Virtual Malady

Apr 25, 2016

By Will Oremus

Virtual reality has been hailed as an “empathy machine” for its ability to foment understanding by transporting people to worlds and experiences that differ from their own. The technology has also been criticized for inducing headaches and nausea.

Kudos to the creative minds at Excedrin, then, for putting two and two together in the form of “The Migraine Experience,” an augmented-reality simulator designed to, well, give people headaches—but in the name of empathy. The goal, according to Excedrin’s website: “Harnessing the power of augmented reality to bring true empathy to migraine sufferers.”

Excedrin’s simulator doesn’t actually give you a migraine, of course. It just mimics some common symptoms, such as “sensitivity to light and sound, disorientation, and aura.” Apparently, “experiencing is believing,” as Excedrin brand manager Scott Yacovino put it in a statement to Vice. Unfortunately, no app can adequately convey what it’s really like to have migraines, says Vice writer and migraine sufferer Sarah Emerson, who suggested Excedrin’s time and money might have been better spent developing treatments that actually work.

Nonetheless, the marketing campaign seems to be resonating. The YouTube video above has racked up more than 400,000 views, and a Huffington Post article about it has been shared more than 83,000 times.

That got us thinking: What other unpleasant experiences might we all better understand via virtual reality simulations?

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