Aptly named, Machine to be Another, is a creative VR experience which allows you to see and feel what it is like to be another person.
As the age old saying goes, before you judge someone, walk a mile in their shoes. The Machine to Be Another aims to bring this particular ideaology to life by allowing users to step into the body of someone of a different religion, sexuality, race or physical ability to gain a better sense of empathy and understanding.
The project is relatively simple as there aren’t any of the complex animations like you would find in many other VR experiences. User’s don an Oculus Rift headset which displays 360-degree video from the perspective of a unique individual. The live demonstration also includes real touch from an onsite operator synced with the actions taking place in the experience.
On stage at Seattle’s Fearless 360, participants spent a day in the life of a trans man named Jonah. Using VR with the aid of an on-stage assistant, users saw and were touched by the people close to Jonah over the course of two intimate moments. By seeing and feeling a grip on their arm from Jonah’s pals on the street, and the gentle touch of a hand on their thigh when home with Jonah’s romantic partner, your body is able to blend the visual and haptic cues to better accept the virtual experience.
This combination tricks your brain’s perception by pairing life-like imagery and movement with real physical touch. The art collective behind the project, BeAnotherLab, calls this response “embodied narratives,” or stories you feel inside your body.
“It is interesting to see yourself in a different way,” said one of the participants of the Machine to Be Another. “It’s almost like [being] a baby, you just look at your hands and you don’t really know what to do, everything is foreign from the beginning.”
This project not only helps to explore our understanding of self, but it achieves BeAnotherLab’s mission as an international, interdisciplinary collective focused on using technology and other art mediums to form human connections.
Unique muti-person VR experiences which utilize hand-tracking technology have also gave participants the valuable opportunity of interacting with one another from the perspective of another race, culture, etc.
Research strongly suggests that VR may have the ability to truly shift people’s perspective. Mel Slater, a professor at the University of Barcelona found, among other encouraging results, that when white people virtually embody a black body, they experience a sustained reduction in their implicit racial bias.
“We’re working with communities that are marginalized,” says J.J. Devereaux, one of the artists and creators of the Be Another Lab collective.
“You experience their stories while you’re in their body, which helps you understand them,” Devereaux says. “And the storyteller feels like they’ve been heard.”
It’s possible that one day people will be able to check out, like library books, the stories and full-body, tangible sense of a different human being.
Image Credit: KCTS9