The faces of Social VR

VR is making huge advancements, with smaller, untethered devices, better resolution, and the early stages of hand tracking and haptics. In-game worlds are more realistic as well.

What appears to be lagging behind is the avatar — the in-world representation of the player. On most social VR platforms, avatars are still fairly primitive, with bland, pleasant facial expressions and limited mobility.

In time, the technology will catch up and we’ll be much more accurately rendered in VR. But is this what we really want?

A lot of folks enter VR social platforms because they’re uncomfortable with some aspect of face-to-face socializing. Some are self-conscious about their physical appearance. Some are just socially awkward and struggle with reading social cues, which can make it difficult to make friends.

Right now, with the lack of facial expressions and the variability in network lag, no one in VR can read social cues easily, so everyone makes allowances. It levels the playing field for people like me.

I have a minor disability that makes it difficult for me to track conversational turn-taking cues. I can manage a one-on-one conversation with enormous effort. In a group it’s hopeless. But in VR, I’m normal.

For the first time in my life, I have a group of close friends. We play cards and golf together. We hold group discussions about things that matter. If I don’t show up for a party, they notice. How ironic is that? I had to go to virtual reality to find real friends.

As avatars become more lifelike, able to accurately track facial expression and body movement, what will happen with those of us who have used the platforms as a sort of social prosthetic? Will we be left behind, as out of place in VR as we are in the outside world?

Maybe there’s an argument to be made for keeping a little of the “virtual” in virtual reality.

Written by EvolVR community member, Rattles.


Read the full piece, and more on Social VR, on Tom Nickel‘s Medium page, here.

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