when we die

When We Die is a virtual reality experience that guides users through the process of contemplating their own mortality and presents points of view that may not previously have been considered around the subject.

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The ability to contemplate our finite existence is a fundamental part of the human experience, but we rarely reflect on it in our daily lives until it is often too late or under traumatic circumstances. This is particularly apparent in Western culture where death has been largely removed from modern life and when apparent, is an intensely medical process.

Granted, it is uncomfortable to acknowledge our eventual nonexistence, our vulnerability and fragility, and the idea that all that we have in this world – material and immaterial – will be lost. However, if we are able to confront the idea of our mortality more often, perhaps it can be motivating, even clarifying. It can help us focus on the things that are truly important to us, as well as prepare for when the inevitable occurs.

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 scene 2.


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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.

Category: Virtual Reality (VR), Unity, programming

Date: December 2016

Toolkits: Unity, Oculus Rift 

Collaborators: Dana Abrassart, Leslie Ruckman