Digital Embodiments: Superficiality and Scrutiny

In terms of viewing digital embodiment and VR as empathy machines, the Dangerous Embodiments software did not necessarily achieve that end for me. As we discussed briefly in class, the game modeled an open world exploration experience (with no goals or interactions) and gameplay was the same regardless of chosen character. The default view–following the backside of the character so you can never see their face–actually distances you quite a bit from your character with whom you attempt to empathize; in effect, the whole empathy element of the game becomes refigured by superficiality. However, there might be some merit to this kind of distanced and equalizing embodiment. At one point playing as the female slave in the plantation world, I discovered a door that would not open, and later came to find that the door was also glitchy for the male plantation owner as well (I had expected the door to be accessible to the male owner). Perhaps the act of bringing my own expectations to the game is educative in of itself, even as gameplay remains unchanged through different characters’ perspectives.

An entirely different experience of digital embodiment for me was engaging with the MakeHuman software. Given the ability to sketch up pauper avatars in a matter of minutes, I quickly became concerned with the level of detail at which users could exert control. Put in conversation with historical accuracy and authenticity, this sort of granularized avatar creation urges users to make guesses without adequate background knowledge. What nose height or eye distance should we give Mary Jones, a question we ask while we have virtually no physical descriptions of her in our archives? Clearly it’s a difficult question, and yet the software encourages uninformed choices in the name of experimentation– lest our pauper be given default characteristics.

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