Self-embodiment is one of the driving forces in VR experiences and games. When you enter VR, whether it be to exercise or watch a movie, you are placing yourself directly into the action. Inarguably, you are the main character in VR. Just as you’d consider yourself the main character of your own life.
That’s why it is important for developers, especially VR fitness developers, to place the player in the center of the action.
Recently, I’ve been writing in-detail about ways developers can improve VR fitness games. The keystone point of my last exploratory article was that, when a VR fitness developer deconstructs context related to non-VR games, they can build a suitable VR fitness game in any setting.
After all; personal embodiment is the center of immersion, which is the center of what makes VR and VR fitness appealing.
At Oculus Connect, I got to sit in on a conference presented by Yelena Rochitsky (Executive Producer, Oculus) and Isabel Tewes (Developer Strategy, Oculus) as they gave their talk on embodiment in VR.
“Shooting targets makes you more focused while playing with a toy rocket makes you more aggressive,” Rochitsky explained over a demo of Oculus First Contact.
That logic is extrapolated to any objects that developers use when inducing exercise from players in VR. As the two speakers illustrated, your world is what gives context to your behavior. When an object in the world creates aggression, you behave aggressively.
Contextually, confronting a physical target that you must smack around to win a game is enough to both create and necessitate the emotion of aggression.
That aggression is how your body changes, physiologically, to meet the contextual demands of gameplay.
VR is capable of doing this because it fully engages your body. You aren’t abstracting actions with a controller. You are the controller.
“OrbusVR does something really interesting. They’ve built a village where people can pick up questlines and see other people.” – Isabel Tewes, Oculus
People in VR form clusters while socializing, much like humans do in real life. The body language and focus that people have with one another, whether feigned or not, translates into VR.
“I’m sure I’m not the only person in the room who’s been misinterpreted. Maybe somebody didn’t get your body language,” Tewes said of the importance of social context in VR.
You behave according to the world that you inhabit. When the world is bright and colorful, your behavior is upbeat and creative. When the world is aggressive, you become aggressive. And when the world is socially inviting, you become social.
Beat Saber speaks to this notion directly. When you pick up lightsabers, you recontextualize yourself as a Jedi. While you might not actually be a Jedi in real life, you are one in the context of Beat Saber. That’s how VR works, on a psychological level, for prolonged fitness benefits.
A further example of world based self-embodiment used by the two speakers was the PlayStation 3 game, Journey, where players could interact together online—but only within the context of the game’s minimalist desert world. Players in that game could hit a button to sing to one another, which made more sense for that world than regular communication would.
As a result, Journey is remembered for the actual emotions of connection it created in its players, rather than the minimalist method of communication that it used to invoke those emotions.
Journey was a game world that taught its players to behave by its rules, and what emerged was players acting as their truest selves.
Here’s the point:
It doesn’t matter how realistic a VR world is. What matters is how that world keys its player in. You must generate a consistent internal logic that gives your player emotional context. If you want your player to behave in a certain way, you must inspire extremely specific emotions.
“The more you encourage people to work together, the more they will come back and keep playing.” – Riley Dutton, Orbus
In order to inspire those emotions, you must dedicate your world-building and game design to invoke those emotions as best as you possibly can.
“In Rec Room, you can do things like high five each other. You can wave your hands in the air. In real life, this makes us feel connected. When I fist pump Yelena and she’s in another room and we both see sparks fly and feel the controllers rumble, it makes us both feel really connected,” spoke Tewes towards the closing moments of the conference. “We are infants in the new landscape that VR offers to us.”
A consistent theme that I’ve been approaching lately is multiplayer in VR. It’s imperative that social interaction become a part of VR fitness gaming, if not simply because human interaction is something that drives so many gamers and athletes.
But beyond multiplayer in VR, you can truly let players escape into new dimensions where they don’t just have to be themselves. It’s the first time that developers have been able to put players inside of a cockpit in games like Vox Machinae and Elite: Dangerous. It’s also the first time developers have been able to put players into the ring as Adonis Creed.
So the question is, developers, how will you use self-embodiment to shape your players’ behavior in future generations?