Dr. Marilyn Schlitz is a social anthropologist, consciousness researcher, and co-author of the books Consciousness & Healing and Living Deeply. Her anthropological work has been at the frontier of researching how different cultures use various indigenous practices to invoke mind-body interactions for the sake of healing, and she’s come up with higher order frameworks to describe consciousness transformations from spiritual practices. She’s starting to look at how to invoke states of awe & wonder within VR, and whether this will be able to catalyze collective shifts in consciousness.
She says that we’re each living within our own reality bubbles, and that some of the most important skills in the 21st Century will be able to come to an awareness of our filters and to cultivate the capacity to understand, empathize, and interact with people who are living in completely different models of reality. We talk about some of the game design work that she’s doing in order to achieve this, as well as how virtual reality might provide a window into our multidimensional nature and help us become more aware of our own aspects of inattentional blindness.
Gunter S. Thompson has been hosting VR meetups in VRChat for the past 3 years where he will give guided tours through the latest additions to the VRChat metaverse, and he also hosts a live talk show every Tuesday called “Gunter’s Universe.” I had a chance to catch up with Gunter at SVVR about two months after VRChat launched on Steam on February 1st where we talked about highlights from his social VR adventures, the challenges of dealing with harassment and trolling with VRChat after it’s public launch, and hanging out at the most popular bar in the metaverse, which is called “The Great Pug.”
Custom avatars in social VR add a lot of fidelity of identity expression and creative flair in applications like VRChat or High Fidelity. Morph3D is a custom avatar solution that offers a number of free avatars within VRChat, but they also have a custom tool where you can customize your own virtual avatar. I had a chance to catch up with Chris “DeepRifer” Madsen, Morph3D’s head of VR/AR at GDC where we talked about some of the reactive avatars that they’re working on. Madsen has tried to explore something new in VR every day for the past four years, and he also shares some of the highlights of his social VR experiences from the last four years.
Anyland is a social VR experience focusing on worldbuilding and avatar creation tools that allow you to create interactive experiences while in VR. They’ve also implemented an open sharing feature that makes it easy to collect objects from the world and share them with other people. Stephanie Mendoza is a VR developer and artist who has spent a lot of time creating worlds and exploring the gift economy dynamics within Anyland, and I had a chance to capture some of her stories and social experiments. She talks about the social status that comes with discovering bugs and glitches, documenting her adventures of agency expression and interactions with trolls, and how VR has been helping her have lucid dreams that have featured Anyland’s worldbuilding user interfaces.
At the end of this podcast wrap-up, I share some of my reflections and lessons learned from AltSpaceVR including if optimizing for both mobile & high-end PC was too limiting, the potential importance of more robust options for identity expressions and world building, the importance of virtual economies being built into large social VR applications, and the challenges around harassment in VR. I also compare and contrast AltSpace VR with other social VR applications including Rec Room, VRChat, High Fidelity, Anyland, BigScreen, JanusVR, Spaces, Project Sansar, vTime, WebVR, and Decentraland. Amber also talks about her AmberVR YouTube channel where she plays GearVR games, and the importance of promoting mobile VR applications.
LISTEN TO THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST
AltSpaceVR was a pioneer and innovator in the social VR space creating the first bridge between mobile VR and high-end VR, and they published a video of community members sharing their favorite memories within AltSpaceVR:
Here’s my previous six Voices of VR interviews with AltSpaceVR since May 2014:
Here’s a popular event featuring Reggie Watts and Justin Roiland Live in VR
One of their last big events was Bill Nye talking about 8 Principles About Everything
Finally, UploadVR’s David Jagneaux captured some of the final moments of AltspaceVR’s Good Bye party on August 3rd (although it was still online as of Friday afternoon, but could go offline at any moment).
Dance is all about bodies moving through space, and it’s something that shows the strength of the VR medium since there’s something that’s lost when it’s translated onto a 2D screen. Lily Baldwin observed how audience members heard the music differently through her expressions as a dancer touring with David Byrne, and she wanted to experiment with using dance a form of embodied communciation within virtual reality. She teamed up with VR filmmaker Saschka Unseld to create Through You, which is an emotional and poetic experimental film that pushes the boundaries of what’s possible with camera movements and over 200 edits.
I had a chance to catch up with Baldwin at the Sundance Film Festival where we talk about her refined perception of body language, how she used bodies moving through space to communicate visceral emotion, and how they’re pushing the limits of editing and camera movement within VR. Through You
was released on Gear VR through the Oculus Video app available in the Oculus Store on August 1st, and is now available. LISTEN TO THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST
Decentraland is a virtual world that is using the Ethereum Blockchain to sell plots of virtual real estate. They’re having an initial coin offering for the ERC-20 token MANA from August 8 to August 16, 2017, and they’ll have up to 2 million plots of virtual land that will be sold for 1000 MANA. They hope to create a virtual city with different thematic districts that will help with content discovery.
The blockchain contract will contain a Bitorrent link or IPFS hash that contains the content for each virtual plot of land. They have a Unity plug-in, but are also planning on using A-Frame and other WebVR technologies to create their virtual city. They’ll be using using other blockchain technologies like district0x for secondary markets for reselling land, Aragon for distributed governance, uPort for self-sovereign identity Ethereum Name Service for human readable names. More specific architectural details are described in their Decentraland Whitepaper.
I had a chance to catch up with co-founders Ari Meilich and Esteban Ordano in San Francisco to talk about how Decentraland is using blockchain technologies to manage their virtual world, and why it’s important to create artificial scarcity to help with the discovery of virtual worlds.
The Institute of Noetic Sciences was founded by Apollo 14 Astronaut Edgar Mitchell after he had a mystical experience on the way back from being the sixth man to walk on the moon. After finding a description of his spiritual awakening experience as a “samadhi” within the ancient Vedas, he decided to start a science institution dedicated to studying the nature of consciousness. Consciousness is the “hard problem” in that there’s no widely accepted theory for how the mind is connected to the body, but IONS has been on the frontiers of researching this mind-body connection over the past 44 years.
They conducted a 10-year study researching the commonalities in different wisdom traditions that bring about a transformation of consciousness, and they published their findings in a book named Living Deeply. They’ve further refined a model of consciousness transformation, and are interested in applying virtual reality in invoking states of awe and exploring what types of latent human potentials might be unlocked.
I had a chance to catch up with Cassandra Vieten, the president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, to talk about how the vastness of awe leads to an experience that forces you to stretch your perspectives & accommodate new information. We also talk about how they’re starting to use virtual reality in their research, the impact on our environment and experiences in our lives, and the potential of unlocking latent human potentials through different contemplative practices & potentially mediated through technology.
LISTEN TO THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST
Here’s the model of consciousness transformation that IONS uses
One of the unique affordances of virtual reality is it’s power to convey the vastness of scale, which can invoke feelings of awe. Denise Quesnel is a graduate student at Simon Frasier University’s iSpace Lab, and she has been studying the process of invoking awe by using Google Earth VR. She was inspired by Frank White’s work on The Overview Effect, which documented the worldview transformations of many astronauts after they observed the vastness of the Earth from the perspective of space.
I had a chance to catch up with Quesnel at the IEEE VR conference in March where she shared her research into awe, how it can be quantified by verbal expressions, chills, or goose bumps, and how she sees awe as a catalyst for the transformative potential of virtual reality.
LISTEN TO THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST
Here’s a short video summarizing Quesnel’s research into using Google Earth VR to study the induction of awe.
Ida Benedetto is an experiential designer who has developed a framework she calls “Patterns of Transformation: Designing Sex, Death, and Survival in the 21st Century. She started curating Trespass Adventures, which were private & exclusive one-off immersive theater experiences at abandoned properties. The tension that came with transgressing boundaries carried a level of risk that proved to be a key ingredient for participants having some profoundly transformative experiences. If she started to remove these risks from the experiences, then they weren’t nearly as tantalizing or charged with transformative potential.
Benedetto was most interested in the aspects of human enrichment that came from these experiences, and decided to explore and conduct an anthropological study of other transformative experiences including sex parties, funerals, and outdoor adventures. She discovered that each of these experiences have some dimension of risk, whether it’s the physical risk of an outdoor adventure, the emotional risk of grieving the loss of a loved one, or the social risk of shame and humiliation of being rejected for expressing your desires at a sex party. She also found that transformation doesn’t happen unless you are able to let go of control in areas where you usually have control, which is a similar finding that Robin Arnott discovered with SoundSelf. Analyzing the risks associated with these different experiences is insightful for exploring the limits of how far how equivalent experiences in virtual environments will be able to go, especially when it comes to situations where our physical safety is threaten by the forces of nature.
I had a chance to talk with Benedetto about the components of her experiential design framework, how these design concepts apply to virtual reality, the relationship of awe to transformation, other models of transformation, how to handle trauma in intense experiences, and the primal insights that come from contemplating sex, death, and survival.