A growing number of people are putting virtual reality (VR) headsets in the metaverse to talk through deep pain in their lives.
A recent Ipsos study on the opinion the “metaverse is for people like me” shows what they called a worrisome trend. The study says people who struggle with identity in real world find the metaverse a safer place to be themselves.
“This is one of the more interesting and potentially troubling findings in the survey,” said Ipsos.
Consisting of innovative technology, social media, online communities, NFTs, blockchain technology and Web3 integrations, the metaverse seems to be gaining more popularity within the cyber community.
Apart from leisure and entertainment, gaming, travel and tourism – there is now a growing community that finds solace in the metaverse.
Also read: Nick Cave Is Very Upset with ChatGPT Song
Of late, people have shifted to virtual worlds to find solace for their grief or to discuss supposedly “taboo” subjects. Traditional online communities that used to rely on chatrooms and texts are slowly being replaced by metaverse communities that are taking advantage of the developments in virtual reality.
Death Q&A community
A weekly hour-long session built around grappling with mortality, Death Q&A is a virtual community where attendees often open up about experiences and feelings they’ve shared with no one else. According to Hana Kiros, the metaverse has proven to be instrumental in connecting people despite their differences, whilst creating a safe space for one to be vulnerable. Kiros had the opportunity to interview a recently widowed Claire Matte, who ended up using VR as her go to grief counselling community soon after her husband passed on.
According to Kiros, Death Q&A is a virtual destination where conversations can veer off from the abstract to the incredibly intimate, built around grappling with mortality, where attendees often open up about experiences and feelings they have shared with no one else.
Despite the misconception they are just for gaming, more people like Claire Matte are joining virtual communities to talk about their grief and complex social issues that usually create tension in face to face experiences.
“These relationships that we make in VR can become very intimate and deep and vulnerable,” says Tom Nickel, a 73-year-old former hospice volunteer who runs the virtual meetups with co-host Ryan Astheimer.
Comfortable with strangers
Soon after she learned how soon her husband would die of cancer, Matte attended her first Death Q&A.
“Those people, I could tell how long he had left,” she said. After sharing her story, another attendee described how they had grieved and recovered from losing their spouse.
Kiros says this is one of the most striking things about Death Q&A – sharing and inspiring the next person with an experience similar to them, who actually understand what they are going through.
A shoulder to lean on in the metaverse
“I knew by the end of it I was going to attend these meetups every Tuesday at one o’clock Eastern,” said Matte who shares the same sentiments with many others who are finding a shoulder to lean on in the metaverse.
Matte also met 38-year-old Kenyan, Paul Waiyaki at Death Q&A. She now calls him one of her closest friends.
Waiyaki says he did not allow himself to process the death of his sister due to societal norms, until he did through VR.
“Men in my society can’t be seen breaking down,” he explains.
“At Death Q&A, I was able to put the baggage down. I was able to mourn and cry the tears I hadn’t cried before. It hurt to, but I could feel a wound heal as I did.”
According to The Pew Research Center 54% of tech experts say that by 2040 the metaverse will be a fully-immersive platform, expected to be used by more than 500 million users daily.
“Bright cartoon-like avatars represent the dozen or so people who attend each meetup, freed by VR’s combination of anonymity and togetherness to engage strangers with an earnestness we typically reserve for rare moments, if we reveal it at all,” wrote Kiros.
Feeling of true presence
But Death Q&A has managed to provide the much needed relief. Death Q&A and another similar session – Saying Goodbye, focused on loss and make up 40 or so live events offered by EvolVR, a virtual spiritual community that was founded by Tom Nickel’s son Jeremy in 2017.
Nickel was looking for ways to minister, untethered to the conventions of mainstream religion, when he first tried on a VR headset in 2015.
He left the physical pulpit to host live group meditations in VR before Covid 19 started, creating more scope for virtual counseling sessions.
That feeling of true presence, as if avatars were really sharing a room together, convinced him that a spiritual community could form among people wearing headsets.
“The lightbulb went off in my head—people feel like they’re really together in VR,” Jeremy says.