Uncharted Territory: VR Reunites the Deceased with Those they Left Behind
There is neither rhyme nor reason when it comes to losing a loved one. But, what if you got a second chance to reunite with them, would you take it?
South Korea’s leading media and entertainment companies, Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation and Vive Studios, made the inconceivable possible when they unified a grieving mother Jang Ji-Sung and her 7-year old daughter Nayeon who succumbed to a rare incurable disease three years ago. The short documentary entitled, Meeting You, takes us on a bittersweet walk down memory lane as they relive and celebrate the little girl’s birthday. Not only did this encounter bring the family to tears, but also the world.
The short documentary entitled, Meeting You, takes us on a bittersweet walk down memory lane…
Through the collective power of motion capture technology, photogrammetry, and virtual reality, they were able to simulate a digitized version of Nayeon including her actual voice, facial features, and the park where they have created many beautiful memories together. While it was narrated in Korean, the language of love expressed in every frame gave the audience an emotional journey universally shared and understood by everyone. From the moment Jang heard and saw her daughter joyfully rushing towards her, tears instantly gushed down her face. Naeyon asked where her mother was all this time and how much she missed her. Seeing the playful, healthy, and lovely Nayeon gleefully back in her mother’s arms almost feels too real.
The reconciliation designed to be interactive makes it more heart-wrenching, allowing them to have a conversation through the use of Artificial Intelligence and at the same time using smart gloves to “caress and hold” her daughter once again. As we course through the story, Nayeon takes her mother to her festive new home and an intimate birthday party where they celebrated and shared a meal together. Incorporating small and vivid details such as Nayeon’s favorite honey-filled rice cakes and seaweed soup, singing the birthday song, lighting the candles, and Nayeon capturing the moment not only exhibited the purest familial love but also the creativity and justice that the storytellers put into it. The story wraps up as Nayeon assures her that she is cured and at peace where she is. Jang puts her to bed one last time and Nayeon drifts into the sky as a beautiful butterfly.
Potential Risks of Using this Approach
Death is an inevitable part of our lives and there are no right or wrong ways to cope with the grief and loss it brings. Virtual reality has taken the world by storm over the past years. It has transformed the way it enriches content creation and learning in different industries ranging from entertainment to education to healthcare. However, it recently defied expectations when it found a way to help those who are mourning, serving as an outlet to express their sorrows, communicate, and/or properly say their goodbyes to their dearly departed.
Since virtual reality is still a developing technology, there aren’t many, if any, imposed ethical boundaries that strictly inhibit it from being used for a particular reason or circumstance. Upon the release of this documentary, expert ethicists brought to our attention that this may pose risks or psychological damage to an individual’s psyche in the long run. It may trigger past trauma, develop a detrimental attachment to the virtual realm, and cause mental health issues that could hinder them from fully healing.
…there aren’t many, if any, imposed ethical boundaries that strictly inhibit it…
Much has to be explored and studied, but Jang’s reaction gives us comfort knowing that the experience has helped her cope to some degree. The family is not in denial about the tragedy, but sometimes, part of the grieving process is to exhaust all means and go to the extremes to find a way to alleviate the pain and say what should have been said when they were alive. This is just the beginning, but it already proves that the amalgamation of storytelling and technology could create wonders in different facets of life.