‘DeathTolls’ VR Experience Creates Chilling Visualizations of Human Loss from Disasters Worldwide


DeathTolls VR experience is a chilling visualization of the enormity of human loss created through various violent conflicts and disasters throughout the world, and aims to help quantify this loss by presenting the user with a field of the deceased.

Death caused by war is no easy subject to broach, especially by a person who prefers the safety of a swivel chair and Oculus Rift headset over the far removed places still fraught with the emotional and physical stresses of real armed conflicts. I, like most people, have a hard time connecting to those realities, seeing them more as statistical occurrences then for what they really are. And that’s where VR steps in.

In response to this, freelance computer artist Ali Eslami designed a unique VR experience to help the user face the staggering numbers of deceased all at once, if only to overcome the cognitive hurdle of conceptualizing large numbers like 1,000; 10,000; 20,000 bodies.

deathtolls angled

We have trouble understanding and accepting mass deaths. For example, numbers like 1; 2; 14; 20; 50, are all quantities that we encounter quite frequently and therefore we’re able to rationalize them with a representative mind model.

To create the bodies seen in the experience, Eslami used a photoscan technique wherein he covered himself with a white sheet and had a friend take photos of him laying down. True to the reality of war, the experience also includes children-sized bodies.

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DeathTolls not only intends on showing the results of armed conflicts like US drone strikes in Pakistan from 2004-2015 and the Egyptian Revolution, but also human disasters like the number of migrant workers killed in the making of Qatar’s World Cup stadiums. Currently Eslami is making a new beach area to show the number of refugees killed, no doubt on their journey to Europe from war-torn Syria.

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Video overlays and informative text detailing a breakdown of the conflicts/disasters, and if that’s not bad enough, Eslami also build a ‘blood’ toggle into the experience, which we have yet to see in action (and probably don’t want to).

deathtolls menu

Video from the prototype experience looks sobering to say the least, as one can only imagine what its like getting face to face with the long rows of deceased. But DeathTolls isn’t for download just yet, as Eslami is still searching for funds to further develop the experience. He does however intend on making the project for public use “so that everyone can experience DeathTolls.

We’ll be following the development of DeathTolls, and report on any progress towards a downloadable version.

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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 3,500 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.