Unsocial VR 2017

Fake social behaviour in a shared virtual environment

In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace argues that “Good old traditional audio-only phone conversations allowed you to presume that the person on the other end was paying complete attention to you while also permitting you not to have to pay anything even close to complete attention to her.” He continues and claims that we are addicted to this illusion, and that’s why video conferencing always feel so awkward – we need to pretend to listen all the time. And if we think about it, even in face to face conversation we must always adhere to these social rules, and signal our complete attention when someone is talking to us.

In this project I experiment with VR technologies to see if this illusion of faking active listening is transferable to other mediums, and if so, how. In Unsocial VR participants share the same virtual environment, using the HTC Vive headset and controllers. They can converse freely and move around, and if you want to start faking listening to the conversation and just wander around, or even talk with other participants while faking, you absolutely can! The interface is very minimal, just hit a button on the controller to start faking active listening behaviours towards your current conversation, and release it when you want to stop faking. You will even get an on screen notification when someone is speaking directly to you, so you can return to the conversation elegantly.