#1047: Translating Threat of Nuclear Annihilation into Personal Stories in VR with “On the Morning You Wake (to the End of the World)”

On the Morning You Wake (to the End of the World) is one of the most powerful experiences I’ve seen in VR, and is also one of my favorite piece in the Sundance New Frontier 2022 selection. It tells the story of a errant emergency alert text message that was sent to 1.4 million people in Hawai‘i on January 13, 2018, which read “Emergency Alert: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” This VR piece takes us to a variety of different people in Hawai‘i providing a range of different reactions, but it ends up being a dream-like meditation on facing mortality, connecting to friends and family, and reflecting that we still live in a world where nuclear annihilation is still a reality.

This project was started when Games for Change founder Susanna Pollack reached out to Notes on Blindness producers Atlas V and Archer’s Mark to produce a VR experience on nuclear disarmament in February 2018. It was through their collaboration with Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security where Tamara Lilinoe Patton and Alexander Glaser pointed to the false ballistic missile alert in Hawaiʻi as a way to translate his normally abstracted geopolitical issue into the embodied experiences of over a million people.

Because the piece was produced remotely, then audio interviews had to be combined with actors who were acting out the actions within Dimension’s volumetric Capture Studio, and point-cloud abstractions of the landscapes of Hawai‘i. It ends feeling like a mix between an audio podcast, and a dream-like spatial exploration that immerses you into many surreal moments and reactions that people had over the course of that morning. The spoken work poem from Dr. Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio opens the piece, and ends with more of her deep reflections on this experience. It is very cinematic in it’s approach without any opportunities for direct interaction, but overall I found the piece to be really emotionally evocative and thought it used the spatial medium quite effectively to immerse us into the looming threat of nuclear annihilation

I had a chance to interview Archer’s Mark co-founder Steve Jamison (co-writer, co-producer, co-creator of On the Morning You Wake), Atlas V co-founder Pierre Zandrowicz (Creator), and Michaela Ternasky-Holland (Creative strategist & impact producer for Games for Change) on Friday, January 21st to unpack the journey and creative process of creating this piece.


This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality