Engaging With Digital Embodiment Through MakeHuman

Through the process of engaging with the MakeHuman platform, I got a chance to try and embody James Moore and to think about how I would historically defend my design choices. It made me realize that the prospect of creating a faithful digital embodiment of someone who we know relatively little about is a daunting one.

For an exercise like the twine story, it’s easier to make creative decisions about what James Moore could have done on any given day because his whole life wasn’t chronicled. The unrecorded parts of Moore’s life can be filled with historically defensible claims, allowing modern observes to take some license when describing his life. The same is not true of recreating his likeness.

James Moore looked a certain way, embodying him allows for less creativity because the possibility of creating an inaccurate result is much more real than in another medium such as twine. Because of this, the stakes are higher and there are times when it could feel like not populating a simulation with character models would be better than guessing based off of limited information and producing an ineffective result.

This is especially true in cases of difficult histories such as the Rosewood Virtual Environment or the Apartheid Heritage Project when using less accurate character models would devalue the importance of the individuals who lived through those experiences. So while VR and digital modeling might not themselves be empathy machines, engaging with difficult ideas such as accurate character creation can help us develop empathy for other historians who attempt to create historical accuracy in the digital medium.

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