Me, Myself & My Avatars

(or remapping the homunculus)

2021

Virtual Reality experience of playable non-human avatars

Research residency at Schaubude Berlin

 

Central to the project is the concept of "homuncular flexibility" by Jaron Lanier et al., which is about the extensibility and mutability of the homunculus - the term used to describe the mapping of movements and sensations experienced by the body located in the neurocortex of the brain. For example, when a limb is injured or amputated, the corresponding regions in the homunculus shift to other parts of the body. This flexibility is a prerequisite for identifying with the body of an avatar in VR at all.

 

Research into these processes combines findings from psychology, neuroscience, philosophy and computer science and is based on the thesis that the homunculus can adapt bodies that differ significantly from the typical human form. Since there is no absolute separation between avatar and world in VR, the shape one takes on is of great importance. VR thus becomes a toolkit for exploring homuncular flexibility and offers the possibility of better understanding the relationship between the brain and the rest of the body.

 

These relationships are explored in our project using today's technical means and made tangible through implementation in the game engine Unity. Building on the research results of Lanier et al., we have prototyped three different playable non-human avatars: One with extra limbs, one consisting of the environment, and one of multiple bodies. Collaboration with this fantastic team has resulted in the design and planning of another avatar: This one called Ponyboy has the physique of a horse, but is controlled bipedally.


With the prototypes developed during the residency period, we are now well equipped to organize the realization phase.

 

Experience Design & Programming: Lena Biresch

3D Art: Tore Nobiling

Puppetry & Coding: Nico Parisius

 

Documentation