Is This VR Project A Memorial, Or An Abomination?

Photo: Enrique Pellejer/ Getty Images.
There is a new virtual reality experience, and it's about 9/11. Specifically, you play an office worker in the North Tower the morning of the attacks. If your reaction to this scenario is "Really... Really?!", you're not alone. But after talking with the project's creators, we've found it's not quite as horrible as it first sounds. 08:46, named for the time the first plane struck the North Tower in 2001, is a project developed by six students at the French school ENJMIN over the course of three months. It's a narrative-driven empathy "game," although it might be better called an experience. "We've produced 08:46 as a tribute to the victims of our generation-shaping event," Anthony Krafft, the creative director on 08:46 told Refinery29 via email. "In the team, we are all in our 20s, and 9/11, on a global scale, changed as much our social interactions as our geopolitical context." But, when you tackle an event as emotionally charged and horrific as 9/11 you can't help but invite controversy. It happened less than 15 years ago, after all. Of course, there have already been both Hollywood and documentary films around the event; perhaps it's not so surprising that gaming and VR experiences are starting to crop up. Krafft's team tried to tackle the subject with tact. The project is intended to be more of an empathic experiment than a traumatic one for viewers. He said the team worked with a lot of references, including an interview with a survivor, World Trade Center floor plans, and journalistic works (such as 102 Minutes), to be precise about the events and the human dynamics going on that day. "It was essential to us to be accurate, as we could never be obscene or sensationalist out of respect for the victims," Krafft said. The project is available now as a free download for Oculus owners. The Verge gave it a spin and found that 08:46, while noble in its intentions, "quickly starts feeling like a bizarre Call of Duty tutorial level." The 08:46 team says it has encountered a variety of "fascinating" reactions to the project since it first gained notice late last week. "We can only ensure [critics] of our sincere approach to the subject, and everyone is free to judge if we've been insensitive," Krafft said. Virtual reality has the potential to create powerful, perspective-changing experiences, but we may just stick with lighter fare, like Facebook's Henry, for the time being.

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