New virtual reality ‘death simulator’ lets users see what happens to them after they die

[This short story from Firstpost reports on a potentially disturbing but thought-provoking new art installation that provides a simulated first-person experience of death. More information about the installation and the artist who created it is available from the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV)’s Melbourne Now website. A 7:08 minute video, “Facing the Fear of Death in Virtual Reality,” is available on YouTube. And information about other highlights of the Melbourne Now event, including some related to presence, is available from the Australian Arts Review and the Herald Sun. A related, earlier simulation by “Beijing’s biggest funeral parlor” is described in a 2018 story in Sixth Tone. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: Herald Sun. Credit: Sean Fennessy]

New virtual reality ‘death simulator’ lets users see what happens to them after they die

By Mehul Reuben Das
March 28, 2023

As morbid and solemn as it can be, there are some who find death very fascinating. People have often wondered what dying feels like exactly, and what happens to one’s body as they breathe for one final time.

An artist has tried to answer this question and is letting his patrons simulate death, all thanks to virtual reality. The artist’s reasoning for such a morbid project? Well, virtual reality may help put people’s fears of the afterlife to rest.

Experience death in a virtual world

Shaun Gladwell, an artist, created an immersive near-death experience that walks people through the de-escalation of life, from cardiac failure to brain death, offering them a glimpse of what might happen in their final minutes.

The simulation also includes an out-of-body experience that allows users to peer down on their deceased corpses as they hover above them.

One of the patrons of the exhibit who went through the experience took to social media and explained that when he passed out, he was laid down on a vibrating cot and saw the medics fail to revive him. He also stated that the experience could cause worry and that you can leave at any moment.

Coming back from the death

Many people have perished and returned to tell their stories, which typically include seeing a light at the end of a gloomy tunnel, hearing the voices of loved ones, and even hearing the cries of the damned.

However, once the heart ceases beating, there is no telling what faces us.

Gladwell believes that an immersive world that depicts and simulates the sensation of mortality will help people come to terms with the inevitable.

His ‘Passing Electrical Storms’ installation is on display at the Melbourne Now event in Australia, which is described as a ‘participatory XR experience with a profoundly moving, ‘out-of-body’ character.’

Participants lay on a medical bed replica, put on an XR headset, and go through heart arrest, resuscitation, mortality, and an out-of-body experience that surpasses life and planet Earth.

It’s also said to be ‘meditative and yet disturbing.’

Tech makes new art possible

Gladwell credits Leo Faber, senior producer of Factual and Culture at the ABC, as “the single individual who convinced me that the technology was at a point where it was practical to start working in the realm of VR,” thanks to a study collaboration with Deakin University’s Motion Lab.

However, the software that powers his exhibit is only the beginning of what NGV senior curator Ewan McEoin describes as a “deeply affecting experience.”

“We still think of virtual reality as a game. However, Shaun has not created a game. Critics may erroneously believe that his work is about technology. It isn’t; it’s a vehicle for producing, I believe, an incredibly poignant experience for individuals.”


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