Thursday, January 23, 2014

Swap genders through virtual reality, thanks to the Oculus Rift

Genderswapping or genderbending is a popular staple among many anime and manga storylines.

It's the ultimate in escapism and - eroge/hentai notwithstanding - it can be an excellent way for the viewer or reader to engage in some deep thinking about what the other gender goes through.

Now, the fantasy of quick genderswapping is coming to reality thanks to the Oculus Rift, some intrepid volunteers, and a traveling art installation.  The end result is the work-in-progress dubbed The Machine to be Another - an impressive exercise in seeing things literally through the eyes of another gender.

The way it works is pretty simple - two participants of opposite genders done special Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets and synchronize their movements (girl moves left arm, boy moves left arm, etc.)  Each gender's VR helmet is fitted with stereoscopic cameras that broadcast to the screens inside the other person's helmet, so men will be given a first-person point of view look at what women see and vice versa.

The results are disorienting, and absolutely fascinating.

Warning - there is some non-sexual nudity in the video below... because, hey, time to explore the new body and all that.

Admittedly, the technology isn't perfect and it lacks any kind of tactile feedback (looking down and seeing a pair of breasts is far different from feeling the weight of a pair of breasts... at least, I imagine it would be) - but it's about as close to a non-surgical genderswap that we can get and it's pretty damn cool.

The overall goal for the project isn't just to give participants the "Oh shi-" moment of looking down and seeing a different body where theirs normally is, but instead it's summed up in the neat and tidy question "If I were you, would I understand myself better?"

In other words, it challenges participants to learn more about themselves by slipping into the (virtual) skin of another and - hopefully - picking up some empathy along the way.

The implications for this sort of technology are absolutely staggering for the various fields of the social sciences... provided the eroge/hentai market doesn't corner the experience first!