Agog, Backed by Philanthropist Wendy Schmidt, Pushes XR as a Force for Good

Recently launched media institute Agog is the latest organization to recognize XR (extended reality technology including VR) as a tool for empathy and an accelerator for social change.

Co-founded by climate journalist Chip Giller and Wendy Schmidt, philanthropist, investor and Schmidt Family Foundation president, the new initiative will act as a hub, plugging producers into the non-profit sector, supporting XR creators and educational projects, and acting on the same beliefs that have animated much of this year’s NewImages presentations – that new media exposure might play a seismic role in shaping the wider world.

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“We’re at a crisis moment where facts might reinforce, but they don’t always persuade,” Giller tells Variety. “We need new forms of storytelling that can connect with people viscerally and emotionally, and immersive does just that. Feeling can be believing, and feeling can change hearts before ultimately shifting minds.”

“[Our goal is make the] field accessible, inclusive, equitable and diverse,” says Giller. “We want to inspire future XR creators to engage in the space, and we want to help social-change leaders and doers understand the potential of XR for good. And we hope that technology and media leaders see the value of investing in XR.”

With a staff of four and a roster of advisors drawing from tech, academia and media old and new, Agog offers financial and technical support to creators looking to better engage with the planet. If the institute might eventually develop projects internally, for the time being Giller and crew want to bolster education and outreach program out of the Arizona State University and MIT, as well as well as independent XR producers.

One recent beneficiary is “Forager,” a non-narrative experience that explores mycological cycles of transformation and decay, focusing on fungi to unearth deeper profundities. An earlier iteration played at the most recent edition of Venice Immersive and the BFI London Film Festival, while the producers are now updating the project with greater technological means and the expansive connections of the Schmidt family network.

While Agog is not part of the Schmidt Family Foundation, the latest venture will share a similar focus on social impact by way of systems.

“Our philanthropy is not so much palliative as transformative,” Schmidt says. “We’re trying to change systems, whether that’s with clean renewable energy, access to healthy food, and also human rights and representation of people who have been left out of our society, and it’s very important to engage with those issues using new technology.”

“[Immersive experiences like ‘Forager’] leave your mind shifted,” Schmidt continues. “You really become embodied in someone else’s reality… and that can be a huge tool for empathy. That’s the power here. We know immersive is going to be the next big thing, so we want to make sure that the tools that nonprofits can use for social good are just as good as anything that’s developed in the entertainment industry.”

“We want these tools to be central to telling stories and spurring change,” Schmidt continues. “The media world is shifting, and we want to be part of that.”

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