Transform a surreal digital environment with your own body while enhancing your well-being in this social VR experience.
With a vast majority of VR titles focused on evoking powerful emotional responses from users – whether it be excitement, anger, or even disgust – with thrilling, action-packed immersive content, it’s easy to forget that virtual reality has also proven immensely useful as a tool for mindfulness, meditation, and overall body wellness. While the isolation VR provides can serve as an excellent tool for immersing players in exciting, heart-pounding environment, that separation from reality is also an excellent solution for those looking to relieve themselves of their stressful environments and escape to a place of peaceful contemplation.
One calming VR experience in particular, EMBODY, takes that concept even further, guiding users through a one-of-a-kind cooperative journey that assists users in developing a genuine sense of physical embodiment. Designed by a team of Sundance veterans spearheaded by acclaimed new media artist Melissa Painter, EMBODY is much more than a conventional VR experience; standard VR motion controllers are replaced by pressure-sensing yoga mats which track the users weight distribution, as well as a stereoscopic camera which monitors a users pose position with detailed accuracy.
Users follow an on-screen guide throughout the experience as they attempt to mirror the movements and resting positions of their transparent instructor; the closer you match its actions, the greater the effect you’ll have on your virtual environment. For instance, one scene has users following a standard bridge pose while situated in front of a large tree; the longer you hold your balance and stick to the assigned pose, the faster the tree will grow.
Developed by MAP Design Lab in collaboration with lululemon, Whitespace, the two-person wellness-based experience was inspired by a combination of practices, from Aikido and yoga, to various forms of dance movement tradition in order to deliver a physical experience powered entirely by the human body.
“For 20 years, lululemon has been a pioneer in providing access to the practice of meditation and yoga to support mindfulness and unlock potential,” says Tom Waller, SVP of lululemon, Whitelist. “EMBODY is one recent example of how our Whitespace team is exploring new ways to reach people where they are at and expand access to tools that connect the mind and body to amplify well-being and elevate holistic health.”
“Independent studios like MAP Design Lab are having major impact on shaping the future of mixed reality,” adds Alex Kipman, Technical Fellow of Mixed Reality & AI Perception at Microsoft. “Embody is an inspirational example of this. I love how this experience gives people the freedom to roam the world, unencumbered, alongside a companion, all in the service of wellness.”
We had the opportunity to check out EMBODY ourselves and sufficed to say the experience left us in a noticeably more relaxed state upon completion. As we attempted to match the actions of our holographic guide, each performing side-by-side to one another on our own mats, we were able to measure the quality of our positioning based on how the environment changed around us. Striking proper mountain poses, for example, elevated us up a virtual mountainside littered with various 3D models of our digital instructor striking the same pose. As we continued to fall more in sync with its actions, multiple waterfalls began to erupt from various points of the mountain, signifying our progress.
Powered by Windows Mixed Reality headsets, Embody will be available for demonstration throughout Sundance.
Melissa and her team at MAP are no strangers to the Sundance circuit, having released an AR-based experience entitled HEROES on the Microsoft HoloLens during 2017’s festivities.
As immersive artists, including this prolific new media creative and her team, continue pursuing the possibilities of immersive art, we’ve begun to see the underlying potential VR/AR technology could have on future creatives. As immersive technology pushes itself further into the mainstream market, it’ll be fascinating to see what this talented team will present us with next.