War Remains, an immersive virtual reality experience at The National World War I Museum and Memorial will take back the museum visitors to the bloody trenches of World War I. The experience is set during the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele, where about 450,000 Allied and German soldiers were killed, wounded, or went missing outside the Belgian city of Ypres.
After putting on the VR goggles, the visitors enter the apocalyptic scene and walk through a web of trenches lit by distant fires, explosions, and an occasional flare overhead. You can witness the Earth around you destroyed by artillery fire, limbs hanging into the trench, along with a fiery night sky.
“What VR can do is fool your lizard brain,” said podcast producer Dan Carlin, who will be narrating the experience. “It can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up even though your conscious brain knows that this isn’t real. The combination of all those things together seemed like a likely place to recreate a nightmare.”
“We designed this experience to use technology to provide an added layer of what we’d like to call empathy amplification, a chance to get a little deeper into the story than the previous tools available to most of us [such as books, movies, podcasts, etc.] have allowed for,” Carlin stated.
War Remains is unlike any conventional war movie or video game. Instead, it is a thrilling, physical recreation of the World War I trench system seen through VR headsets at the museum in Kansas City, Missouri.
“Shell shock was a real thing, and, as we all know, concussions are a real thing,” said the overall director, Brandon Oldenburg. “Those sorts of things had lasting, dramatically tragic effects on those who survived the war. That vibration simulates what it was like being adjacent to an explosion that was happening all around you.”
Nevertheless, the experience does aim to take you back to the war trenches like never before. Still, it doesn’t cross the fine line between showing the brutality of the Western Front and traumatizing the visitors through the experience.
“It is taken to the extremities and limits of gore, but that is doing honor to those who experienced it,” Oldenburg said. “Had there been a WWI veteran that we could have put through this, I would have been embarrassed because I know we still didn’t reach the levels of extremities of how horrific it was. But we got it as close as we could without people leaving this thing fully traumatized.”
Oldenburg also reinstated that visitors would always have the option to take off their goggles and go home.
“There have been times with the press and others where we’ve observed people go through, and the moment they see a rat they’re like ‘I’m done, I’m leaving,’” Oldenburg said.
Irrespective of your liking for the sheer amount of realism the experience has on offer, War Remains is undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revisit the century-old war. The physical exhibit opens on May 27, and for those who cannot make it to the museum in person, there is a home edition of War Remains that can be accessed using a VR headset.
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