Games are about more than jumping pits and getting headshots. They are about immersive experiences that change your point of view. That’s what this week’s Game Experiment is about--changing your point of view. In fact, this Oculus Rift-based VR simulator will actually let you be another person. It’s called The Machine To Be Another, and it uses psychological principals to change the way you perceive yourself.
Before we get into this beautiful art piece, let’s give you some psychological history. A study by neuroscientists at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden showed you can induce phantom limb syndrome in people who still had all of their limbs. The experiment put a barrier between the subject and one of their arms. A researcher would run a brush over the hand of the subject while simultaneously running a brush over the empty space in the area in front of the subject. This would cause the brain to associate feeling with the space the subject could see. Eventually, the researcher would stop brushing the subject’s actual hand, instead only brushing the empty space. However, the subject could still feel a brush moving over his hand. Just like that, the researchers were able to create an artificial phantom limb.
These results were then expanded upon by tricking a subject’s point of view. For example, a subject would wear a VR headset, like the Oculus Rift, to see through the eyes of a mannequin. Researchers would poke both the subject and the mannequin in the stomach at the same time. Eventually, the researchers could make the subject feel as if he was being poked by simply poking the mannequin. The mannequin’s body had become a surrogate for the subject’s own, even though it may be of a completely different height, body shape, or gender.
It’s this phenomenon on which The Machine to Be Another is based. The installation creates two identical rooms, one which houses a subject and another which houses a performer. The subject wears an Oculus Rift VR headset, which is attached to a point of view camera on the performer’s head. The subject then, basically, does whatever he or she wants. At the same time, the performer mimics all the movements the subject makes, and since they are wearing a POV camera that is feeding into the subject’s Oculust Rift, the subject is feeling his body move but is seeing the performer’s body move. Soon the brain begins to rewire itself, just as it did in the phantom limb experiments. The subject begins to think of the performer’s body as his own. The brain tailors tactile sensations based on what it sees, not what is actually happening.
The Machine to Be Another has been used in fantastic ways. It can make a tall person feel short, or a short person feel tall. Recently, it has been used to place people in bodies of the opposite gender as a look into the science of gender identity. It has even allowed a mother to experience what it was like to be her daughter, as she goes through the creative experience of drawing a comic book and has allowed paraplegics to see and feel moving legs again.
All of this was made possible by a simple headset designed for use in PC gaming. It kind of brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “games as art.” For more information on The Machine To Be Another, check out the official project website.