Using language to translate an experience into words is one of the highest levels of abstraction that you can have. Using the power of visual metaphor through poetry is able to get to deeper levels of emotion, and virtual reality is able to remove nearly all levels of abstraction by tricking your senses into having a direct sensory experience within your body. Indie VR artist Isaac “Cabbibo” Cohen has started to create a sort of “Experiential Poem” with virtual reality exploring how to invoke complicated emotions that transcend words.
I had a chance to catch up with Cabbibo at GDC to talk about his process of using VR for emotional exploration. He was previewing a couple of new experiences at the Valve booth including a picture-book VR narrative called Delilia’s Gift, and a social VR environment called Ring Grub Island that was designed for mutual exploration and embodied vulnerability.
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Cabbibo has released four brief experiences and games on Steam so far including Blarp, L U N E, Warka Flarka Flim Flam, My Lil’ Donut, which explore new types of embodied gameplay in VR that begs us to use our bodies in new ways. The building an imaginary fortress type of experience in L U N E catalyzed a deep emotional reaction from many users like this one from Hyperion, Half way through this I crouched to the floor and burst out in tears.”
Cabbibo told me last year that his favorite experience to date has been Irrational Exhuberance, and there haven’t been a lot of other experiences that have inspired him to use his body to explore a space and contemplate the meaning of existence in quite the same way.
Now he’s on his own journey now to create more of these experiential poem VR experiences that try to capture the essence of an emotion. After starting therapy last year, he’s been finding VR to be a robust expressive medium for exploring and playing with his own emotional states that is more interesting than his early experiments in embodied gameplay. He’s beginning to explore what it means to explore vulnerability within embodied and social context, and in the end wants to use VR to help people realize how being alive is such a miracle. Cabbibo is doing some of the most groundbreaking explorations of discovering some of the unique affordances of VR as an artistic medium, but more importantly using VR as a mirror to learn more about what it means to be human.
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