Christoph Hanger of the International Committee of the Red Cross prepares a virtual reality headset. Photo: Kaveh Waddell/Axios

A haunting choose-your-own-adventure, set in a modest Syrian home and rendered in immersive virtual reality, is the latest product from a humanitarian organization desperate to remind the world of the harms of urban warfare.

Why it matters: Syria’s seven-year-long civil war has killed roughly half a million civilians, and it’s just one of many ongoing conflicts that are lost in the wash of daily headlines. With new storytelling formats, aid organizations hope to ignite empathy in faraway viewers — and perhaps stoke some generosity.

The details: The new VR experience comes from the International Committee of the Red Cross, a relief organization that works in war zones. It was funded by a $200,000 grant from Google, the company behind the Daydream VR platform the experience is built for.

The story is short — it takes only minutes to play through — but it stayed with me long after I removed a clunky white VR headset last week. The potentially upsetting experience is described here. If you’d rather see it yourself, it’s available for iOS and Android, but requires a Google Cardboard headset.

  • The viewer is in the center of a small family room at night. A father prepares tea on a stove while a mother sits reading with two daughters on the ground. Faint gunfire and explosions are heard outside.
  • All of a sudden, as the father passes in front of a window, he's shot through the shoulder. He falls to the ground, shirt blooming red, as his family gathers panicked around him. The action stops and the viewer is presented with a choice: run or hide.
  • Neither ends well. Choose to hide, as I did first, and gunmen soon burst into the house and point large assault rifles at the injured man, who has not yet crawled into the cupboard.
  • Having failed, the viewer can rewind and choose the alternative. In it, the family runs out of the house through the kitchen. Gunfire rings out and the two daughters return alone to huddle in the corner of the room.

"You're part of the decision-making process, but it doesn't matter what you do," says Christoph Hanger, a spokesperson for the ICRC. "There is no choice that's going to lead you in a good direction."

  • The organization's message: "When you have conflict, choices get reduced, and that strips dignity away from people."
  • The world inside the viewer drew me in so quickly that within seconds of starting the film, I kicked over a bottle of water I’d just placed on the ground.
  • The United Nations has been using VR for storytelling since 2015, but the ICRC says this film is the first interactive experience from a humanitarian organization.

What’s next: The ICRC will show the interactive film to people on the street in the U.S. and Europe to gauge its impact. They will also use it as an advocacy and fundraising tool, with plans to show it to U.K. parliamentarians to prod for action and donations.

Go deeper

Scoop: Instacart raises another $100 million

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios Visuals

Grocery delivery company Instacart has raised $100 million in new funding, on top of the $225 million it announced last month, the company tells Axios. This brings its valuation to $13.8 billion.

Why it matters: This funding comes at what could be an inflection point for Instacart, as customers it acquired during coronavirus lockdowns decide whether they want to continue with the service or resume in-person grocery shopping.

Updated 21 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 a.m. ET: 10,902,347 — Total deaths: 521,940 — Total recoveries — 5,777,662Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 a.m. ET: 2,739,879 — Total deaths: 128,740 — Total recoveries: 781,970 — Total tested: 33,462,181Map.
  3. Public health: The states where face coverings are mandatory Regeneron stops trial after drug fails to help patientsWhat we know about the coronavirus immune response — Fauci says it has been a "very disturbing week" for the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S.
  4. Business: Top business leaders urge the White House to develop mandatory mask guidelines.
  5. Politics: Herman Cain hospitalized for COVID-19 after attending Trump Tulsa rally — Biden downplays jobs number, rebukes Trump for ignoring health crisis.
  6. Economy: The economy may recover just quickly enough to kill political interest in more stimulus.
  7. States: Texas mandates face masks in public spaces Florida reports more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases, and its most-infected county issues curfew.

Markets swell as the economy shrinks

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The economy is sputtering, but the markets are thriving — a highly unusual event that shows how the coronavirus has thrown all bets off.

Why it matters: The disconnect adds to the wealth gap. The richest 10% of households — who own 84% of stocks — are getting richer, while millions of out-of-work Americans cross their fingers that pandemic unemployment benefits will be extended.