Mortality Game Show!

Avatar Squares: Special Death Edition

Tom Nickel
6 min readMay 1, 2022
Avatar Squares world, KayRock73, AltspaceVR

When Amy Schneider was on her Jeopardy winning streak, people paid attention. They still do, more than ever.

Game Shows are the beginning of Reality TV, although they are not generally categorized that way. We don’t want our Game Shows scripted. That’s part of their charm — the stuff that just happens when people try to figure out specific answers on the fly.

Perfect for participation lite. People in the audience can feel smarter than a celebrity, or awed by Ken Jennings.

Perfect for having fun with any topic, even death.

Perfect to continue the VR Dying Experiences — because the estimable Kristin Gee had already created a classic TV Game Show set for social VR that worked. The 9 Squares with someone inside, the big Xs and Os, the Contestants and a Host — these make it a game and my friend had them all working.

I knew the first time I saw her world that I wanted to Host an hour of fun about death. Sometimes dreams come true.

But the questions still have to be good. They have to bring some of the energy to the Game. Everything else that is live and human and spontaneous in the Show is in reaction to the questions.

The answers have to be something people could know, something that might even stir up a memory, like:

How did Bambi’s Mother die?

A fire

A hunter

A lion

A disease

Disney used a mother’s death to make kids care.

My idea was to use questions about death to let ideas in, to let thoughts and feelings come up that people might stay with and even enjoy.


Hosting is an underrated skill, at least it was for me until I started doing it on a regular basis. The point is to use a central position to help other people get involved, if they want to. The spotlight needs to keep moving, from the Host to someone else, then back and off again quickly to the next person.

Hosts have to be quick themselves and not-too-quick with others, knowing when and how to help someone stuck in their own loop to gently fade down.

Hosts should be a little funny, but not so funny it’s the main event — just funny enough to make funny ok for everyone. Even about death.


People designated as ‘celebrities’ can stay that way on Game Shows, where they are asked to be their mildly amusing selves. Even Charo.

Paul Lynde, regular Center Square panelist, 1968–1981

The Squares in our game held avatars leading the way in a new cultural space emerging in social VR. VR Meditation leaders and regular meditators — who else would you rather have as your Avatar Squares of Death?

Parisa Rose was tested on her artistic expressions of death vocabulary:

What is a poem of mourning called

An obituary

A eulogy

An elegy

A threnody

The folks in the studio audience enjoyed themselves, if the frequent emojis were any indication. Hearts and laughs and handclaps mostly. Some who joined the event may not have been fully prepared for a quiz show about death, but it wasn’t difficult to figure out and enjoy.

Even though I will treat death sometimes in a light tone, I do not treat death lightly. People needed to know in advance what they were getting into, so the whole series of Events is named , ‘VR Dying Experiences.’ When they choose to enter, they are in a lobby, not the main event. They can move in gradually.

The ethics of even raising such emotionally charged topics without being physically co-located is unexplored territory, which is why I am drawn to it.

Our total attendance was 58. Some were Squares but most sat in a theater-style area and took in a steady flow of death questions:

What is the leading cause of death in the world?


Heart disease


Auto accidents

The Avatar in Square Three chose ‘Auto accidents,’ and the Contestant disagreed, which was the correct choice.

What percentage of Americans claim to have had an NDE?





We managed to play three games in the hour, which meant six Contestants came out of the audience and became part of the show. I took that as a good sign.

I don’t really know what was in the minds of the audience members.

I do know that a friend texted me later about a well-known VR figure with a big pile of difficulties in his analog world life, a guy without much money or support who somehow found his way into VR places where he can be part of a group, make some contact, even share his stuff. This is part of what my friend texted:

It was like watching a movie with a friend pointing things out together and having silly fun. He was making comments and jokes.

I think this matters, even though it is not counted as part of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

I also think getting used to the idea of dying matters. Knowing that death is always there with me is like a gentle mandate to act, to live. My fear went way down when I saw death doesn’t take me, life does by ending. That’s why death always has to hang around.

Who died first?





Religious education, practices from multiple religions:

How long after death does Islam say to wait before burial?


7 hours

1 day

7 days

From the world of animals:

Which has the longest average life span?





The advantage of VR for exploring mortality in an appreciative way are so obvious, I’d never seen it:

Life does not tend to present death in a manner conducive to learning.

VR can. We can design experiences in virtual spaces that allow anyone to touch any aspect of death and dying as deeply as they want, knowing it is a simulation. There are plenty of emotions, but they do not tend to be as overwhelming.

Why was Socrates sentenced to death?

Criticizing the rulers

Denying the Gods

Committing a sex crime

Deserting in combat

In VR, we can parse elements of death and come up with creative ways to help people take them in, like, sometimes, a Game Show.

Great shows sometimes draw on great movies, and how could a death quiz not ask:

What method of dying is NOT mentioned by Bill Murray in Ground Hog Day?





image by David Denton

Read ‘VR Dying Sessions 1here.

I write about VR and other topics I have no standing to write about on Medium and Substack.

I have a black belt in learning and I’ve been meditating for so long you’d think I’d be enlightened but I’m not.


How did Bambi’s Mother die? A Hunter

What is a poem of mourning called? An Elegy

What is the leading cause of death in the world? Heart Disease

What percentage of Americans claim to have had an NDE? 5%–15%

Who died first? Abraham

How long after death does Islam say to wait before burial? Immediately

Which has the longest average life span? Crocodile

Why was Socrates sentenced to death? Denying the Gods

What method of dying is NOT mentioned by Bill Murray in Ground Hog Day? Quicksand



Tom Nickel

Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos