OneAvatar connects your body to your Avatar in virtual worlds.
You and your Avatar will be finally one, sharing the same experiences even at physical level.
You get hurt, you Avatar gets hurt.
Your Avatar dies, you die.
Virtual Worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft address people's perceptions and sensorial domains in specific ways. By using (living) these worlds users experience emotions, sensations and perceptions to which they are used to or of completely new kind. Both types are "new" in the fact that they are created in the users by means of technological devices and digital communications related practices. This is a major trend of contemporary technology. Bridges across information, architectures, prcesses and the body are constantly being created at sensorial or even physical levels. Interactive systems, wearable technologies, prosthetics, technologies that are embedded into objects and locations, domotics, robots, artificial intelligences. All of these things go towards eliminating the possible dualities intercurring between what is organic and inorganic, of what is body and what is architecture, what is thought or memory and what is external information flow, what is a physical product and what is an immaterial service.
This is a very complex subject for discussion, and it represents the full 360 degrees of background that sits behind and at the base of "OneAvatar".
The project starts off from taking into account these new sensorialities and then brings them to an extreme to highlight frictions, possibilities and, most of all, new spaces for dialogue.
We are all, more or less, influenced by the emotional and processual practices connected to the use of networks and, specifically, by virtual worlds. Checking for new emails every 10 seconds; clicking on the "StumbleUpon" button to randomly see a new website for 3 seconds, then passing to the next one; the way in which we scan texts instead of reading them; the use of search engines; the ways in which we identify people on the internet; the way in which we read news and blogs and information. These are all things that are similar to other things that we experienced in "life_without_the_internet", but this resemblance is truly a partial one, as they can be characterized in ways that are dramatically different, and studied specifically. So much that they are being called "new tactilities", "digital senses", "augmented sensoriality" etcetera.
This is obviously true with regards to Virtual Worlds like Second Life and World of Warcraft. When we go to places, chat, interact, buy, visit, dance, have sex in these worlds we have experiences that we define by using names that are pertinent to the analog world, but that are totally different.
Two clear differences lay in the areas of the perception of the physical body and on the notion of identity.
We cannot get physically hurt in Second Life or on World of Warcraft, nor can we physically feel the sensations that we feel when we touch something/someone, when we lift things, move things, when we are hit, caressed, when there is wind or direct sunlight, when we dive int the water or when we fall down from the skateboard or get a papercut. These missing degrees of sensoriality are one of the main distinctive characteristics of the way we experience Virtual Worlds and centrally define such experiences and the ways in which we perceive them. The fact that it is not possible to get hurt and, eventually, die in a Virtual World creates a physical and perceptive distance from that experience, shaping social relations, interactions, world use, economics. This missing body, this sense of being freed from the responsibility of having a body that can get hurt, fall sick, break, die, suffer from pollution, bring a whole plethora of concepts to low levels of attention.
The ways in whch we define our identities in digital and virtual worlds enhances this scenario. To be able to freely define our identity represents a form of freedom, that is for sure, but it also "disconnects" us from the Avatar that we impersonate. Experience becomes real (as it can bear real efefcts that are relational, economic, political...) but theatrical, fictional. It is narrative, more than it is real.
OneAvatar doesn't have a moral/ethical approach to these issues. The project is aimed at establishing real connections running between the virtual worlds and the physical body, to examine the possibilities arising from these practices.
In the first production of OneAvatar, part of the NeRVi (Neo Realismo Virtuale) theories, a video shows a person during a session in the Second Life virtual world. The person wears a set of electrodes that are connected to the USB port of hs laptop. The device is controlled by a software that uses the libsecondlife software libraries to intercept and interpret the status of his avatar's virtual body, trasforming it into stimulations of the physical body.
When the user jumps off with his avatar beyond the edge of a tall building in the virtual world without turning on the "fly" mode, the software interprets this great fall as a traumatic event, and sends a high voltage shock to the player, that is, to all effects, electrocuted.
While this is a fictional setup, as the actual device only uses low voltage stimulations, such as the ones found in sport-related appliances and massage machinery, it creates a shocking representation of what can easily become reality: a deep connection running between analog and virtual bodies. With all of its positive and negative sides.
The work is an installation/performance.
The installation space features from 2 to 4 computers placed on black exhibition blocks, and connected to form a network.
In the center of the space stands the performer wearing the OneAvatar suit/wearable device.
The visitors can use the computers to play a 3D game in which they hunt the performer's avatar in a virtual world. When they eventually catch and shoot him, the performer gets an electric shock, transmitted to the affected parts of the body of the avatar trough the electric circuit fit in te OneAvatar suit, placed in contact with the performer's body. When this happens, the sound of an electric shock is played and the led lights disseminated troughout the device/suit are illuminated through an electriconic circuit, producing visual effects running through the body of the performer.
During the performance the sound is three dimensional, providing an immersive experience, and a set of one or more video projections are played on the sides of the installation, displaying the in-game point of view of the performer's avatar and - if more than one projection is available - two info-aesthetic visualizations of the game's parameters and of the avatar/performer's body conditions (generative graphics controlled by body sweat, muscle fatigue and tension, body movement).
Thus, the visitors are placed in front of a game which implements a bridge between virtual and real worlds: what happens in the virtual world has repercussions in the real one, under the form of the physical effects on the performer's body and of the multi-sensorial environment created in the installation's space.
From past experiences we discovered that some people turn quite sadistic when playing the game, getting hooked on the mechanism and consistently playing as in a kind of visionary distorted-circus mood, actually enjoying the situation with the performer getting practically electrocuted while playing. For this reason we provided the suit with security mechanisms to limit the voltages and currents to a level which is tolerable with no danger whatsoever in the case of continuous, intense stimulations.
The installation space is narratively arranged as if it was located in some kind of high-tech toy-shop. All around the performer's platform the boxes of the "narrative" OneAvatar product are displayed such as in a shopping center showcase: the black boxes are either empty (for display purposes only) or filled with some of the OneAvatar gadgets such as the USB connectable OneAvatar t-shirt and several models of OneAvatar branded USB-conectable jewels, all available for visitors to wear to experience the "shocking" parts of the game. The assistants to the performance actually invite visitors to wear the various gadgets and to connect them to the game computer, so that when their avatar gets hit they feel the electric stimulations, too. To avoid problems these stimulations are truly superficial, and are more similar to a ticklig that to a real electric shock. The assistants are also trained to ask questions about the possible health problems of the visitors that might make this experience not suitable for them.
A complete performance layout and materials sheet is available, but it must be discussed to be tuned to the specific available space and to adapt to the available resources.
The general layout of the performance is the one seen in the pictures, which were taken at the "Milano in Digitale" festival, organized by Milan's city administration as its yearly festival dedicated to New Media Arts.
via Ghislieri 14
00152 Rome, Italy