryan D'Souza, Curator and Co-Founder

Alongside students and staff, the Department invited award-winning historian and broadcaster Tom Holland to participate in the VR experience. Holland had witnessed some of the devastation committed by ISIS in Iraq when creating the Channel 4 documentary Isis: The Origins of Violence.

He commented, "I think what that VR does brilliantly is to transport you into the heart of what happened, it makes you understand the scale of it, it gives you a sense of the personal tragedy."

The team at Nobody’s Listening hope that virtual reality technology can be used in the future as an effective advocacy tool in conflict and terrorism prevention.

“This has the potential to be a peacebuilding tool that not only increases awareness of the genocide but can also support counter extremism and atrocity prevention efforts,” said Ryan D’Souza.

Alongside private showings, Ryan D'Souza and VR Director Mary Matheson have established a touring exhibition for the public that is currently in Karlsruhe, Germany until September 2022. To find out more about the experience visit their website

The Department of War Studies are hoping to collaborate with Nobody’s Listening on another virtual reality event in the future so more staff, students and alumni can learn from this immersive experience. Keep an eye on the War Studies event page for further communications on this and more opportunities from world-leading experts.