South Korea's Unification Ministry launched a DMZ metaverse platform Thursday, allowing visitors to visit virtual locations inside the buffer zone between the two Koreas. Image courtesy of South Korea Unification Ministry
SEOUL, March 31 (UPI) -- The South Korean government on Thursday launched a metaverse version of the DMZ, allowing visitors to take a virtual tour of some of the landmarks of the heavily fortified buffer zone that has separated the two Koreas for almost 70 years.
The demilitarized zone metaverse "expand[s] the real experience of the DMZ with personalized avatars and immersive technology," South Korea's Unification Ministry, which developed the platform, said in a statement.
The web-based site is a "public collaboration and communication platform that transcends time and space constraints," the ministry said.
Users can move through 3D versions of real-life locations in the DMZ, such as the blue U.N. buildings of Panmunjom truce village and a border observatory that offers views of North Korea's Mount Kumgang.
South Korea's first real-life DMZ Peace Trail, which opened in Goseong in April 2019, can also be explored virtually, including a faithful recreation of an excavator that was damaged by a landmine.
During a period of renewed diplomacy with North Korea in 2018 and 2019, South Korea made a strong push to rebrand the DMZ, long seen as a barbed wire-topped symbol of hostility, into a "peace tourism" destination.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has kept most of the DMZ sites closed to the public for most of the last two years. Relations with North Korea are also at a low ebb, with Pyongyang launching its first ICBM since 2017 last week and concerns growing that a nuclear test may be on the way.
"It's not easy for the public to visit the DMZ," a Unification Ministry official told UPI, citing travel times and lengthy application procedures. "We created this metaverse platform to help enhance people's understanding of the DMZ."
Libraries of information on the history and ecology of the 160 mile-long, 2.5 mile-wide strip of land are also accessible inside the platform.
South Korea is leaning heavily into the metaverse -- a catchall concept for an immersive, shared digital realm that users navigate as personalized avatars -- as a key driver of future economic growth.
In February, the country's Ministry of Science and ICT announced a $183 million investment to create a "national metaverse ecosystem" by nurturing expertise, supporting local companies and developing legal frameworks for the nascent technology.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government also unveiled plans last November to become the first major city to enter the metaverse, with a five-year roadmap for rolling out a virtual platform of government services, business, tourism and culture.
The city kicked off the project by ringing in 2022 with a virtual New Year's Eve ceremony inside the metaverse.