When We Die
When We Die is a virtual reality experience intended to help participants broach one of the most difficult and still taboo topics in modern western society - the end of life. Leveraging the medium's isolating and self-reflective nature, the experience guides users through the process of contemplating their own mortality and the process of dying.
The acknowledgement of death is a fundamental part of the human experience, but we rarely reflect on it in our daily lives until the unthinkable happens.This is particularly apparent in Western culture where death has been largely removed from modern life and when visible, is often an intensely medical process.
Admittedly, it can be uncomfortable to acknowledge our eventual nonexistence, our vulnerability, our fragility, and the idea that all that we have in this world – material and immaterial – will be lost. However, if we give death our attention, even momentarily, it can be motivating. It can help us focus on the things that are truly important, as well as prepare us for when the inevitable happens.
PART 1: CONFRONTING THE SELF
A guided mediation asks users to open themselves to the idea of their nonexistence using the analogy of a tree cycling through seasons. The imagery consists of an open field with a single tree in the foreground and takes on the style of a color film negative. In other words, a world that is both familiar and dissimilar to their own. The world cycles from night, into day, and then back into night. As the meditation brings the user back to their awareness, the world transitions to part two.
PART 2: OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVES
The user is transported to a colorful night sky above and a calm and reflective ocean of water below. In the sky are glowing, rotating shapes. An audio cue informs the users that they may select from different audio clips by holding their gaze momentarily over the shapes. The audio clips are snippets from our interviews with our experts, Stephanie Hope, RN, BSN & Gayatri Devi, MD.
Crossfader Magazine: What 'VR' gets wrong about reality, virtual or otherwise
Harvard Divinity School - Demo: Expand Consciousness via Contemplative Practice
HDS News & Events: Bringing Consciousness to Virtual Reality
TOOLS: Unity 3D, Oculus Rift, Virtual Reality
ROLE: Ideation, Experience Design, UX/UI, Programming
COLLABORATORS: Leslie Ruckman, Paula Ceballos
When We Die started with the intention of creating a safe space for hard conversations. The team originally wanted to create this around sexual education, but after a friend of Paula's died unexpectedly, we decided to pivot the project around death and how it's usually addressed (or not) in the western world.
It started with a conversation around a lecture I had attended a couple of years back that involved terminally-ill patients using psychedelics in order to come to terms with their own mortality. During the lecture, it was mentioned how many of these patients would come for a single session and that they expressed having ‘spiritual’ experiences during the sessions. Many of them cited feelings of relief and said they felt as though they had come to terms on some level with their impending death.
From there, we knew we wanted to explore the concept of Dying in a Western World. We spoke to Stephanie Hope, who’s a trained nurse in hospice and end-of-life. After speaking with her, we were all very touched about the way she spoke about death, and decided to do a guided meditation on mortality and dying.
Special Thanks to Dr. Gayatri Devi and Stephanie Hope, RN