There have been a lot—and we do mean A LOT—of cringeworthy, ill-considered tributes to September 11th that have made us stop in our tracks. From the 8-bit videos to the UES boutique sales (and those were just this year), it's generally a bad idea to try to tie in your product with one of the worst days in American history. That doesn't mean there isn't room for actual educational and/or artistic expressions about the attack—but even so, there's no way in hell you could convince us to strap into an Oculus Rift 9/11 simulator.
The narrative-driven virtual reality project is called “[08:46]", after the time when the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. The simulator, created by a group of French university students, “makes you embody an office worker in the North Tower of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 events.” It was created based on "countless hours of research in order to try to properly recreate the atmosphere and dynamics within the top floors of the towers." And in execution, as you can see in the very nerve-wracking demo video below, it is a fucking nightmare, even if it is filled with good intentions.
Warning: the last five seconds are pretty terrifying.
Here's the full description of the simulator:
[08:46] is a narrative driven experience designed for virtual reality, which makes you embody an office worker in the North Tower of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 events, emphasizing the victims’ point of view.
Based on countless hours of research in order to try to properly recreate the atmosphere and dynamics within the top floors of the towers, [08:46] was designed and developed as a school project during three months by a six members team, working in close collaboration with two actors for mocap and voice acting.
Having put our best efforts to craft a compelling and challenging narrative experience, we now release [08:46] on the 14th anniversary of the tragedy that shaped our century.
The simulator was first released on 9/11 this year, and immediately inspired a very long and intense Reddit thread debating whether or not it is offensive. One user argued that it could be used as an educational tool, which holds up if you think that traumatic experiences can only be understood by removed recreation:
The demo was not made to make light of 9/11, or anything else, but rather show people what it was like through the medium of VR.
Do I agree with the demo's premise? Yes. A lot of people might not have been able to experience the event like most people did on that day, and this is the closest to it. It's important to know these events and how they happened, and how they effected the US. There's not a better way for that to happen then experience it through the eyes of someone who was there in VR.
Sorry if the demo did offend you, but that was not it's intended purpose.
Whether or not it's tasteless, it seems strange and off-putting to present the events of 9/11, a tragedy still fresh for millions of New Yorkers, in the form of a "game," which is at its core what the videos above and below make it look like. Games are traditionally for entertainment and fun, and approaching 9/11 through a prism of recreation is perverse.
Maybe as the VR technology develops, there will come a time when the medium doesn't feel like it's trivializing something like this. Because without a doubt, more and more developers will face questions of whether or not to virtualize historic events for people's consumption in their homes in the future—and hopefully they will be able to depict serious events without it feeling exploitative. For now though, maybe we don't need to relive 9/11 just yet—maybe parents should be able to talk to their children about 9/11 before they experience it on their own in a virtual setting devoid of context.
Warning: the video below of the simulator is very graphic at times.