Field Trip Report: Blue Mars

BLUE MARS, 25 September 2010 — Today Tizzers Foxchase led an intrepid group of explorers from the VBCO Travel & Safari Co. on an extensive field trip thru the wonders of Blue Mars. In her trip report, Ironyca wondered about avatar gaze:

I think my avatar might have a crush on me!

At least she kept looking at me! I have always thought of an avatar as a virtual representation of me in cyberspace, but perhaps Blue Mars disagrees. To me, the identity immersion was completely broken by the fact my avatar liked to look at me (i.e. gaze at the “camera”), and sometimes her posing even looked flirtatious.

I was highly disturbed by the fact, that my idea of her and me being the same was thrown overboard, when she continously decided to turn her head and smile at me. If she is looking at ME, I can’t be HER.

What am I then? I guess I’m the weird pervert who follows her, mostly from behind, controlling her every move? Well.. she seemed fine with it…

I should add that other avatars gaze back as well if you turn your camera to be in front of them, even to the point it feels like they could be whispering about you, right in front of you.

Blue World Notes actually addressed Ironyca’s obsevation recently, apparently this avatar gaze issue is a choice made by Avatar Reality developer Koji Nagashima who told BWN “I think direction of eyes is very important point to make the avatar ‘alive’.”

Jerermy Bailenson, director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) has done research exploring the remarkable, but perhaps not oft considered fact, that it’s incredibly easy to send different avatar information to different participants at a given location. IRL “eyewitness testimony” is notoriously bad and frequently results in wrong verdicts, but at least, or perhaps problematically for “justice,” there is the presumption that the same circumstances land on everyone’s retina.

Bailenson’s work reminds us just how easy it is for the platform to send certain information about Ironyca’s gaze to Ironyca, and different information to me. Bailenson wonders if politicians and marketers won’t use this ability to be more persuasive. No doubt they will. But this “simple” ability really terraforms the very nature of human interaction at a very basic and very profound level.

As far as I know, SL or WoW, etc don’t do this yet, but perhaps Blue Mars is already doing exactly what Bailenson predicted, allowing Ironyca and I to believe we are standing in the “same” space, when in fact “the grid” is streaming DIFFERENT data to each of us.

The designer has chosen to have avatars look at viewer cameras – innocent enough – but we no longer each have eyes in an unmediated space, rather, our “fake” eyes are being fed a signal that was filtered for their benefit. Although perhaps small in this instance, the potential distortions of “reality” are endless.

Then again, isn’t Ironyca and I both giving me attention, and us both giving her attention, the way we perceive our conversation with each other? Could filtering the head rotation data to each viewer differently give a more perceptually “honest” representation of an experience even as it gives a more physically impossible one?

It kinda reminds me of James Hays & Alexei Efros (both from Carnegie Mellon at the time, Hays now at Brown) Siggraph ’07 paper Scene Completion Using Millions of Photographs. In this project they download a million pix to find the missing parts of, for example, your vacation photo. Hays & Efros idea is to let you circle the car blocking your otherwise idyllic shot of the tropical bay and “Scene Complete” it with flickr images.

And is the resulting image “a lie” because that view never existed in your camera viewfinder? Or is it more true than truth becase the resulting image is the one you actually experienced in that wonderful life moment?

Tizzers gave us a wonderful tour of some Blue Mars sights as a range of peeps, Pennyroyal, Heathers, and other popped in and out. After the formal tour by Tizzers, Ironyca and I hung out at the reception area bar and chatted with some of the locals. The speech bubbles on flickr give you a pretty good sense of the activities.

Since it has taken me 3 months to post this trip report, BM has revised both client and server since then. I haven’t really visited lately, but it would be good to see how it runs today. Both Tizzers and Connie Sec who were formerly very excited about Blue Mars are much less optimistic today. The both lament an overly authoritarian stance by Avatar Reality. Both said that everything you upload must be approved by Avatar Reality. Tizzy was unhappy that it requires sophisticated 3D modeling skills and doesn’t have the easy noob prim building of Second Life. Connie was unhappy that avatars in BM are apparently now allowed to have nipples!

Hopefully VB/CO will create a performance work on Blue Mars one day soon!

R E L A T E D . M A T E R I A L S

Interview: Tizzers Foxchase
Welcome To The Real World

Announcement: Field Trip 2 Blue Mars
flickr: Blue Mars Field Trip

Ironyca: WoW Meets Blue Mars About The Avatar Gaze
Blue World Notes: Avatar Gaze

iRez: Jeremy Bailenson
Hays & Efros: Scene Completion

click any image to enter slideshow mode & use arrow keys to scroll

As a virtual public artist my work invites avatar communities to express their identity, explore their culture, and demand their civil rights.

5 thoughts on “Field Trip Report: Blue Mars

  1. That’s a good observation about reality and how it would have to be different for different users, but we’re all special in our own versions.

    I read the Blue Mars article, and I see Koji Nagashima’s point. Difference is that he is getting “Don’t you wish you were here instead of me?” from his avatar, while I get “Heeeey Baby *wink wink*” from mine.
    A few commenters on that article actually felt eerie about it like I did, and I originally thought it was my inexperience alone that created this effect for me.

    I must say, you caught some golden moments of my gaze there! Hahaha, Ironyca looks slightly obsessed by you, and I thought she had a crush on me! It was YOU all the time!!!

  2. That’s just the thing — she makes everybody think they’re special! WOW — Ironyca makes so much eye contact with MEEEE, I’m so special! I’m her favorite!!!

    Yeah, right sugar… take a number… she gives EVERYONE that “full eye contact” treatment.

    Wow, you can hit on a whole room at once!

    Or, of course, if you’re a politician, you can harness an “Impossible IRL” power in this way.

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