The Other Side is an afterlife VR experience for you to experience an intimate memory of your loved ones. Instead of cold tombstones or unpersonalized cemetery plots, we provide an immersive VR experience in which visitors can feel presence and peace. Participants put on a VR headset and go on a multi-sensory walk with a deceased loved one. The Other Side is the result of a one week Immersive Experiences course at CIID taught by Joshua Walton, and James Tichenor. The project is completed with Anoushka Garg, Bora Kim, and Stephanie Lee. My role included conceptualization, prototyping, and 360 videography.
We were asked to use virtual reality and augmented reality to create an immersive experience. We chose to explore the space of cemeteries. In our initial ideation phase, we explored how we might create meaningful interactions between visitors and the deceased. Modern cemeteries and graveyards have static and uni-directional interactions between the visitors and the deceased. What if we can use VR to create an engaging and immersive experience for the visitor?
Since there are no pre-existing modes of interaction with VR and AR, we opted to learn from lo-fidelity prototypes. Initially, we were inspired by the idea of walking together in silence. For our first prototype, we shot a 360 video of me walking. When you watch this video in VR, it feels as if you are walking beside me.
This early prototype led to a major serendipitous discovery. As we were showing one of our early prototypes of a VR experience walking next to someone in virtual reality, a classmate shouted that someone should hold the hand of the participant in the headset. As a joke, I grabbed the participant’s hand. This small physical gesture increased the realism of the experience so much that the participant exclaimed, “This is insane!!!”.
This small discovery became a foundational part of the final experience. Similar to folly artists, we began our own senses “folly” prototypes where we mimic everything that is happening in the VR world in the real world. First, we used a heat lamp to see if we can mimic the feeling of touch. Then, we asked our participants to walk in a sandbox that mimicked a beach environment. We even introduced wafts of scent as a person approaches the participant in VR. These small lo-fi prototypes informed the foundational parts of the final experience.
In the final experience, we created a holistic service. We make a fake company with fictional marketing material. Bora acted as the receptionist who guided the participants through an orientation and meditation session before the VR experience.
In VR, the participant is transported to a beach where they wait for a deceased loved one to appear. To immerse the participant in a beach environment, we set up heat lamps, fans, and scents to mimic the feeling of being on a beach. The participant waits for their loved one to appear. Their loved one will walk toward the participant and bring his/her a rock on the beach. At this point, we drop the same rock in the participant’s hand. Then the participant’s loved one invites them for a meditative walk. In the real world, one of us mirrors the actions of the VR video and holds the hand of the participant while walking in the sandbox.
In this project, I shared equal responsibility with my teammates in the ideation and prototyping phases. I shot and edited the 360 video.
My biggest learning from this project was my impact on people as a designer. The Other Side deals with the sensitive topic of death. I went into the project without realizing the emotional impact our project could have on our participants. However, after a few of our participants exited the experience in tears, we started to realize our power and responsibilities as designers. I realized that the things that I design have a real and lasting impact on people’s lives.
Many participants consider this experience to be peaceful and rewarding. One participant told us that this was the first VR experience that made him think about his father. If I were to do this project again, I would design a exit experience that would give participants the space to reflect.