While the funeral industry isn’t particularly known for being inventive and high-tech-minded, some companies decide to swim against the conventional current. Beijing’s biggest funeral home, named Babaoshan, is among those. They held an open house where visitors experienced death and the afterlife through virtual reality.
There’s a shift taking place in the industry of death. For example, we have the AI Replika application. It “clones and mimics” you through conversation, so relatives can talk to you when you’re dead. Also, the world’s first digital and interactive tombstone appeared in Slovenia last year. And don’t forget the opportunity to have your ashes 3D printed into ceramic objects and jewelry. Death is a booming business. That doesn’t come as a big surprise, since our population keeps growing at a high pace and people (eventually) die. Sorry to bring you this slashing news.
Back to Beijing’s funeral home and their VR guide. This virtual experience first handedly shows you the process of dying and also gives you a glance at what normally takes place behind closed doors. The experience starts with a seizure at the workplace, after which you’re hospitalized. You’re expected to die soon, and exhale your last breath in presence of your loved ones. Fasten your seatbelts, because this is where the freaky and grisly aspects are introduced…
Before reaching afterlife, displayed as pavilions and pagodas in the sky, there is a five-minute VR tour of the various procedures a deceased one endures. This includes the delivery and storage of the body in a morgue, cosmetic preparation, memorial ceremony, cremation and the funeral itself. Now that’s what you call a true out of body experience.
Why would a funeral home provide an immersive and macabre experience like this?
Babaoshan holds an annual open house event to anyone who wishes to see their interior, features and ongoing procedures. For previous years, the visitors were given a 30-minute tour by an employee. This year, the funeral home was looking for a less time consuming investment, while also exploring death and dying in a new way.
Death is not a popular topic to discuss and certainly not something you address while having a romantic dinner. Yes, death is a mysterious and grisly thing. But that doesn’t give you an excuse to avoid the subject and leave your loved ones in doubt about the way your memorial and funeral should be. This confronting VR experience emphasizes the fact that we’re all mortal and makes us think about our own way of saying goodbye.
Quite frankly, this project gives us the creeps. Meanwhile we also appreciate the ability to make people think about their own deaths on such an emotional level.
Photos by Yang Haodong.