Following the murder of George Floyd, local entrepreneur Amir Berenjian and his team wanted to create a safe and accessible space to talk about some of the challenges in the Twin Cities region, including its racial equity gaps, which are among the largest in the country.
Berenjian describes what his St. Louis Park company, REM5, has created as a “virtual museum of social justice” – an exhibit in the metaverse. Similar to a computer game, users can browse a virtual gallery of information and images on their personal browser.
REM5 has worked with General Mills, HandsOn Twin Cities, the University of St. Thomas and, most recently, Target to integrate the “1 City” virtual experience. 2 Realities” to employee training since its development in 2020.
REM5 was founded in 2018 with the idea of making virtual reality technology more accessible to the masses.
The company recently launched the virtual exhibit on a new digital platform that Berenjian hopes can evolve into a simple interface for customers to create their own immersive learning and development experiences within the metaverse without help. from a developer.
“We think the metaverse, this next generation of this spatial web is a really, really powerful tool, but it’s not accessible to most people, so how do we build these tools that allow a business as a target,” he said.
“Think of it like the Wix [website design builder] for the metaverse,” he said.
A few decades ago, people needed to hire web developers to create simple blogs or websites. Now, design apps allow novices to quickly create a fully functional site.
REM5 has a physical lab in St. Louis Park where people can host events and rent time to play games using virtual reality headsets. He also owns creative agency REM5 Studios and branch REM5 For Good, which creates virtual experiences for education, corporate training and beyond.
He has used virtual reality to help with other diversity and equity trainings in the past. But in the summer of 2020, after Minneapolis became the center of a racial reckoning that swept the world, the REM5 team developed the “1 city. 2 realities” experience.
“I had all this data that was basically telling this story of Minneapolis and Minnesota and how we present ourselves as ‘pleasant Minnesota’ and the best parks and the best places to live, yada, yada, but when you start looking at the data around the wealth gaps, education gaps, incarceration rate, redlining, we’re like the bottom five,” he said.
People choose an avatar to “walk through” multiple gallery rooms with stats, photos, and videos, including painted murals across Minneapolis; a map of minority neighborhoods that have been flagged as high risk for mortgages; and 360-degree photo-spheres that allow the user to travel through George Floyd Square.
The experience is done via a web browser. REM5, which was known for its experiments with virtual reality headsets, had to adapt during the pandemic to engage users remotely without them having to wear headsets and be in the same room.
More and more companies have started dipping their toes into immersive metaverse experiences. Last week, Walmart announced that it had created a Walmart Land and Walmart game universe within metaverse gaming platform Roblox.