On a cold February morning, a truck sits in the middle of the plaza outside Seoul Station, catching the eyes of passerby with a host of dog images and banners.
A woman in a white Samsung Gear virtual reality headset stands on the flatbed of the truck, her head turning erratically from side to side. Inside, her eyes are fed by 360-degree views of distressed tosa and jindo dogs jammed into square cages, barking their heads off as they wait to be slaughtered and eaten by humans.
The campaign is organized by Korean Animal Rights Association and the Korean branch of Humane Society International to raise awareness of South Korea’s brutal dog farms.
“The immense suffering that dogs endure on South Korea’s dog meat farms is almost entirely hidden from public view, and misleading ideas about ‘dumb’ or ‘soulless’ dog meat dogs still abound,” reads a campaign press release. “This unique photo and VR exhibition allows citizens to see for themselves the shocking reality of the dog meat trade.”
The dog meat campaign is part of a wider virtual reality wave sweeping South Korea and encompassing organizations ranging from NGOs, to noraebang (karaoke rooms) and government agencies.
And the new demand for virtuality reality is big business: South Korea’s mushrooming VR market is set to be worth more than 5 trillion won (about $4.6 billion) by 2020 according to Korea VR AR Industry Association.
South Korean noraebang chain MnStar has developed Sing VR, software that can be installed on traditional karaoke machines to provide a full VR experience for the nation’s myriad crooners. MnStar launched its VR noraebang business in early 2016. As of February 2018, it has more than 40 stores nationwide according to company CEO Kwon Jun-eon.
“It’s quite recent that the concept of virtual reality became popular [in South Korea], but we’re expanding fast,” Kwon told Korea Exposé.
Meanwhile, public corporation Seoul Metro opened a Digital Safety Center in southern Seoul’s Banpo Station on Feb. 9, teaching students and citizens what to do in the event of a subway disaster. Visitors put on VR goggles and learn how to deal with an underground blaze by performing tasks ranging from reporting and extinguishing the fire to donning emergency masks and, finally, escaping the station.
Opening on Feb. 9, Pyeongchang Winter Olympics offer the perfect opportunity to step into the world of VR technology. Intel will be capturing a record 30 Olympic events in 360 degrees, providing both live streaming and video-on-demand content using its own technology, while NBC is also offering VR streaming to users of certain headsets.
With its almost limitless range of applications, from consciousness raising to public education and entertainment, VR looks set to continue on its vertiginous growth trajectory.
Cover image: A woman watches VR footage of dog farms on a truck in central Seoul. (Juwon Park/Korea Exposé)