When making any sort of media related to a recent national tragedy, it should be expected that not everyone will be pleased with the outcome. Which is why it’s perhaps not too surprising that some people aren’t happy with the creation of a virtual reality experience based around the attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11 2001 — even if the creators were going for something empathetic.
For many, the problem seems to stem from the fact that the VR scenario is being called a game, but just as many would argue digital titles like Dear Esther aren’t games, but interactive stories, this experience isn’t designed to be fun. 8:46, as the VR experience is called, is a linear narrative of the morning of the attack and the final moments of an office worker thrust into a hopeless and terrifying situation.
While everyone is likely to have their own reaction to the events that take place in the experience, I found it horrifying in its ability to show even a sliver of what it must have been like for the poor souls forced to live through it in the real world.
That’s something that a lot of people believe is one of the biggest advantages of VR — it can allow people to see events through other people’s eyes. Of course there is plenty of room for exploitation in the creation of experiences like 8:46, but there is also plenty of room for exploitation in the reporting of them, too.
This is a demonstration — for those that want it — of what it might have been like to survive for a time in one of the most terrifying scenarios imaginable. While graphically basic and clunky, it’s harrowing in its own way. Just as we watched movies like United 93 a mere five years after the events of 9/11 and consider it an opportunity to empathize with those that experienced it, virtual reality deserves just as much artistic leeway.
It’s also worth pointing out that this experience was released on the Oculus Share platform almost two months ago. If it was as terrible as some publications are making out, the Facebook owned Oculus would likely have had it removed a long time ago.