VIRTUAL REALITY MEETS PUBLIC SPACEOf course, you transfer the role models you have learned to your own later romantic relationships and love life. Even if I always had the feeling that I wanted more and just said it, I often paused and waited free online sex hookups. This is no longer the case. Not for a few years. At some point I got tired of it. It’s not that easy in a small town. After all, you still have to pay attention to what your neighbors think of you and what they expect. I understand that this is not just a small town phenomenon. The conservative notion is still generally anchored in Generation Y, since as children of the post-war / economic miracle generation we were all given a largely “traditional” family image. But even in the (non-existent) sex education or in sex education classes we do not get any real awareness of our femininity, our womanhood on the way. Funnily enough, it hits educational classes really well. You learn how children develop and how to prevent them, as well as diseases. Terrible diseases.
The “Cyborg Dating” project is a co-creation between Sander Veenhof and Rosa Frabsnap, first launched at the Impakt festival in Utrecht in 2014 and recently a version “2.0” was launched at the Ruhr Triennale. Although VR is increasingly a mobile experience with people being able to move across a room, our participants experienced a walk through physical reality. A set-up that would be impossible to realised based on whatever thinkable sensors, but introducing a human guide enabled this possibility and it was the trigger to further explore a specific genre: “VR4two”. To turn that into more than just a technical experiment, we came up with a theme and a story that would allow us to give meaning to the format. Going on a date seemed very suitable as a context to encapsulate all aspect into one coherent experience. Our first version consisted of a walk through the city centre of Utrecht, positioned on fixed GPS hotspots. The new version has been turned into a GPS based walk without fixed hotspots. In this version 2.0 we refined our interaction based on the Impakt experience and fore mostly: a storywriter was involved. The devices participants use and the way of interacting is an integral part of the experience. It is not just the way to experience the story. It -is- our story. The story is about one person wearing a VR headset and another person guiding the clueless person through the physical world. It’s a glimpe into the future. The person wearing the VR headset is partially back in physical reality, coming from a time where all beings have chosen to replace all of their human aspects with digital representations, including their sight and even their mind. For this special occasion, the future being is being teleported back to the present. Halfway the ‘date’, the VR wearable is going from one person to the other, to let the future cyborg see the world anew. To make that into a significant moment, it was important to properly move the participant into his or hre role. We invited each couple to sit down for an automated briefing, listening to a story that would throroughly explain them the context and their role.
WHAT YOU NEED: Cyborg Dating is an experience for two people. Both of you need a smartphone. One smartphone needs to be a hi-end Android phone with a big screen and GPS and gyroscope features. This phone should be inserted into a Google Cardboard. The other phone can be a regular less powerfull phone, as it will only be used by the guide to recieve textual instructions during the date. WHAT WILL HAPPEN: You will be going on a date which will unfold while you make a small walk. If you’re the one wearing the Google Cardboard, you’ll be entering a virtual forest. You can walk to move through the forest. Your guide helps you to avoid obstacles in the physical space. The software uses the GPS signal for positioning, so it only works outdoors. HOW IT WORKS: Cyborg Dating is available as web-app. Both of you browse to this website. If you clicks the phone (left), you become the guide. If you click the cardboard icon (right), you become the cyborg. You need Google Chrome to access the Google Cardboard virtual reality. HOW TO START: The first step is to connect. After choosing your device, the cyborg device shows a number. The guide should enter this number in the text-field on his/her phone. After this is done, you both press start.
The real-time connection between the environment of the VR participant and the smartphone in the hands of the ‘reality’ participant is in use for scripted interactions and some gameplay. Both players see suggestions on what to say to each other, and as the date progresses additional functions appear on the smartphone of the guide which is a ‘remote control’ for the virtual environment. Interaction-hotspots include a virtual rose that can being given by the VR person to the ‘real’ person, and with the press of a button, the ‘guide’ can activate a romantic night sky in the virtual forest. Moments later, both participants see the ‘hold hands’ button. And all is set for the final challenge: how to kiss a person wearing a clumsy Google Cardboard device?
From its origin the project is slowly moving from a very lineair story to a more dynamic story experience. Instead of going from one GPS point to another participants now go through various scenes, based on distance walked. The couple traverses through the VR world and the physical world at the same time. Invisibly, a tracing path is being constructed so a person wearing the VR glasses is able to find his/her way back, without seeing the physical reality. Per scene, a secundary timeline with events runs based on time spend in each scene, and an initial form of AI is trying to analyse movement (or non-movement) to let the story engine control the situation on an appropriate and meaningful way. Having in mind that thanks to the massive spread of smartphones and google cardboards, this experience could potentially be presented anywhere in the world without us being there to guide people in person, that aspect is what makes this genre very challenging. We have both the VR glasses and the mobile phone to send instructions and autocue texts, but somehow our reach ends where the software ends. We’re dependent on how well we are able to express our dramaturgical choices in an indirect way, through one participant saying something tot the other.