Nostalgia in Virtual Reality, continued

One of the compelling aspects of this assignment was the potential for new technologies to intersect with newly antiquated technologies. For the main premise of my VR experience, I chose to recreate a space that now only exists in our memories and use a VHS tape that my family and I recorded in that space to populate it.

Place

The beautiful Seoul city skyline circa 1990

When I was growing up in Seoul during the early 90’s, my family lived in an apartment complex that was built to attract foreigners to invest in Korea. It was located on the southern face of Namsan, a beautiful mountain located in the middle of the city. To put this in perspective, it would be somewhat akin to the US government building a luxury highrise in the middle of Central Park to get people to be interested in moving to the States. As one could imagine, with the economic growth the Korea witnessed in the 90’s many began to wonder whether this eyesore was really necessary anymore. Thus it was decided that it would be demolished.  The demolition of the Namsan Foreigner Apartments was certainly a cause for celebration on a societal level. It meant that Korea was no longer in a position to pander to foreign interests with favors. It also meant that Seoul as a city could begin to focus on its own beautification with resources made available by its economic success.

Our apartment was on the right wing of the building.

Nonetheless, this had a strong impact on me. I was 10 when we left, and I had lived in this home longer than any other home. I felt rooted in this apartment building and I saw it collapse before my very eyes. I had moved homes previously, but seeing something so unshakeable, so concrete be completely obliterated really showed me how transient everything that surrounds us really is. This experience taught me one of my early lessons on the connection between place and memory.

Memory

Stills from a VHS tape we found from this time.

While digging around at our grandmother’s house in Hawaii, my brother found this old tape that we had sent her. After digitizing it, we found that it was full of footage of our old apartment. In addition to that we also found some of the only video footage of my father who has since passed away. Based on this rich collection of information, I began working on a VR experience that could somehow merge these various streams. The idea of revisiting my old apartment has always been compelling to me, but I knew that to try and recreate it as it was would feel unsatisfying. There needed to be a level abstraction applied to make the experience of it palatable.

What I have ended up with is a three-dimensional space that is populated with projections of this VHS tape. The result to me is a compelling recreation of a time that is gone. It is more visceral than watching the tape on a TV, and the introduction of spatial exploration makes the experience feel more tangible.

*Note: this blog post will be updated with a screencast.

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