Third-Gen VR Could Rewrite How We Connect ‘In Person’ And Across Virtual Personas

Third-Gen VR Could Rewrite How We Connect ‘In Person’ And Across Virtual Personas

Story-telling will little benefit a world where interactivity delivers beyond one-way connectedness

Bogar Alonso
  • 29 april 2016

Forging social interactions between people in ways otherwise unavailable, FOVE is not just a third-generation head-mounted display, but a factory of new-age storytelling, and most importantly, a sociological bridge-maker. As the CEO and co-founder of the third-generation HMD, it’s fitting then that Yuka Kojima believes that VR will bring people closer together than we are now.

GamesForChangeSummit2016_jkratochvil fove
During the second annual Games and Media Summit, held in collaboration with Tribeca Film Festival, Kojima cemented her point during her presentation by expounding upon FOVE’s inclusion in HUG, a cross-company effort to ‘include’ the bedridden grandmother of Ducklings CEO Norikazu Takagi in his wedding. Because of her advanced age, Takagi’s grandmother faced having to miss the joyous occasion and experience it only through the appeasement of “you should have been theres” and photo albums—not an experience befit for such an integral person in Takagi’s life.

To help overcome her immobility, the cross-company team strapped her with a FOVE headset which was then connected to a Pepper—the doe-eyed humanoid robot—outfitted with its own visual intake system to serve as the grandmother’s avatar.

Official hug project fove FOVE
The name of the project, HUG, indicates the type of social—and yes, human—connection one might come to expect from next-gen VR as Takagi’s grandmother reached out during the experience to hug the bride and groom because she genuinely felt that she could and should.

eye tracking VR

Lambasted as a diluent of social bonds and moral fibers, it was technology that synthesized a social bond out of the realm of nothingness. While it’s become commonplace to hate on tech for its amplification of less-than-ideal human qualities, it’s too often judged on unfair terms. Two-dimensional thinking will often fault it for what it doesn’t provide over what it does, seemingly convinced that the presence of nothing should always be preferred over the presence of the bird (or gadget) in hand. The pros and cons of an invention, after all, are much easier to pinpoint when working in the field of application over one of conjecture and theory. And virtual reality is no different, as it’s already been maligned for introducing an alienation we have no evidence to indicate it will trigger. Meanwhile, what it has already provided is far more worthy of our attention and conversation.

Just take HUG. Linking people in a way that wouldn’t have been possible outside of this decade, it’s an innovation that will not only change how we tell stories but what stories will be made possible by its use.

Within the stories that will be told through FOVE, Kojima believes that VR storytelling will come to be sliced into three components:

  • Where Users Look
  • Interaction With Story Characters
  • Communication With People

The bottom rung almost seems like an exercise in self-deprecation; Virtual reality continues to be seen by its detractors (and some of its proponents even) as a pursuit that will only bury us deeper in the antisocial blanket of technology. (How long before this Google Images search is choked with HMD-strapped commuters, for instance?) But Kojima is devoted to the opposing view: that VR will unite rather than isolate.

A rebellious statement, surely, but one made in light of the possibilities an eye-tracking virtual reality headset can—and, to Kojima, will—provide.

In fact, considering that Kojima tells that us that they’re using “eye tracking and face tracking to project our emotions to avatars,” one wonders if storytelling should remain the operative word here. As the masses await the launch of second-gen VR headsets like the HTC Vive and Playstation VR, the two-way interactivity of a FOVE has PSFK contemplating whether “story-telling” fits a medium that will be defined by a back-and-forth connectedness as much as it will be by its foveated rendering and tracking capabilities.

The act of telling may be an active one (FOVE gets at this very thing by encapsulating 2nd generation VR within the term, as seen in the diagram below) but not necessarily an interactive one as interactivity should indicate a kind of mutual consent.

Third-Gen VR FOVE

Maybe “storyforming” is more appropriate in a FOVE-activated world?

In a FOVE-generated roleplaying game, for instance, a user can expect story characters to respond to the minutiae of their actions much as people would in the real world. Make eye contact with a friend, and see them respond with a smile. Stare too long at an enemy, and a much different reaction is coming your way. “Game characters [will] have game flags decided already by game directors, depending on [an] interaction, the storyline made by the director will be changed,” says Kojima.

Third-Gen VR FOVE eyetracking

And, as an added layer of interactivity, the conversation occurring between players within this trigger-happy environment may also impact storylines, game quests and more within new games afforded by the platform or even existing ones as you can easily port existing VR content into the FOVE ecosystem.

Though we’ve come to promote VR headsets as gaming platforms—and FOVE certainly markets itself to that demographic—eye-tracking VR is in a privileged position as it can operate as a closed loop of social grooming. For instance, as a Youtube comment on Tested’s demo of the FOVE headset indicates, people with social phobias could overcome their fear of eye contact or other social interactions by overcoming it in-game.

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 10.38.37 AM.png

From there, they could then use FOVE in a user-to-user capacity to slowly communicate with potential online dates or to ease into social anxiety sessions with a therapist who is a city or country away.

FOVE also points out other areas where this could prove beneficial.

  • Education – In high-stakes training scenarios, whether for flight school or surgery, a user could undergo a session that requires the display of oodles of complex information without the need for interruption or disruption within the simulation. From there, a pilot or a doctor could graduate to avatar mode, watching more experienced personnel work a sensitive flight mission or a rare procedure in a remote part of the globe, while taking it in much less passively than current VR allows. In the case of surgery, where a steady hand is paramount, perhaps eye-controlled medical tools might do away with the biological lag we’ve come to expect from our eye-hand coordination?
  • Health Care – Control of the UI system through eye movement alone can help the physically disabled or incapable to participate in activities once out of their reach. In the case of the Eye Play the Piano project, a boy with severe muscular dystrophy was able to lead a school recital by controlling his piano through a sight-controlled interface. As a natural extension, the physically challenged could operate the full extent of their IoT-connected appliances and devices while home alone. Or, a high school music professor can develop a VR piano lesson that would allow a budding pianist to focus his-her hands on a keyboard while interactive musical notes and explanations emerge in their field of vision for easy activation.

While many won’t look beyond the implications of what glance-based contextual interactions will allow in next-gen first person shooters, eye-tracking VR—and as Kojima has come to explain, VR storytelling as we know it—will permeate beyond just the realm of entertainment. If wielded right, it can stitch together an elaborate social fabric that can not only reverse the technology’s unjustified reputation but improve the terms of use we’ve come to expect from our social conventions.


Images: FOVE & Jane Kratochvil/Games for Change

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