‘Use of Force’ virtual reality simulator lets you watch a man die

A powerful social statement made with a VR headset. 


Mike Wehner


Posted on Oct 27, 2014   Updated on May 30, 2021, 8:06 am CDT

If you’ve been keeping an eye on virtual reality applications and accessories like the Oculus Rift, you know that most virtual reality is all about immersion and realistic interaction. Use of Force is a VR experience that wants do the the opposite, by forcing you to be a silent bystander to one of the most disturbing events imaginable—a brutal, fatal beating.

The man who dies before your eyes in this virtual world is Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, a real-life Mexican migrant who was beaten and killed by U.S. border patrol agents while bystanders captured it all on their cell phones. Rojas was caught while attempting to illegally enter the United States near San Diego, and was subsequently handcuffed and hogtied while agents repeatedly beat and tasered him, despite no resistance.

Using the videos captured by ordinary citizens, journalist Nonny de la Peña created Use of Force as a way for people to relive the disturbing event. 

Using a virtual reality headset, the player is transported onto the U.S./Mexico border just before Rojas is dragged out, handcuffed, and beaten beyond what his body could endure. The viewer is given the freedom to look around a bit in order to peak through a gate and over shoulders of other witnesses, and each player is also given a virtual cellphone with which to record the beating, just like the actual witnesses did.

If this all sounds a little grim, that’s because it’s supposed to be. Unlike games (whether this is a game is a debate for another time) where players dispatch one another for a high score or praise from a virtual superior, Use of Force is designed to make the player experience a death that actually happened, and consider the reasons for Rojas’ death. De la Peña hopes that it can be used as an educational tool to raise awareness for the experience some migrants have at our borders.

“When 35-year-old Anastasio Hernandez Rojas was beaten and tasered to death by the border patrol, an incident that the San Diego coroner’s office ruled was a homicide, he was one of more than a dozen migrants who have been killed by the border patrol under questionable circumstances in the past two years,” reads the Use of Force website, adding that such events have finally caught the eye of the Department of Justice, which is reviewing how agents use force. As for De la Peña, she hopes that this will just be the first piece of “Immersive Journalism” to get people talking.

H/T Motherboard | Screencap via YouTube

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*First Published: Oct 27, 2014, 6:16 pm CDT