I recently heard a fascinating interview on the Voices of VR podcast that is relevant here: #749: Using VR Horror as Fear Resistance Training + Sound Healing & Psychedelic Culture. It focused mostly on using horror VR as a kind of shadow work. I transcribed the section where the interviewee is discussing his process of working through fear using a particular VR horror game:
Kent Bye: Last time I saw you there was this whole journey that you went on of kind of modulating your consciousness with a very specific horror game within VR. Maybe you could tell me a bit about what you were doing with Resident Evil VR and what you were experimenting with from your perspective.
Torkom Ji: Yeah, so when this game first came out I was like “Oh great, they’re making a new game. I’m never playing it! That’s just not for me. It looks bloody. It looks gory. It looks dark, dank, and scary.” And although I was at a point in VR at that time where I was all in, I had my PSVR ready to go and I was going to play this game. And so I was excited for anything on this level to come out in VR, and that’s the thing that made me go “Wow! Well, it’s going to probably be a really, really good game, so, uhhh – OK, I just bought the game and it’s downloading, great.”
So naturally the first time I booted it on was going to be with four or five of my friends, and we were going to all do it together, because I just got it, it’s downloading, and then a couple of people were like, “Dude, you got it? Let’s go do it! Let’s check this out!.” So we’re at my place, and we’re taking turns, ten minute, twenty minute increments, and [then] my guests left.
The next day I looked at my PS4, and I didn’t have any guests, but I was like, “I’m gonna do this!” And I booted the game right where we left off. It happened to be this really distinct, particular scene where you’re in this hallway and there’s all this commotion going on in the background sounds and glass windows you can’t see outside of, and the only way to advance is you have to walk down the end of this hallway and make a left at a door that has stairs that go down to a basement. And the thing is though, the light ends at about halfway down the stairs. So I’m in the headset and I’m like, “OK, I’m playing this game. Let’s do this.” I went through all the different doors that were already opened, and I said “there’s no way to advance it” and I look down that dark staircase and I made sure, I went back and checked, there’s no other way, and I came back to the staircase and I looked down at it, and I took two steps and I heard . I’ve never turned 180 and bounced out of a scene faster in my life. I went down a hallway, turned a left, and I’m back in some bedroom with a mirror next to me, and I’m like –
Kent Bye: Physically?
Torkom Ji: Yeah, and I’m literally huddling down trying to avoid this thing, and I’m like, “What am I doing right now? I’m fucking bending over, I’m a grown-ass man bending in a fake living room down a hallway from a basement I’m afraid to go down!”
Kent Bye: Oh, so you’re still in virtual reality at this point?
Torkom Ji: yeah, no, sorry, yeah, this is in virtual reality the whole time, yes. I did rip the headset off for a minute and said like, “Eff this, I’m not doing this!” So there was a definite moment where I almost just cut it. And so I brought myself to a safety point – and this is a common thing in games, where they give you one little area that’s a safe zone, where the helicopter won’t shoot you, or where the big boss can’t hit you, or – they give you this little safety room that you can go reflect on your life. And I’m in there, and I’m like – but they don’t just give it to you [in this game] there’s also screeching on the walls and stuff in that room, so even in there you’re freaking out. But I had to confront it, and I decided “No, there’s only one way to do this.” And there’s something in me that has an absolute aversion. I immediately remembered all my past experiences, whether they were with meditation, whether it was with ayahuasca, whether it was with this medicine, or that experience, or this ceremony. I immediately remembered that I had confronted things and experiences and visions way darker and deeper than this little stupid game, and this fake sound, and a dark basement. But one thing that was equally as heavy was my childhood fear of the darkness. Of taking the trash bins to the back alley because there was no lights, and zombies and ghouls coming from the hills, and ghosts who are looking at me and waiting for me by the trash bins. So that’s something I had to confront, and I did, but later with psychedelics – and it was by laughing in enjoyment in a pure dark room, by feeling like I conquered this type of childhood fear that was innately inside of me that I realized was just the fear of the general unknown, let’s just say. A lot of clarity came through for me.
So with that said, I’ll zoom back in. I’m back at the staircase, round two. I’m looking down. I take a few steps. I hear the voice. I take a few steps. I’m in the darkness. I’m going down. BOOM! She’s in your face, she pops up, bloodied, this ghoulish, freakish creature! And this whole fight ensues where your heart is pounding, and you actually have to beat the scene, you have to beat the sequence of events and liberate yourself of this scene. But it hits you and it doesn’t stop until you beat it. And so that fear and that hesitation, that rubber-band effect, being hit so hard by something you have to confront so quick and [in] such a manner, that’s so in your face and stabby, and so guttural and visceral! And it ends, immediately just stops, and all you hear and feel is your heart pounding.
And fourteen hours later I finished the game. And when I finished the game I remember putting it away and going, “Man, I am happy I played that goddamn game!” I realized “You know what, this is actually why I bought VR. This is why I got this. This just put me through an experience” – and the story kicked ass, I mean the story was solid. I really really like the story of this game. But the thing is, the feeling after of accomplishment after finishing the triathlon, or completing the physics exam with an A+, or whatever else, getting your black belt. This was like a black belt for me, where not only did I confront a lot of things that at first I was like “I’m never going to do this,” but I also found a liking to a genre that I didn’t think I ever would like, and that I had an aversion to – and that is the horror genre. And it’s lead me to explore what the horror genre is about, and all the different – it’s not just one blanket genre, there’s different types of horror that scare us in different ways. And depending on your constitution and your own innate fears and sub-consciousness, one of those or two or three of those variables will spook you in different ways – whether it’s a Lovecraftian fear of the large, grotesque unknown alien ancient cold dank primordial, massive, or whether it’s the very Victorian horror of werewolves and ghouls who are going to snatch you in the evening; but those are two very different fears, and they’re reflective of where we are at as a consciousness. So if we’re going to deal with shadow work, what safer playground than a digital one? What better one than one that you can easily rip off and shut off? What better one [than one] that tempts you with the fears of darkness? Spiders? Snakes? Ghouls? Demons? The undead? The living? The corrupt? The dark? The evil? And you get to be the one who piles through all of that in a synthesis. It’s like a Matrix booting, instead of the Akimbo Uzi training or the sword fighting, it’s one where you [boot] up the anti-fear resistance, right? The fear-resistance training.
So that’s what I turned that into. It showed me more about the horror genre than I was willing to or wanted to accept prior. And it also helped develop part of my shadow work, which has really let me step into more of a balanced approach to how I deal with things like healing, which I think has to incorporate obviously the yin and yang is a great symbol for this exact demonstration of perfect unity and balance between the yoke – yoga is yolk, egg yolk, unification – so there’s a unification that we have to seek in order to feel complete. And for me I found that I wasn’t [balanced/unified], while I was running from this thing. and for me, personally, by going through this thing, I found a little bit more unification for myself. (35:29)
The rest of the conversation is quite interesting as well.