The Digital You: Gaming And Identity In VR

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Quite apart from creating some kind of cyborg, making the player an integral part of a video game in some way or another has become less of a feature and more of a mission for developers, with name, gender, and even full character customization earning a role in games as diverse as Mass Effect, EVE Online, Final Fantasy XIV, and Fallout 4. 

The Climb

With the advent of virtual reality (VR) devices like the Samsung Gear VR and the Oculus Rift though, the player ceases to be a puppet master controlling the fate of a super soldier or soccer star and begins to see the world through the character’s own eyes. With that in mind, character creation in VR games can often be more about enhancement than genesis, adding clothes and shoes and deciding how you want other players to perceive what is essentially an extension of your own body.

There’s actually a big conversation around identity in VR. At its most basic, it’s a chat with Crytek about why the player doesn’t have forearms in The Climb (it’s because VR must trick the brain to succeed and having a virtual arm length longer or shorter than the real one ruins the illusion) but there are obvious talking points around temporarily “becoming” another person, as evidenced by BeAnotherLab’s Gender Swap app for the Oculus Rift.

Oculus Avatars

In general though, representing the self in VR is an exercise in futility. Facebook Spaces uses cartoony avatars, AltSpaceVR’s “rooms” for Dungeons & Dragons renders the players as robot-like beings, while Oculus Avatars is based on neon “ghosts” made from a person’s head and neck and a pair of hands – not so much the next generation of character creation as something Peter Venkman has locked in a vault somewhere.

In a similar vein, casino brands have been experimenting with “live” gaming and coming up with ways to represent both the player and a dealer in immersive environments. In Canada, where live dealer casinos expand with Evolution Gambling, a company that recently pushed into Vancouver, it’s something of a growth industry. But while VR experiences do exist with casino themes, live croupiers have proven more popular than Oculus apps for a number of reasons.

The Sims

Not unlike the rest of the games discussed above, existing VR casino apps have yet to get player representation right. A popular title on the Oculus Rift lets players choose to be one of a number of pre-built characters rather than using an approximation of their own body. Others don’t bother with rendering the body at all. It’s an acceptable solution but one that breaks the player’s suspension of disbelief; after all, how many times a day do you look down and find your body missing from the eye sockets down?

VR avatars are a hugely important aspect of multiplayer games – even if the player never gets to look in a mirror. For example, in a hypothetical game like The Sims VR, being a visibly male or female character in a smart outfit or a bathing suit could dramatically change the way AI and human players interact with you. Plus, bringing your own legs to the VR trouser store is a prerequisite of the experience – and just about every young gamer’s dream. Right?

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