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Technology & Innovation

This AR app from the Red Cross shows you the horrors of war firsthand

‘Enter the room’ is a rare case of an augmented reality app that could genuinely make the world a better place. Read our review here.
A scene from the Red Cross' 'Enter the Room' AR app. (Credit: ICRC, Big Think)

I’ll start this review off by saying the following: you should download this app. It’s an important release, I’d go as far as to say a landmark release, if only to give some context to the stories of war we hear every single day. It’s very easy to forget that “x amount of civilians were killed” really means “many people with life, love, laughter, and families of their own” died. This app, perhaps better than any other app, does an incredible job of reminding you just how numb we are to these casualties. 

The app experience lasts about four minutes or so, and takes place entirely in the bedroom of a young girl (who you don’t see) in a non-specific war zone (that you can only hear… although if you keep your eye on the window the entire interaction you’ll be in for a literal shock). Each chapter, so to speak, is a year in the story. And you’re shown just how much can change. 

Try to find a bright area with a lot of space. I tried it out in a coffee shop. 

You have limited interactions with the surroundings, but you’ll be missing a lot of the story if you just stay put. The detail is spectacular: if you turn around to your right you’ll notice a height chart on a colorful giraffe. 

Try to explore as much as you can in the first chapter, as it makes the ending all the more horrifying. For my third time through the app I paid attention to the child’s drawings, which tell more of the story from her angle: 

The International Committee of the Red Cross—or ICRC if you’re into acronyms—put it together to highlight how real lives can get lost in the news cycle. ICRC’s Digital Content Manager Ariel Rubin had this to say about it

“We spend our lives on our smartphones, walking around with our eyes glued to them. There is something incredibly moving about mapping this virtual reality onto our actual reality—and within that creating a narrative that tells a real story. It is easy to get lost in the numbers and forget that each and every number represents a human being. Many of them are children who see their bedrooms, homes, their childhoods be totally destroyed by war. Our hope is that the AR app will help connect people to this reality that millions of people are facing every day in their cities.”

By the end of the experience, you’ll see that the once bright and sunny bedroom has been turned into a (hate to sound like an interior decorator here given the context but) drab and miserable war zone. It might make you think about your own childhood bedroom, and how lucky you were to not grow up in a conflict area. And to that end, Enter the room does its job masterfully. Full disclosure: one of the baristas where I tried this out wanted to try it after he saw me walking around the store. His first reaction: “Shit, what if this was my kid?” 

This kind of AR technology could close the disconnect between conflict zones and the rest of the world. For too long we’ve been shielded from the horrors of war. With this app, which is available for free, and about five minutes of your time, you can experience something quite moving and profound that just might improve altruism—and give much-needed empathy—towards those who need it most. 

To transform that empathy into real action, take your lead from poker champion Liv Boeree:


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