February 14, 2020 / 11:30 AM / 15 days ago

South Korean mother given tearful VR reunion with deceased daughter

SEOUL (Reuters) - Wearing virtual reality goggles, Jang Ji-sung burst into tears as her 7-year-old daughter, Na-yeon, emerged from behind piles of wood in a neighborhood park, her playground until she died from blood-related diseases three years ago.

“Mom, where have you been? Have you been thinking of me?” Na-yeon said, prompting a choked-up Jang to reply: “Always.”

Jang tried to reach closer, only to see her hands penetrate the virtual figure wearing her daughter’s favorite violet dress and carrying a pink purse featuring Elsa and Anna, sisters from Disney’s animated musical “Frozen”.

“I really want to touch you just once,” Jang said, her voice and hands quivering. “I really missed you.”

The tearful reunion, aired last week in a documentary by South Korean broadcaster MBC, was made possible by virtual reality (VR) technology which embodied Na-yeon in a digital avatar modeled upon a child actor using photos and memories from her mother.

The documentary, entitled “Meeting You”, struck a chord with many South Koreans while highlighting the growing scope of the new technology beyond gaming.

“People would often think that technology is something that’s cold. We decided to participate to see if technology can comfort and warm your heart when it is used for people,” said Lee Hyun-suk, director of the Seoul-based VIVE Studios, who led the project.

Slideshow (6 Images)

Kim Jong-woo, who produced the documentary, said he focused on “remembering” Na-yeon instead of recreating her, so Jang and her family would feel as if her daughter had lived on.

For Jang, her last wish was to tell Na-yeon she loved her and has never forgotten her.

“It’s heartbreaking that her time has stopped at the age of 7,” Jang said, with a faint smile. “But I was so happy to see her that way.”

Reporting by Minwoo Park and Dogyun Kim; Writing by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Giles Elgood

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