Augmented reality rig that turns you into a character in a third-person game

Marc Owens's augmented reality project "Avatar Machine" puts its users in VR helmets that display the world around them as though they were playing a third-person game, so that their own body is seen from behind. Owens theorizes that "The system potentially allows for a diminished sense of social responsibility, and could lead the user to demonstrate behaviors normally reserved for the gaming environment."

Avatar Machine (via Beyond the Beyond)


  1. But take away the goofy looking sub-cosplay gear, and this is just seeing yourself from behind. I understand the idea of this leading to diminished self-responsibility and think it’s an interesting one, but I wouldn’t call this an augmented reality system.

    1. @harpdevil “I wouldn’t call this an augmented reality system.”

      It takes the visual input from reality, and modifies it by replacing one element (your body) with another (a very naff avatar). That’s prettymuch canonical AR right there. Does your definition require that only if billboard ads be replaced by webpages then it’s AR?

      @Marc Owens via OP: “The system potentially allows for a diminished sense of social responsibility, and could lead the user to demonstrate behaviors normally reserved for the gaming environment.”

      The idea is as silly as if you’d said “if we surround their vision with a monitor screen then maybe they’ll turn into sociopaths!”

      I play FPSs with a $1500 VR headset with accelerometers and compass for headtracking. Strangely, I haven’t yet shot anyone in the face IRL. But, you know, it’s kinda tempting to start circle-strafing in blogs, when faced with blatant stupidity.

      1. Stanford Prison Experiment.

        Several people were taken and divided into two groups: Prisoners and Prison guards and left to roleplay. The experiment had to be stopped because the prison guards began torturing the prisoners. And they knew it was an experiment. And they probably didn’t have any experience with an alternate gaming identity where it was perfectly acceptable to do so.

        In general, when people are put into a situation which they feel dictates a certain type of action, they subtly change their characteristics to match the situation. (watch Woody Allen’s Zelig). It’s not a far stretch to believe that if a person were put into a POV situation from which they would otherwise be killing and beating people that they would at least get the urge to behave in a similar way.

      2. What’s that like?

        I always wonder what sort of level of technology we’re at with VR helmets, but they no longer seem to be around much any more.

        I was blown away by the technology towards the end of the 90’s that was hitting the arcades, but I haven’t really seen anything since then and that was far too expensive to get really addicted to.

        1. The cheapest-cheapest option is crosseyed viewing. That works about as well as you’d expect. I’d say it’s the best, easiest option for viewing the youtube 3D viewos, though:

          Next cheapest option is red/green (or other colour pairs) goggles. Works surprisingly well, but you have to deal with “shadowing”, where each eye sees part of what the other can see, though at a lower contrast; and of course, the colours are messed up.

          Another option is the cheaper shutter glasses, which just makes the image 3D. Upsides are cheapness, and you can get them wireless: downsides are: no head tracking so you have to look at your screen; the framerate is half what you’d normally get; the brightness is 1/4 of what you’d normally get (50% polarised goggles at 1/2 framerate = 25% brightness).

          Another option is C.A.V.E. systems (no idea what it stands for) where you project the image onto an arc in front of you, and use either shutter glasses or polarised glasses (needs two projectors slaved together, so at least twice as expensive). Advantage: much better surround vision; you can have head tracking gizmos. Disadvantages: gesture recognition is still undersupported in most games; expensive.

          Finally, there are headsets which have a dedicated LCD (dim, power hungry) or OLED (brighter, more chance of dead pixels) screen for each eye. At the high end (spend millions: the Sensics PiSight), it is mindblowingly good in terms of resolution and angle of vision. At lower end ($1500, eMagin Z800), you’re getting 800×600 per eye, which is still surprisingly good looking. The angle of vision is typically minimal, though, which makes it kind of like having a shoebox with the ends cut off, strapped to your head. Then again, the same can be said about monitors: they only take up a small visual angle, so you stop noticing after a while, and get immersed.

          For an augmented reality rig, these are prettymuch the only game in town: nothing else works.

          Obviously, you’re limited to a single person viewing what you can see in 3d: “looking over your shoulder” isn’t possible without tapping off the signal and adding a slave headset. You’re tethered by a cable, which limits you, but that’s not a huge issue since you need to be stood up anyway, as hand-tracking isn’t really built into most games, so you still need your keyboard and mouse anyway (maybe not for Wii games, I guess, but I’m a PC gamer!)

          The newest option is not to wear goggles, and rely on the screen projecting different images to your eyes: Sharp has been shipping no-goggles-needed 3D laptops for a few years now. Downside is that you need to have your head in the perfect “sweet spot”, and again, can’t really have two people view it.

          3D is becoming mainstream (nVidia’s drivers support it for all D3D and OpenGL stuff; cinemas are doing it more; 3d laptop screens; etc) but games still don’t tailor to the 3D community directly: often, post-processing effects make things (flames and sky, etc) seem “flat”, or simply crash (in Oblivion, water is displayed as purple in 3D, and the game will crash if you swim in it).

          It’ll be a good few decades before we will have screens that will tightly beam signals to each of our eyes, tracking the eyes so that we get no shadowing, and perfect 3D every time, for any number of people, and infinite viewing angle. In the meantime, shutter glasses are the best bang-for-buck option for most gamers.

  2. So let me get this straight….. You cannot see what is in front of you because your avatar is in the way. That is a major flaw is it not?

  3. It’d be very interesting to see if this leads to less inhibition… or more self-consciousness.

    Sometimes it can be pretty enlightening to see yourself in photos, on video, or even in a mirror. You get to see how goofy you really are. (It works better with a time-delay but still.)

    And as Batman says, everyone’s hair looks stupid from behind.

  4. The forced perspective really sells it. It really makes it into an observation-of-other (and with it, the need to translate your movements between local-space and observation-space) rather than just watching a 1:1 feedback of your movements (eg. a mirror).

    It feels to me (even as an observer) like the gray area between the fun of ketamine, and the time before I’m myself again.

    Very interesting.

  5. It strikes me as if it would be quite difficult to move about in this contraption, and very disorienting. I don’t think I’d be willing to stand up on that partition between the lanes of traffic…

  6. I think it would be more interesting without the costume, especially if they could make the camera less noticeable

  7. ..make the camera less noticeable..

    What, less than an occasional shadow on the ground?

  8. Ah, computer-enhanced disassociative episodes, lovely! Some of us are capable of these things through alternate neurochemistry! ;)

  9. unleashing this to the public is going to have a massive backlash of increased hooker deaths by baseball bat.

  10. …”and could lead the user to demonstrate behaviors normally reserved for the gaming environment.”

    Great. We sure could use a lot more of that. /sarcasm

  11. Well, gosh, if I play a first person shooter video game, I know I’m playing a game and I kill lots of people. When I
    walk around outside I know I’m not playing a game and I don’t kill anyone. Do you think just maybe I’d have the smarts to know I was not in a video game and refrain from killing people if I wore this virtual reality gadget, since I’d remember putting it on and all?

    1. haha I was thinking the same thing. and then we’d have people running around in circles in a corner trying to get the right camera angle to see something or the other. And people trying jump from one platform to the next, but missing and having to do it again. What about the people who take bathroom breaks in the middle of a battle scene??

  12. “The system potentially allows for a diminished sense of social responsibility, and could lead the user to demonstrate behaviors normally reserved for the gaming environment.”

    Goddamn team killers…

  13. Play grand theft auto for a few hours then hop in your car, you’ll feel the same thing. Try not to run over the pedestrians!

  14. If I had music like that playing without the VR I’d pretend like I was husked in armor and carrying a broad sword too.

  15. Is anyone doing something similar only you see as a FPS and others “in the game” can be recognized and shot? Also maybe AI players could be incorporated. Just curious if anyone knows.

  16. “The system potentially allows for a diminished sense of social responsibility, and could lead the user to demonstrate behaviors normally reserved for the gaming environment.” Like teabagging.

  17. Seems like a lot of work to go through to test whether or not it might conceivably lead to a diminished sense of social responsibility.

    In other words, it’s an electronic version of alcohol and/or republican party membership.

  18. For this to be immersive you’d have to have a video camera mounted behind you, by a few feet, and software removing you from the frame and replacing you with the avatar. Plus motion capture software using sensors on your body or processing set points from the back of it. In particular your gaze direction.

    Otherwise you’re just walking about in a head set watching a walking thingy in front of you. Presumably the achievement here is that if you turn your head sideways or down to your feet the ‘avatar’ isn’t there, which is pretty impressive.

  19. Just looked at the site again.

    Ok. You do in fact have a camera cantilevered back from your bum. It’s mounted in a concave mirror and connects to your headset. You dress in the avatar costume if the mood takes you. If you direct your head downwards or sideways you still see the arse backwards view.

    Wandering around in traffic not advisable.

  20. “The system potentially allows for a diminished sense of social responsibility, and could lead the user to demonstrate behaviors normally reserved for the gaming environment.” …or the battlefield.

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