The Oculus Rift is, by most accounts, the most realistic virtual reality headset ever made. It's already being used for gaming and high-budget films, and it's making inroads into exposure therapy and other forms of health and education work.
So naturally, someone built a "narrative-driven VR experience" that "makes you embody an office worker in the North Tower of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 events."
Yes, the 9/11 VR project is real. It's called "[08:46]"—the time on September 11th, 2001 when the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center—and it was developed for the Oculus Rift by a group of French university students. The Oculus app store's description reads:
"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."
Here's a YouTube promo video for [08:46]. (Warning: it's pretty startling.)
Reached on Skype, [08:46]'s creators, who are students in a video game and interactive design program in Paris, told me they never intended to offend Americans.
"It was an event that defined a generation as a whole," said Anthony Krafft, the group's creative director. "We wanted to portray an historical event as an individual event."
Krafft said that the group had gotten "a lot of positive feedback," in addition to negative comments on Hacker News and elsewhere. But he said the project's intent was to educate, not be "obscene or sensationalist."
"It was the intention to let people have their own reaction and their own point of view," he said.
You can imagine a kind of person who might find an ultra-realistic 9/11 simulator helpful, rather than panic-inducing—a teenager, for example, who is too young to remember what happened on September 11th, and wants to immerse himself in a historical event, or a first responder who wants to train for future disasters. Virtual reality could be an excellent tool for understanding and reliving historical tragedies.
But this one feels a little gratuitous, especially for those of us old enough to remember the terror of the real, non-virtual September 11th.