Inside Metaverse Dating That Lets People Share About Death, Grief, and Pain
The pandemic has created particularly fertile ground for complicated grief. The funeral is meant to start the process of integrating the loss into our new reality, but for two years, “we couldn’t be together to hug and cry and sob,” she says. Lister thinks living through the pandemic has actually left people more avoid discussing death.
To explain the promise of treating grief in virtual reality, Lister paraphrases the wisdom of Mr. Rogers: “What is mentionable is manageable”. When avatars drop into Death Q&A, “what these people are doing is having an experience where they’re putting into words what’s deeply, deeply painful inside of them,” Lister says, turning raw torment into something achievable.
Social isolation makes it more likely that the loss will turn into complicated grief. But mourning invites distance. Everyday conversation can seem unbearably mundane when your loss is so much more piercing, but “after a while people don’t want to hear it anymore because they can’t fix it for you,” says Nickel. Death Q&A extends a mic to this pain and provides an enthusiastic audience; Lister says this community is great for promoting a healthy progression through grief.
A VR support group might be a better fit for you than a traditional group because “there is protection,” she says. “You can control what is seen on you.” Sharing via avatar, with people you’ll never see again, creates a digital veil that frees people to be incredibly honest and vulnerable.
Indeed, it echoes how Matte describes his VR experiences. “I came to say pretty bad things in a neutral voice, and often [Nickel] would say – ‘Whoa, you know, let’s stay with this for a while,’” Matte says, noting how Ted was afraid of being a burden. “Some days, I really don’t know how I managed without walking around the house yelling all the time…so I was like, Pull yourself together.” Broadcasting her devastation in virtual reality helped her focus on making her death as comfortable as possible.
In 2021, Jeremy Nickel felt his nonprofit had reached an inflection point. EvolVR says 40,000 people have attended its events since 2017. At that point, “we can either stay this nice little thing that serves a few hundred people,” he thought, or “we could do a play and try to share that with a lot more.
He chose to create spaces where people can practice this new way of grieving and processing in large numbers.
In February 2022, he sold EvolVR to Los Angeles-based TRIPP for an undisclosed amount. TRIPP, which raised more than $11 million in funding from backers including Amazon the previous year, has been offering VR-guided meditations since 2017; the sessions get people to do things like visualize their breath as stardust, moving in and out at the ideal rhythm for meditation.