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A new use case for the older VR user: Dealing with death

Two virtual reality groups focused on dealing with death are attracting older adults to the metaverse
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Anyone who has spent any time in VR or a metaverse platform like Meta’s Horizon Worlds knows that most people drawn to the technology might be, say, 30 years old—if not even younger. 

But older users, some over 60, are now finding their own niche in virtual reality, according to MIT Technology Review, through Death Q&A, an hour-long sharing session about mortality that’s run by Tom Nickel, a 73-year-old former hospice volunteer.

Death Q&A and an evening session called Saying Goodbye are just two of some 40 different events offered each week by EvolVR, a company founded by Nickel’s son, Jeremy, a former minister who also hosts Saying Goodbye sessions.

Jeremy Nickel started EvolVR in 2017 and sold the company for an undisclosed amount in February 2022 to TRIPP, a Los Angeles-based company that specializes in metaverse mediation and wellness. Jeremy Nickel now works as the vice president of community and live events for the company.

Despite the sale, both Death Q&A and Saying Goodbye have continued going strong since launching in 2020. The groups started at the peak of the pandemic when many people, and especially older adults, experienced the most loneliness and isolation. They have already made an important impact for some of their regular attendees, especially those who are terminally ill or disabled.

“The lightbulb went off in my head—people feel like they’re really together in VR,” Jeremy told the outlet.

Although virtual meetings to discuss similar issues have existed for years, the VR aspect of Death Q&A’s weekly sessions allow attendees to vent about a spouse or a child’s death, their own expiry, or other issues in a more interactive space.

“These relationships that we make in VR can become very intimate and deep and vulnerable,” Tom told MIT Technology Review.

About 20% of people join in 2D through their computers, but most people join from their VR headsets. Through the headsets, participants are transported to a Buddhist temple, complete with images of a real-life graveyard that changes every week.

One participant, Claire Matte, 62, started joining the virtual conversations shortly after her husband, Ted, was given six months to live after battling cancer.

Through the weekly sessions, Matte told the outlet that she was able to better reckon with Tom’s fate, and make some friends during a dark period. 

“I don’t know what my journey would have been like without it,” she told MIT Technology Review. “But I have to envision it as much worse.”

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