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Tag Archives: embodiment

Wednesday film: The Last One

The main character of this short is the final survivor of his kind in the war between humans and robots. The film is nicely shot and touching, but I’m including it mainly because of the last line of voiceover. How soon could that be true for both sides in the battle? Will it ever be?

The Last One from Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg on Vimeo.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2015 in Video

 

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VWBPE conference, day 3 (part 2)

The afternoon session “Educators and the Second Life Viewer”, led by Oz Linden, wasn’t a topic that had direct impact on me, but I was curious.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one:

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Oz began with an overview of how the Lab does viewer development and release and then the questions came flooding in. Most of the concerns involved dealing with viewer updates in an institutional setting, where students sitting down to use machines lacked administrator rights and had to wait for someone else to install the software. At a busy school, the update schedule of the tech support staff can be terribly out of sync with SL releases.

Some worried about potentially losing inventory when testing new viewer candidates (you won’t; it’s stored on the server, not your client viewer). Others asked about screencasting or screen sharing tools. The discussion indicated that other tools do it better, which perhaps didn’t satisfy everyone’s needs. People asked about hair alphas and alpha conflicts in general, which Oz said were always on the LL bug list. A question came up about how to transfer settings from one computer to another (move the settings.xml file). There was a discussion around how to create a shared whiteboard in SL. HTML 5 support will be coming in a few months, which might make it easier to use media-on-a-prim to create a whiteboard, and one educator suggested using Twiddla for that implementation. In the discussion of media-on-a-prim, Oz mentioned Quicktime for Windows and Flash as being difficult to support in-world (personal opinion: they’re outdated and shouldn’t be supported, but we need a media option).  Someone asked about getting an MSI instead of an exe to make installation in labs easier.  I’m sure Oz was flooded with emails mentioning that an MSI can be generated directly from Visual Studio by choosing “Create an Installer Package” from the Project.

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People also asked about social media sharing, rendervolumeLODFactor settings, inventory management (!), an export feature (nope), and more. Oz also mentioned render costs and the setting being tested that won’t render avatars above a certain weight.  Not that I have a horse in that race. It was a very informative talk, with a couple of other Lindens jumping in to add details, and I hope it was useful for them as well. The session took place during dinner time, so my software engineer husband was listening with me and often yelling responses to questions across the room; I’m glad my microphone fiasco happened later in the evening.

Speaking of which…

Next, I attended the “Content Curation Through Virtual World Communities” session, where I was able to hear the first two panelists and a small amount of the third. My write-up of this session is limited as I committed an accidental faux pas (open mic in a voice-conducted panel) and lost my notes in the flurry of embarrassment afterward.

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Valerie Hill (Valibrarian Gregg) touched on library topics — as you might guess from her SL name — but also referenced Alvin Toffler and talked about users as prosumers: both consuming and creating content. She spoke about how important it is to vet our own content sources for credibility and to avoid placing ourselves in an echo chamber where we only hear our existing views reflected back at us.

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Renee Brock-Richmond (Zinnia Zauber) gave a presentation centered on creating an “authentic” avatar and reinforcing your personal branding. You might be able to tell from the slide above that she is all about color. She talked about different ways to use color in-world — not only for clothing — and about creating a consistent avatar, including profile, that is authentic to yourself. I found that very thought-provoking. I wanted to agree and argue, so it’s something I might pick up in a future post.

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Next up was Beth O’Connell (Beth Ghostraven). She talked about useful communication techniques and tools. She also shared a helpful notecard entitled “Professional Education and Library Resources in Virtual Worlds” that has links to SL and OpenSim areas, mailing lists and groups, and websites. Unfortunately, my gaffe happened during her session. I missed part of it while talking and after being removed from the sim.

I completely missed the presentation by Joyce Bettancourt (Rhiannon Chatnoir), which was disappointing because I had enjoyed the session by her Vesuvius Group colleague so much earlier in the day.

Not being one who can shake off things like that (despite the wise counsel of Dr. Taylor Swift), I didn’t attend the session “Real Democracy in a Virtual World” or the Quill & Quarrel performance later that evening. Today, I’ll be attending sessions from my desktop computer, which has no microphone whatsoever.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2015 in Learning, Research

 

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Avatar embodiment as self-directed therapy

Ignorance is a choice

You might have noticed that the Second Life avatar I’m using for photos has changed. With my SL partner Jakob offline and in the hospital, it’s uncomfortable to use the avatars that feel like “me” — my 9 year old alt and my 4 year old main Kay avatar. They feel too vulnerable. It’s unbearably sad to spend time in the virtual house that we share. I’ve managed to attend the weekly chat salon at Basilique, where my mind is engaged and distracted, but that’s about the limit of what I can do.

Now, I use an alt that I created a couple years ago but never really took out of the box, so to speak. She might as well wear a placard that says, à la Fight Club, “I am Kay’s inner rage.”  Right now she’s a cyborg with an artificial leg and eye, other times she’s punk. She always has a vicious scar across one cheek. She has an arsenal of weaponry and tools of mischief. It gave me great delight last week when she was changing clothes in a room at a public sandbox, two people crowded her, and I deployed a fog machine and released wandering elephants and tigers until they moved. She doesn’t talk to anyone more than replying to an initial greeting, sometimes. She embodies my feeling of helplessness and sadness as well as the part of me that wants to blow shit up.  The part of me that surges, narrow-eyed and fangs glistening, whenever I listen to “Want” by Recoil.

Walking around in this avatar helps me handle the frustration that I have no other place to release. It’s not fun and I don’t sign on daily, but it gives me a safe space to be angry and aggressively anti-social and unpleasant. I can’t carry those feelings with me every hour of the day and I need to work through them. This suits my personality more than seeking a support group and it spares my husband hours of my sulking or mourning.

Yesterday, Jakob had radiation therapy for the metastasized tumor in his brain. I have no idea what the doctors are telling him about what’s next, but let’s hope that the side effects don’t diminish his quality of life too badly. My planned trip to visit him, already booked, is in sixteen weeks.

 

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A walk in the woods in any weather

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If you’ve read more than a few posts of mine, you know that I scoff at the nouveau Luddites telling people to put down their phones, limit screen time, or join the “real world”. Here is another reason why.

Lately I’ve needed some time with my thoughts, but the weather in my part of the physical world has ranged from a balmy crummy down to an absolute crappy. Any time I want it, however, I can stroll along a beach. I can climb a mountain or swim in a shimmering lake. I can watch the clouds from a tree fort and listen to bird song. If I want to be alone with a reasonable simulation of nature, I can do it at my keyboard.

I’m not saying that the virtual can replace the physical; it is only because I have similar experiences in my sense memory that the virtual strolling can soothe me so well. It is a supplement and an extension. It reminds me of places I’ve been. It takes me places I will never go.

Because some designers, builders, and artists in SL are so clever, walking through the woods can give me some of the same spirit-lifting surprises and delights I find offline. I’ll turn a corner and find squirrels scampering through the leaves. A cliff will offer me a soft cushion on which to meditate. Though I usually travel alone and in silence, sometimes another resident will add a quirky experience. A few minutes after resting on the hammock in the photo above, I was playing on a tire swing in the forest and a wolf came up to chat.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2014 in Art in SL, Health - Mental & Physical

 

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Short documentary on virtual reality treatment of PTSD

Motherboard published this 20 minute documentary in March, but I just stumbled across it today (thanks GoodShit – NSFW). I’ve met a lot of people with PTSD or mental illness who use virtual worlds as part of their coping strategies, as well as some in formal virtual reality treatment programs. It’s incredibly powerful to be in a safe physical location and to explore the roots of ongoing anxiety. For some, a virtual world or game — outside of treatment — is also a way to interact with other people without feeling panic or self-consciousness from a temporary or lifelong condition.

The video focuses on customized VR environments for combat veterans – possible trigger warning.

 

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Thoughts on virtual gender, appearance, and performance

Over at Motherboard is a short piece about a virtual gender stereotype experiment conducted at Stanford University. Basic concept: users competed against bots to complete math problems. Regardless of physical world gender, when users were assigned male avatars to compete against female bots, they were most successful.  The avatar representations were simply cartoon faces (dark eyes and hair, pale faces). Here’s the paper. I like that they were diligent about standardizing the perceived attractiveness of the avatars and tested whether existing mathematical ability was a factor, based on SAT math scores of participants. Still, could there be something else at work beyond the expected stereotype that males are better at math than females? I’d love to think so, but I’m not sure.

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Katteker in TERA at level 27

Shifting gears, after I got bored with the lack of endgame for a solo player in TERA (or any MMORPG, really), I thought I’d try a small experiment of my own. How would the experience be different if I played the same class but with a radically different appearance?  My level 60 lancer — tank class — Karbyne is rhino-like and scarred, with a name that references the hardest element now known.  My second lancer, now level 28, is about as twee as I could manage.  She’s short with purple pigtails, stars on her cheeks, and squirrel ears and tail. I dubbed her Katteker, which means squirrel in Low German.  I set new rules for myself, too: if someone specifically invited me to join a guild, I would say yes.  If someone addressed me directly in conversation, I would answer. However, I wouldn’t seek to socialize any more than I did with my previous character.  The first result I found was that Katteker was recruited into a guild at level 17, compared with Karbyne, who reached the level cap guild-less. Secondly, random strangers give Katteker buffs almost every day (for non-gamers, that means they cast spells that give her short-term advantages, like greater endurance or faster healing). The strangers don’t stop to talk, though I usually say a quick “thank you!” in local chat. That never happened to Karbyne.

The most dramatic differences are within me, though. It’s more fun to play as Katteker. Her movements are light-hearted and upbeat rather than the angry, aggressive animations that are standard for Karbyne’s race, and my emotional state is influenced by that. For example, when both characters stand still, Katteker will eventually start to dance, then later to clap her hands on an invisible bug. Karbyne sneers and lunges menacingly. I’m excessively amused by playing an adorable purple squirrel-girl who is a ruthless tank. It might be that the gaming part of my personality is inclined toward cuteness and fun, Ratchet & Clank rather than Call of Duty, so I’m more comfortable playing as Katteker.

So, here’s what I’m pondering today: if I was designing a story-based video game, I might want to manipulate the emotional states and preconceptions of players by forcing them to play with different avatars during specific chapters of the game. Personally, I would want to challenge stereotypes as I did that: featuring female avatars in some logic-based segments and male avatars in emotional ones, and including avatars of assorted races and belief systems as primary characters, not just sidekicks and enemies. But what if I was developing a business or educational application that used avatars? I always prefer a system that allows users to choose and modify their own avatars, but would performance be better if the system forced avatar choice consistent with stereotypes about a particular task? I find it offensive to think about limiting mathematical tasks to male avatars and nurturing tasks to female avatars, for example, but if my goal was peak performance….  Hmm.  I think a compromise might be to allow users to pull from a varied set of default avatars for each task or to customize their own. If I felt my best “accounting self” was different than my “presentation self”, I could change avatars or make modifications to my base avatar, rather than having the system choose for me.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2014 in Embodied Experience, Gaming, Gender & Sexuality

 

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Prosthetic history

io9 published a photographic history of prostheses yesterday, going back to an iron arm from the 1500s. Some of them are quite beautiful, like this Victorian hand:

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Mechanical and electronic enhancement of the human body fascinates me.  I’m interested in how the prosthetic part is (or is not) incorporated into a person’s proprioception and sense of self. I’m curious about the possibilities for enhancement beyond human standard abilities.

I have a hidden prosthetic: an artificial hip joint. It’s purely mechanical and attached to my bones. I walk a little strangely and my hip is often sore, but that was true before the surgery too. The process of incorporating the prosthetic into my selfhood was barely different from accepting a dental filling as part of my tooth; it’s invisible to me and except for when I notice some stiffness or that eight inch scar, I forget about it.  That’s dramatically unlike someone with an external prosthesis.

Like the experience of presence in a virtual world, incorporating a prosthetic is the extension of the self into the inanimate, mechanical or digital. However, I think there’s a risk in getting too philosophical about it, as that’s not a uniquely human characteristic. We successfully equip a wide variety of animals with prosthetic limbs. Perhaps we’re simply designed to make the best of the situation in which we find ourselves.

 

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