Monday, July 28, 2008

The Most Fabulous Object in the Universe.

Now everyone knows I am a bit of a techno toys aficionado, and today I found a techno gadget that sent me into paroxysms of delight... and consumer lust, a fair bit of that too. Now we all know that mind activated computing is possible. And you have probably seen reports of its use in helping disabled people control computers and fighter pilots control targeting systems, but now mind control has hit the consumer market, well almost. The device in question is the Emotive EPOC, and I most definitely, really want one, but I will have to wait, as it is not set to be released until the end of this year.

Here is a kool photo of the EPOC looking very much like the 'SQUID' from the awesome scifi movie Strange Days. Which makes me wonder how long it will be until they really can record one's experiences.

What does it do? Well it allows you to control your computer by thinking about it. Which is incredibly kool, in itself, but wait there's more. Where it will be amazingly useful in virtual worlds is that it relays your facial expression to your avatar in real time. You smile and your avatar smiles at the same time. Moreover it will move your avatar's head as you move your head and, this bit is a bit spooky, "infer your emotional state". The nice Australian (cummon aussie cummon, cummon) lady explains in a video on the website that this might be useful for altering game play to take better advantage of the players emotional state. Which (to my twisted mind) translated to, give people a chance to scare the bejesus out of you when you least expect it. I never played much Quake, but it left its mark.

This device is amazingly similar to an idea I had for my PhD, which involves real time animation of avatars, not just expressions and head movement, but every body movement. This came about when thinking about the differences one encounters between doing rituals in VW and RL. I posit that there is a causal relationship between the degree to which an experience is immersive and the perception of the participant that the ritual works. Not that it was very hard to posit that really. Common sense actually. Anyway, if one can increase the immersiveness (neologism of the day) of the experience, then one can test this theory. This will enable exploration of the idea of what shared space is. Imagine a bunch of people, geographically widely dispersed and each wearing an apparatus that exactly duplicates their movements and facial expressions onto avatars in a VW, and also 'intuits their emotional state" while they do rituals simultaneously in the VW and in RL. Does this constitute a shared ritual space? If so, where exactly is the space they are sharing? And what does this do to our conception about how rituals work?

Oh, and if you don't get the culture reference in the title, you obviously haven't watched Time Bandits... Go and watch it immediately.

Morgan Leigh

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