AWESTRUCK: Team human podcast
I almost think of it as this thing that happens when your cognitive capacity has been overwhelmed. You're trying to comprehend something that has a magnitude that you almost don't have enough neurological connections to deal with. And … your brain sort of overflows ...
In this summary Michael Frederickson, lead technical director at Pixar Animation is interviewed by Douglas Rushkoff from the Team Human podcast, to talk about this deeply human experience of awe.
It’s a conversation that spans the “awful” to the “awesome” and all those ambiguous spaces in-between. Rushkoff and Frederickson dig into questions of technology and storytelling, the narrative arc, and the evolutionary, even empathetic value of having our minds blown.
1) Awe - inspired by vast and novel scenes - has a narrative function. The experience of awe encourages people to really take notice of the world around them
2) Awe, also creates a narrative rhythm. It opens people up to new insights and experience. Awe is different from spectacle, which can attract, but also overwhelm people.
How did you come upon the notion of awe and what sparked your fascination with it?
Awe ended up being the confluence of just about everything I found myself interested in over the years and it almost became like this inevitable thing to look into, especially after some of the work I did on Inside Out a couple of years ago. For me, it was precisely how difficult it is to articulate what the experience of awe feels like, what it is and why it exists that got me interested in it. I think my entry point initially was looking at why a director or any kind of storyteller might be trying to draw out a particular emotion in us. I felt like every time I would ask someone about awe, rather than saying how it made their body feel they'd talk about the experience that caused them to feel awe and I set out to discover what research has been done on this recently. But also, if you try to apply that to storytelling when and why does it make sense to try to make people feel awe?
Right, so if we think back there are these moments in movies where you come upon an awesome sight, like the world of the Avatar people or the roof-tops of a great city like London when Peter Pan flies out at us, or when we first see the giant panorama of a new city in The Game Of Thrones …so there are these moments of awe that storytellers tend to put in to a story?
Yeah. And I was curious why we were doing that? Talking to different artists over the years and myself as an artist, I've found people who have different levels of comfort with how much they want to talk about the conscious act of producing art, like some people seem to be made really uncomfortable by talking about having almost mechanical tricks to producing something creative.
Because it feels more contrived if you've manufactured it?
Yeah, a lot of artists seem to be concerned with creative spontaneity and regard it as this thing that's hard to articulate, and it's almost a little bit ephemeral and hard to grasp. But it seems to me that some directors and storytellers are instinctively using awe at specific times in a story arc, and I’m curious why. The first step in that process for me was understanding what awe is as an emotion and that led to some research that defines it as something you experience when you encounter something that's both vast and novel. That value doesn't have to just be spatial vastness, like with the Grand Canyon or something like that. It could also be the vastness of somebody's talent, the vastness of time – something so vast it exceeds perceptual limit. Like I remember feeling it when I saw the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and it was both huge. And also, I was just overwhelmed by the amount of time that went into constructing that human effort. And then also novel, I mean, if you're seeing the Grand Canyon every day, you're probably not going to feel, awe every time.
One really helpful thing to do is ask what physiological change you go through when you're experiencing an emotion. There's not a universally, cross cultural agreed upon expression that one makes when they're experiencing awe. But it tends to be head forward, mouth agape, eyes open, which points to the idea that you're trying to take in as much as possible, you're trying to taste and smell and see as much as you possibly can. Because the thing you're taking in is so enormous that you want to maximize your sensory input. People describe feeling goose-bumps and there's actually some studies that say that awe can ultimately reduce inflammation, so If you're super inflamed, you know, go check out the Grand Canyon.
But the thing I got really interested in was recent work in evolutionary psychology which asks questions like, what might be the purpose of you, why has evolution selected us to continue having this very peculiar feeling and to what advantage is it to look up in the sky, for example?
I was also thinking about the root of the word awesome and it's, it's interesting because to be accurate, if something is full of awe, then we could say it is awful. Which is interesting, because it almost speaks to the history of the emotion. Researching emotions there's this term I've come across, which is the valence of the emotion, which refers to whether or not it's subjectively considered positive or negative. So, most people would describe happiness as having a positive valence and sadness at least initially, as a negative feeling. And most Westerners describe awe as being a positive emotion, which is super interesting because in the same way that comedy and horror exploit our experience of surprise, there’s a razor thin line between those two things. I think it really just comes down to the stakes, when awe is positive, you're experiencing something vast and novel, but something that is not mortally threatening to you. Yet a long time ago, when the world didn’t always make sense awe was a more negative feeling
Despite the importance of having emotions that we can’t control, the study of their contribution to our humanity has traditionally been limited to the realm of poetry and philosophy in the arts. But some of the earlier research pointed to the purpose of awe was to help us organize into groups. So maybe you'd feel awed by the power of a really strong leader, and that would make you feel humbled and part of something bigger, and then maybe that might help you organize and join a community that would then have a greater chance for survival.
When you use an example like that all I can think of is Hitler at the Nuremberg rallies, you know, shooting aircraft lights in the sky.
I think with any emotional response like that, you can either use it for good or evil. Yeah, I've often thought our proclivity to recognize lots of different things as faces is one of the reasons we can deal with animation and the abstraction of animation. It's because you can buy into that being a character, when it is not at all close to the real thing. This reflects our need to accommodate something within our model of the world. This is one of the reasons that magic is entertaining, because you're kind of exploiting the fact that when something levitates you so desperately and instinctively need to square that up with your understanding that things don't float, and you're like, almost instinctively driven to explain how is that happening? And that's one of the things that sort of makes magic entertaining.
On a certain level, we're talking about a kind of emotional cognitive overload that throws me into a different state. Now, if it's a dinosaur popping out through the woods I'm going to go into fight or flight and overflow into terror. Whereas if my wife or my child encourages me to see a sunset in a way I've never seen it before, I start connecting things and I can ease into a state of awe.
So then there's the question of why. Take a very simple assumption that people might have about the world like what might be on the table at a romantic dinner: A candle, wine, two pairs of hands, a rose.
Most people assume that candles would be on the table. In one study, the researchers exposed three different groups to emotional stimuli. So they showed the awe group that Powers of Ten video from the 70s, where they sort of zoom out as far as possible into the cosmos and then down into the human skin. Another group saw somebody unexpectedly winning a gold medal. They were supposed to feel happiness or joy. And then another group, a neutral group just watched someone assemble a cinderblock wall.
They then told all the groups the same five minute story about a romantic dinner, where they very specifically did not describe candles on the table and gave them a distracting task after that, and then asked some follow up questions, one of which was, hey, were there candles on the table? And after the study was done, they noticed that the awe group consistently did better than any other group at remembering that there were not candles on the table. So one of the potential conclusions that came out of the study was that maybe by making you temporarily feel humbled, in relationship to something vast and huge, maybe awe has this temporary effect of stunning you and reminding you that you don't know everything, so you should look at information, new information for what it is and not apply a kind of bumper sticker reaction to it. So, when things are going fine in your life, you might hear about a romantic dinner and go, Oh, I know all about romantic dinners, there's going to be candles on the table. But if maybe you've just been made to feel small and humbled you decide to really listen closely to the story, and to be alert to what’s actually there rather than apply pre-existing assumptions.
That's really interesting, because my senses are assembling movies all the time and a lot of the times we assemble stuff that isn't even there, we just assume that it is. So awe almost wipes the slate clean, it's almost like a rebirth.
Because you've been cognitively overwhelmed, you've effectively blown your mind, so maybe now your mind is kind of clear for a few minutes and can take in new information afresh.
I found this some this quote in an interview with Kubrick about The Shining, where he seemed almost a little bit stressed hoping that people didn't just go see his films and take away what they already believed based on their pre-existing models of the world. And he said, You know, I wonder how often people are fundamentally changed by a piece of art? He said, if you're 15 or 16 years old, you might be ready to do this. And I loved it because he was talking about his use of the subconscious in The Shining, he does all sorts of tricks like messing with the spatial layout of the hotel and all these things to kind of, say, have a new emotional experience. And so as soon as I heard of this study of awe I thought, maybe this is part of the answer. Maybe one answer for why we might want to go through the emotion of awe is to prime us to internalize the lesson of the story. In other words, maybe all these TV shows and movies that inform resolution on us, even the ones that are supposedly strange like a Westworld or Memento or Inception still suggest that there's a right way to understand what happened at the end. Whereas with a Kubrick movie it's like, wait a minute, what happened here?
Maybe real art makes you question the world you're in and keeps you in an alert, open state?
And when I hear that I hear you setting up a dichotomy between reason on one side and passion on the other. I really believe that the best stuff is somewhere in the middle. It has a tasteful contrast and balance of both. I think Kubrick, for example, walked a great line of being able to have enough structure that his stories weren't just, you know, experiential nonsense that not many people could relate to. Trying to keep those things in harmony is a really fun challenge. I mean, he did screw with us in that movie. I mean, there's the scene where the old guy is sitting in his room thinking about a boy and sometimes you look at him and there's nothing behind him on the wall. And then you cut back to him and there's this velvet painting of a naked woman. Is the picture really there? No, he's doing something to our brain, intentionally. That subtle realization that something's not right adds to a feeling of eeriness. So you're playing with things that are just below that line of conscious recognition.
I think there are certain I don't want to say morals, but messages that are almost incompatible with the traditional kind of hero's journey. You know, if you just give people the standard version of the Hero's Journey I don't necessarily think you can deal well with what most of life is like, which is ambiguity and having to wrestle with a lot of unclear, subjective things. So it's made me wonder, are plot structures or games where you go around and explore and you're not following a linear narrative, potentially better suited to messages that aren't really cut and dried all the time? Indie films where it's very unclear if the main character lives or dies at the end, or what the conclusion is don't tend to do as well commercially, because people like some resolution. Well, in a film, I don't have any interaction with the narrative, I can't affect it, so it feels good to have resolution. But I wonder if more interactive storytelling might be better suited to ambiguity, because at least you have a role in it, and you have time to speculate and think about how things are unclear because it resembles life a little bit more than a clear cut story.
I'm intuitively suspicious of virtual reality type entertainment, partly because I understand that it's really two or three corporations that own 99.9% of the VR tech, whether it's via Google Facebook, or Sony I can't imagine that they’re using it to try to open up new avenues of human imagination and intelligence. They're more oriented towards human manipulation. But, you know, many people in VR worlds are yearning for this verisimilitude, this granular copying of the real. I'm wondering how open ended they'll be willing to make those experiences?
Well, this is why I tend ignore their efforts and focus on those people exploring how to make an experience that helps someone empathize more or that puts participants in a situation that they otherwise couldn’t experience, in order to think about it because now they have agency and a different relationship to it. For now, people need to make lots and lots of VR sketches to say is this mechanic enjoyable? Is this humanizing? Is it dehumanizing? How does it interact with our emotions? Does it get a point across to people. If it feels good, it'll survive and hopefully, you know, that doesn't get co-opted again to dehumanize us in some way. But even if that does happen, I'm confident that the people who are doing it with good intentions are gonna keep doing that.
There's definitely a difference between awe and spectacle. You can create a spectacle that throws someone into something like a state of awe, but it's really just a powerlessness against you know, the state or the money or Las Vegas or whatever it is you're not doing in Las Vegas to humanize people. What are some of the litmus tests you use to decide if a piece of work is humanizing or dehumanizing?
Wow, that is a big question. For me, it's heavily dependent on the context, but some of the things I look at are the amount of vulnerability that the storyteller is showing. I mean, I love pieces of art that come from personal experience. And when somebody is trying to honestly work out something that is difficult to share with a mass audience, and they're trying to say, I want to, you know, through this piece of art through this narrative or this interactive experience, give you an opportunity to experience what I went through, and what my conclusion was so that that might help you ifyou go through something similar. To me that is extremely humanizing, because it involves empathizing and effectively an artist saying, you know, I want to connect with this audience and help them by explaining what I went through. I also ask whether this thing encourages me to interact with other human beings more? Or does it encourage me to interact with them less? Like I said, I think some of the best art walks a careful line between appealing to the conscious and the subconscious and balancing passion and reason. I like pieces of art that don't depict horrific exploitative technological dystopia and don't make us all want to give it all up and become completely agrarian, you know, they, I think we're in need of more and more art that depicts a world where those things are in imbalance. It's kind of stymied me sometimes and thinking about, you know, the art I want to produce. Because if that's the final conclusion that you want to get across, well, it's hard to do that with a big action sequence. But I do believe that the solution isn't to sit around and philosophize about it. It's really to prototype short things and see what works and what doesn't, right. prototype and iterate, prototype and iterate
And it doesn’t always have to be the indies. Pixar is an environment to be creating things in you know, I mean, I would refer you to, to the director of InsideOut, Pete Docter makes some of the most humanizing stories between Monsters Inc, and Up and InsideOut. He’s a very vulnerable, sensitive, amazing storyteller, and he wants to tell stories to help people feel the same thing.
So, yes, there are rare pockets where you can do both well, you know, make something commercial that’s also meaningful to people.
The difficulty of any storytelling is you can't just sit there at the end and go, Hey, in case you didn't notice, sadness is important. A lot of people refer to the end of the second act when they lose Bing Bong, Riley's imaginary friend, as being a devastating part of the movie to watch because they're really emotional about that loss, but I think that sadness almost physiologically primes people to receive the message of the third act. You’re not going to see somebody say, hey, you know, sadness is really important. Still, after you feel sad about something, you often have this peak afterwards, like you feel relieved physiologically after you cry, right? So, so you're now in the state watching the third act feeling a little better, because you've just gone through being sad, and you didn't get to choose to feel that way. I don't think that anyone sat down consciously and said we were going to do this, but it's my pet theory that one of the reasons the message of that film works is because you go through that feeling….and that's kind of what I'm getting at. You mentioned the dichotomy or, you know, the difference between just raw spectacle and awe, I think, you know, big action movies and stuff like that, you're always going to try to have some spectacle in the third act because that’s almost a tradition. Or stuff like, you know, the first reveal of the dinosaur in the first act of Jurassic Park. That might be more inspiration than spectacle, because it’s signalling that you're about to be in that environment where these characters are going to go through a major journey and they're going to change, so you relate to them a little bit more, which helps you invest in their story. That scene would be a lot less successful if they didn't show you the dinosaur or they just showed them coming back to the hotel saying, holy shit, did you see that?
The fact that the visuals make the audience actually experientially go through that as well is good filmmaking. You're not communicating it just with the dialogue or lecturing, you have to give people that feeling. And by virtue of doing that, they understand because they go through it emotionally.
I think it’s enough that we have this capacity. When we go through emotions, or we fall in love, or eat. We like these things. And that's enough, just being human is enough. And that's why I'm not excited about emulating our consciousness with AI. I'm much more interested in how to use technology and narrative to make us feel emotions, because to me, and at least in 2017, that's the thing that feels the most human because we experience emotions and we don't have a whole lot of control over them. So, learning how to deal with them, using them to tell stories and help us make sense of human experience. That's the thing I care the most about.
Understanding The Body's Role in VR & AR Game Design
In this 2016 VRDC session, Funomena lead designer Robin Hunicke explores some of the core challenges and opportunities that the body presents in VR & AR development, from controller design and gaze inputs to body posture, movement and gesture design.
Today I am talking about embodiment as a design surface for designers in VR and AR titles.
The eyes, the ears, and in this case, now, the hands and the senses on our hands, can be engaged in experiencing what we like to call presence, the psychological state or subjective perception in which even though part of an individual's current experience is generated by and or filtered through human made technology part or all of the individual's perception fails to accurately acknowledge the role of technology in the experience. It's a kind of a strange way to define it. But I think it's interesting to think about it this way. Your body is being fooled into believing that what is it is experiencing is real. We’re really tricking your body, and this is creating a space where designers can and will explore how presence affect one's experience of playful content.
When you're wearing a head mounted display the hands are very important. And there's a lot of work being done right now to figure out what those hands will be. Why are we obsessed with the hands? Anyone who's tried to work with VR knows that when you are in a space where you're experiencing reality, and then you can't see your hands, you feel weird. They call it the rubber hand illusion, the idea that there's a physical object, and there's no response to it. Trespasser, the video game from many, many years ago famous for this sort of disembodied hand problem. It’s really important to display the controller directly having an abstract hand model, or showing the primary game object or tool or brush, whether that's a hammer, a gun, one, whatever it is, or some combination of these seems to be super, super important for engaging the body.
Games that do this well are about touching stuff. They're about, you know, being in the space and just like poke poke poke. Jenova Chen, who led the design on Journey, used to say that when you're in an inner interactive virtual space, and you're moving into for the first time, whether it's a VR experience or a classic video game experience, that you're like a baby, just pushing every surface trying to see what happens. And these games really engage you that way. So while that's not news, what's interesting to me is the difference between the power grip and the precision grip. So if you think about the controllers, I want you to put your hand out in front of you, and make the gesture that you make when you grab a controller. for VR, it's a power grip.
THE POWER GRIP
It's a force grip, and when you make this grip with your arm, you put your hand out in front of yourself and you grab space, like really do it, like retain your Wing Chun, you know, advocate and you're gonna do the on- inch punch. When you do this motion, you engage your fist, your lower arm, your shoulder, your bicep and your back muscles and your torso, the power grip has this effect of immediately stressing your body and it raises your blood pressure and your heart rate. If you do it with force, if you really try to do it, you can actually engage all the muscles in your arm and when you do a one inch Punch in Wing Chun, you can really crack someone's skull really hard. It's a really, it's a very powerful tool, the power grip and we use it all the time. When you swing an axe. When you punch somebody, when you do a really vicious dance move, you know you're using the power grip. Now, the other grip is the precision grip.
THE PRECISION GRIP
Pretend we're conducting the score for journey. It's a very different feeling. What do you engage in when you engage the precision grip, just your hand, just a little bit, maybe on the backside of your arm. Your body is telling you. This is action. This is thinking. This is why artists love is to have a tablet with a pen instead of a mouse. That the relaxed pose of painting and drawing. It’s a physical thing and t the tool itself engages the mind in a way that's really insightful and has worked for thousands of years.
So when you're using a power grip, to do precision activities, how do you translate that body feedback? This is a question that all of us get to work on. Now. What is the feeling of painting when your fist is closed? It's not even finger painting. It's like punchy painting. It doesn't really feel right; when you open your hand it feels much better.
This desire to create a sense of precision was something that was at the core of Luna, when we started working on it, we actually started working on it, not for VR, but for the Intel gesture sensing camera. And I really wanted to build a game where you could just touch the world with your fingers. In the very first prototype that Scott Anderson ever made, you would press the buttons and it was a little pair of chopsticks and they could just use these two pieces as chopsticks to pick up little things. So immediately with the capture buttons and the pressure, he started thinking delicately so translated the power to something precise. We actually modelled and physically sculpted, what we call the grasper for the game, which is like a dinosaur claw, or bird claws. It's also like a lotus.
The other thing that we decided to do was to de emphasise the butt of the controller and grasper thing and focus on the tips. And to give it a brush light quality, it's still not finished. It's a work in progress, but when it grasps it becomes more of a pod, more subtle. Solid in the tips, and then it opens again. So we've got this feeling we really wanted to have this hand presence that would make you want to touch the world in a different way. A hand model is helpful, but it may not translate the action, the way that you wanted to. something
Best practice literature advises you to put a body in there, that's great except that It can be pretty disturbing if the body isn't your body.
A very interesting experiment was done with body image and owning an underweight or an overweight body for people with eating disorders, looking down and seeing the body that you actually have, versus the body that you think you have, and then having a discussion with therapists about it, link to the paper in there as well.
And what we're finding right is that the lack of realistic body identification conveys difference to us automatically. Again, if you're going to put a realistic body in and I'm moving around in the body, but it's doing unrealistic motions, or it's not totally smooth. The elbow joints to the arms and all this other stuff are not responding the way that I want them to then I will find it really difficult..
We've been seeing some interesting work on gesture, and reaction and celebration, in embody avatars in social spaces. In this context, say I'm Lucy Bradshaw. I'm not going to be seeing myself this way. But I'm going to see them that way. Right? I'm going to see my hands, but I'm gonna see them. And so we're trying to kind of mix that space. And when you look at spectator view mode and the way that we're embracing this, it's also we're trying to get as much out of the the motion of the body without actually having to replicate the physics of it.
So the body is back sort of, when it comes to actual avatars. VR is a little bit like puppeteering right now. So when you think about gestures, and the body if I can't see the whole body? And I'm just seeing my hands and I'm trying to do ninja moves. What are you seeing? You know, are we simulating the rest of that body? How do we how do we perceive that? And specifically, if you're going to wave your arms like a ballerina, you're just going to see the tracers on my hands, right, like, just for a minute trying to make a balletic movement with your arm.
(Shows examples of different movement options in games)
BODY = EMOTION
You can also use the body to create emotion e.g reaching up, striving, sitting back and relaxing, rhythm etc
I like face tracking. It's better at knowing what you want than you are.. If you ever go to dinner and watch two people on a date, and you watch their micro expressions that they're not catching because they're so busy trying to mask their own feelings.
When you do a close up in a film, you feel emotional. You know, when you bring things into perspective with the person at eye level, suddenly your heart opens up. That’s basic film technique, but when you bring it into VR… now you're really first person!
Wayward Sky does a great job of this, playing between the two camera frames, even though technically it's not a frame. It's an embodiment frame.
So, it's not about the camera frame anymore. It's about the body frame.
(Shows footage of Luna playtests)
At the same time, that we're thinking about how presence influences gameplay, we're also seeing how presence may in fact to influence education, there's a lot of stuff if you just Google VR and learning, we're doing a way better job actually of selling this, even though we haven't actually implemented any of it yet. It's very interesting to think about moving away from the blackboard and sitting down and actually, you know, working in a virtual space on a task. And the words that we use to describe this are body learning or self-determination in classrooms. And there's a huge interest in this, especially in underserved communities where education really sucks.
Engaging in a task or teaching others how to do something is the best learning experience. And sitting listening to someone talk, which I'm doing to you right now is the worst.
Hunicke, Robin. 2016. Understanding The Body's Role in VR & AR Game Design. In GDC Vault, edited by GDC. U.S.: YouTube.
Still Logged In: What AR and VR Can Learn from MMOs
In this 2017 GDC session, `Ultima Online MMO designer Raph Koster talks about the social and ethical implications of turning the real world into a virtual world, and how the lessons of massively multiplayer virtual worlds are more relevant than ever.
Social spaces aren't just games. When I was making Ultima Online, I designed places and worlds and societies that just happen to have a lot of games in them. Really, most of the work was going into simulating things like tailoring and rabbit hunting and running a shop. So, if you are making a social VR or AR space, you aren't just making a game, you're designing a society.
MAKE ENHANCED INTERACTIONS ON PURPOSE, NOT BY ACCIDENT
Do you recall the case of the virtual groping in quiVR?
A woman logged into this game about doing VR archery, and a stranger named Big Bro, I think walked up and started virtually groping her. The company didn't know about the incident until an article was written about it. To their credit, they immediately put in a bunch of features so that gropers couldn’t access people. Bodies could not see one another anymore. When they came into close proximity, players could expand what they called a personal bubble and they added a new gesture that they added a new feature where you can create an exploding blue force field that turns the harasser invisible and prevents them from interacting with you. The company was very upfront and immediately posted a post mortem about what had happened and encouraged everybody to take this stuff seriously.
Ideally there would be other players on hand, people who are logged on 24/7 monitoring behaviour, who could make a harassment call, turn Big Bro into a toad and ban him for life. This is actually best practice in online community spaces.
Because if you host an online community where people can cause harm to another person you are on the hook.
You're the government of that space, you're hosting real people.
CREATE A DUE PROCESS
You need to institute a rule of law. That means having a code of conduct and user license agreement, Terms of Service written in plain English that every player affirmatively signs up to the first time they log in and they swear an oath. I will abide by this and it needs to be posted everywhere. And you need to be reinforcing this as a cultural thing every day.
You don't get to abdicate doing it. It has enormous benefits, just not only as a cultural thing, but also for clearing up edge cases, because you're going to be fighting an awful lot of edge cases.
DOCUMENT WORLD ACTIONS
The most concrete practical thing is a tool called the circular buffer which is simply a recording keeping track of the last minute to five minutes of every single interaction each client sees and storing it, discarding the stuff that's over five minutes old and always entering the most recent stuff so that when something like this happens players can hit the Report button to ensure that they have impartial evidence to hand which can be adjudicated.
Believe me you will have cases where it will turn into one says the other says if you don't have tools like this.
You need to have an incontrovertible evidence. Voice logs aren’t enough. You need to record every single gesture so that when somebody does this, the CES person can replay it back and verify who started the fight.
It's not going to be cheap.
But you need to do it.
CREATE PERSISTENT ACCOUNT SYSTEMS
A key lesson from all kinds of social spaces in virtual worlds is that offenders repeat. The number one killer on Ultima Online was personally responsible for murdering over 4000 people. And if your social VR or AR System does not have a persistent account system with persistent identity the players invest into, you're effectively making every player get away scot free. Because all they need to do is create a brand-new account every single time they log in.
Actions like this matter more in VR, precisely because VR embodies us and makes us feel like we're really there.
If you haven’t read the original rape in cyberspace article that’s homework item number one. This was an article that came out in the Village Voice in 1993, regarding the first major documented virtual rape incident.
He didn't even do it to their actual bodies. He did it using this technological tool that was available in this game called a puppet. And the puppet all it did this was create text and make it look like somebody else was doing something. The victims were actually just standing there and they could mute and block him all they wanted. But it didn't matter because it looked to everyone else in the room like Mr. bungle was getting these poor people to do horrendous things to themselves. In 1993, this became a bit of a cause celeb because people started arguing about whether or not that was really rape. I mean, it's online. That can't be real, can it? We know better now, I hope. Although, and we'd have to see. I think there's plenty of Twitter trolls who probably still like what's the big deal, right? But I'm pretty sure that right now somebody is going you know, it'd be awfully cool to do user generated content and social VR, and somebody is probably inventing the VR version of that puppet right now.
And of course, the most famous incident I encourage you go look up the video on YouTube. It's, it's astonishing in a surreal kind of way. This poor woman Auntie Chung was literally attacked by a flying swarm of thousands of penises that's world around her in a tornado. If you run that world that's on you as much as the troll.
Every feature you make should be looked at first as a weapon.
How will a player abuse someone else with this?
Odds are you aren't actually evil enough when you play test.
How many of you played A division? It’s an MMO shooter on the console with a triple A team in which they made all the players collide with all the other players and then they had single quest-givers sitting in the Central lobby. So there were lines running out the door and people would barricade the door to prevent other people from getting quests, right. My personal experience with making that mistake was in the alpha for Ultima Online … players would let others out (who would then often try to block access for others) and then they would rush to the windows and shoot them in the back as they walked away.
LIMIT WHAT EMPLOYEES AND ADMINS CAN DO WITH THEIR IN-WORLD POWER
And the people you hire will hire other people who will in fact do things like consider it a perk to go over to people's private chat spaces and watch them as they engage in you know, very private things. You have to hard code in limitations, log off every kind of extra normal command, the ability to grant or revoke any kind of capability granularly per individual, and only grant the powers that are specific to the scope of that individual's job.
In the early days of MMOs we had issues where game masters were having hot tub parties with players and trading sexual favours for endgame items. They needed the ability to spawn those items for their job. Unfortunately, we didn't have logging in the hot tubs, so it was hard to prove that these situations were happening. We have drifted away over time from having in game admins and the reason is in order to minimize the possibility of personal relationships forming between customer service and individual players because corruption happens.
DEVELOP LEGAL INFRASTRUCTURES
MMO started as the wild west of gaming and ended up being the single safest genre for women to play in gaming, because everything else is unmoderated voice chat.
Whereas MMOs have persistent identity, have persistent community have the logging, all this stuff that you talked about, and that's something that we fought for And Blizzard led the way and made it real. And you can actually see the gender split of that audience of Wow, just go from 20-80 to 50-50 over the course of a decade. And I think that's important for us to realize it took a lot of work.
Also, be aware that if your virtual world is successful, your digital objects are going to have real money value. There's no escaping it, so simply assume that anything you create as a digital object has real world value. And people will be doing things like sleeping for it, paying for it and stealing it. Just go in the door, assuming that that is part of this field.
Fundamentally, you should not be opening a virtual world unless you think in terms of this kind of legal infrastructure. You're the government of this space.
Furthermore, the people who use virtual spaces are very often using them for therapeutic purposes. That means a higher incidence of individuals inside your space who are dealing with psychological stress of various sorts. There is not a single, large scale commercial virtual world that does not have the FBI and suicide hotlines on speed dial. The number of runaways that we tracked down for the FBI and the police, while at Sony Online, was easily in the triple digits.
Be prepared to deal with manifestations of mental illness. Those folks will frequently be calling for assistance within this virtual setting. And you have gone and built their home away from home, the place that they use to cope, the place that they're using in order as their support system. Often the friends that they've made in your space are the ones that literally keep them alive. You are holding their lives in your hands. So you have to take it seriously.
LET PEOPLE PLAY WITH IDENTITY
One of the huge mistakes of social VR is that they're forgetting the joys of being someone you aren't. That has always been a fundamental premise of engaging in a virtual world. Even in the normative modern MMO worlds, cross gender roleplay is still incredibly common.
One of the beauties of the early internet and virtual worlds in particular is that nobody could tell you were a dog, only now we can hear you barking on Discord.
This is why I hate voice chat. Because it's one of the many things that is taking these tools away from people.
The original world which Richard Bartle designed was intended to be a blow against the British class system. That is why you can level up and be anyone in anything. Because he felt like he'd grown up in a very restrictive world where, oh no, you have the wrong accent. You'll never get a doctorate. And in fact, a lot of the earliest virtual spaces were safe spaces for they were safe spaces for queers, and for the asexual who prefer the idea of having hundreds of little tentacles for genitalia.
It extends beyond voice chat, though. How many of you are short? Like me? All right, short people, you guys know that you have lower lifetime earnings than tall people, right? You get less promotions and lower salaries. So it turns out that halflings and gnomes in fantasy role playing games earn less XP per hour and level slower. Because we import real world biases into these worlds. I have lost count of the number of social spaces that don't have race as a customization option that it’s embarrassing.
BUILD EMPATHY WITH IDENTITY INVESTMENT, TEAMWORK AND EMOTE SYSTEMS
As people enter a space, if they don't have a stake in the space, if they don't have persistent identity, it's very easy to behave as a virtual sociopath. They don't have any community ties whatsoever. So you have to start creating investment into an identity really early on. So those of you who are making systems that are dropped in, don't.
You also can't use things like credit cards to block for example, average U.S. household I think has 13 credit card numbers. So the real way you have to do it is by causing personal investment in the identity they're creating, so that they don't want to lose the investment they've made.
There are two classic ways of doing
1)gameplay that involves teamwork.
2)Incorporate an emote system. Best Practice emote systems involve automatically parsing text chat and pulling out the emotional cues that people are already sticking in there like Smiley's. Otherwise, if you give people manual, complex puppeteering structures it’s too hard. Yes, there's a subset of people who are good at puppeteering. Most people are not however.
LIMIT SOCIAL OPTIONS TO SUPPORT POSITIVE INTERACTION
While voice does convey a significant amount of emotional content, you can't expect people to be trained actors and know how to convey emotion. If they need to do is convey real emotion, they will prefer to use Skype where they get all the cues. So my actual advice to social VR people bluntly, is to sidestep as many of these problems as possible. Don't have large scale worlds with a bunch of strangers interacting with one another in an unsupervised fashion.
Stick to small groups, people who mostly already know each other. Also, make the avatars relatively unrealistic so nobody cares about the fact that the emotional cues are wrong.
If I were making a social VR thing that I wanted to be a commercial success, I would go clone a game where you sit at opposite sides of a table. You can wave your hands and your head, all you want. You can build crazy avatars, because it's all about personal expression, getting to know the other person. It's limited to two people at a time. So, if you bail or block, you'll never have to deal with that person again. It just sidesteps all the issues, right?
Play to the strengths of VR today. It’s clumsy, but you can play with that. I think that is part of why something like Job Simulator is one of the most successful VR experiences we have. it embraces the limitation.
All of these issues get dramatically worse once we're talking about social AR.
Rendering is by far the least important part of this entire field. The representation is not the part that really, really matters. What matters is the action that's going on on the server, which is where you actually track things like the avatar profiles, their histories, the location of objects, how they interact with one another.
Text games actually embody you almost as powerfully as VR does. That is why text muds are also great role models. For example, consent systems for paired emotes was a very, very common design trope in text muds. Where you can't just hug somebody or grope somebody, but there is almost a two-factor authentication process the players must go through in order to engage with others.
That stuff popped up in the text worlds first, because in the text worlds, there was no distinction of distance. Everybody was standing on a pin in each individual text room. So, all it took was one word for them to be interpenetrating with your avatar.
All of those things will happen in the real world. It is not going to be very long until there is a template ID associated with your washing machine, and it will have its own character sheet that will have its repair history. That's not far-fetched. So if you start designing your social structures in a way that incentivizes players to commit virtual violence against one another, they're probably going to start doing it for real.
MISTAKES ARE TOO EASY: DEVELOP A PLAYER’S DECLARATION OF RIGHTS
All of these things can be quite unintentional. Pokémon GO I'm sure absolutely did not intend for its map of spawns to be racist and classist. And yet, it's really hard to find Pokémon in poor black neighbourhoods and in rural areas, because it's UGC map happened to be built out of kids who are going to Stanford and Berkeley. So we do have to think about these issues.
It might be that someday legislation will that protects virtual layer annotation rights. That might actually be the only solution to something like Pokémon spawning in your backyard.
As yet there are few clear rules. What if somebody happens to start spawning Pokémon on top of a Black Lives Matter rally? It is trivially easy for an operator of a virtual world to pull something like that. We've seen the early Harbinger's of things like that. Anonymous got its start by holding a flash mob in front of Scientology facility in New York City. We kind of trained people to do this.
If there was only one Pikachu to have in a Pokémon Go flash mob, I think we would have seen Pika murders by now. It's human nature.
And there are other risks - Just yesterday, it was discovered that a cloud toy company was storing the voice chat logs of all of the kids that ever talked to their plushie on AWS instance on a database that was not password protected.
To my knowledge, exactly three virtual worlds in history have bothered to adopt a Declaration of the Rights of players.
Start thinking in terms of the rights that players should be having in these spaces, because soon enough Internet of Things is going to hit. This is also not fiction
Let's have some fun. Seriously, let's explore, have some fun.
Just get your homework done first. Thank you.
Koster, Raph. 2017. STILL LOGGED IN: WHAT AR AND VR CAN LEARN FROM MMOS. In GDC Vault. U.S.: YouTube.
Lessons from Escape Rooms:
The USW Audience of the Future research team is compiling a summary collection of recent research in the field of immersive, and enhanced reality media