Or maybe even a stranger.
“Life of Us. The story of our lives. Together.”
Imagine going into a world where you meet a stranger in the form of protozoa and experience the story of evolution together. Your bodies and voice transform as you evolve from single celled organisms to androids that make you sound like Daft Punk. Now, Sundance titans Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin are pushing the boundaries of VR once again with their VR installation Life of Us.
I found myself floating underwater with critters swimming around me. Suddenly a shy voice echoed “Hello?”. Looking around, I realized that a tiny organism was waving at me. This was the start of a beautiful friendship with the stranger who was in the next room experiencing Life of Us with me.
The Vive controllers did a great job tracking my arm movements accurately as they were transformed into fins in the virtual world. We evolved into tadpoles and the second we realized we could control our fins, we instinctively tried to high five and reach out to each other. There was a comfort of being in a virtual space that made us forget about the boundaries we put upon to strangers when it comes to physical space. You naturally develop a desire to reach out to the person in front of you and interact with them.
Curator of Sundance’s New Frontier, Shari Frilot, explains:
“When you meet someone as an avatar, you leave the vulnerability of your body, and also the unconscious bias towards others. You act differently and your conversation is different. Then when you meet them in real life, you actually start from that point, as opposed to sizing people up immediately and figuring out what you want to talk about.”
As VR is becoming a more social platform with an increase in multiplayer experiences, Life of Us demonstrated how one can form a cooperative relationship with a stranger in under 7,5 minutes. What was even more beautiful to see was these strangers embracing each other once they came out of the demo rooms to meet and watch the playback of their experience projected onto a wall. The installation space was always full of laughter as spectators who had never even tried the VR piece loved watching the reactions people had.
This is by far one of the most playful experiences that came out of Within, where people shared moments of pure silliness that made even the most serious visitors bust out their robot dance moves. Co-creator Aaron Koblin states that this was Within’s first project made with Unity, so the whole thing is real time rendered, enabling the viewer to interact with the virtual environment. Although Life of Us is not a traditional game, there were a fair amount of opportunities to interact with the environment whether it be using your voice or hands with HTC Vive’s microphone and controllers.
As tadpoles, people were competing to see who could blow the biggest bubble mumbling gibberish or the more peculiar visitors who screamed their lungs out once they realized they could breath out fire as pterodactyls — people were having fun. Your voice was altered to fit each stage of the evolution as it ranged from grunts of a gorilla to the screeching voice of a dinosaur. A personal favorite of mine was when tiny monkeys started to jump on you. You could catch them and throw them at your friend, or stranger — whoever happens to be there with you to experience this story of evolution together.
Sprout limbs or embody creatures, the Within team really outdid themselves once again with Life of Us.