Perfect Eggplants Don’t Exi-

Year: 2017
Role: 3D UX Designer, VR Developer

Introduction

Perfect Eggplants Don’t Exi- is a virtual reality experience about attaining the ideal body image, and failing to do so. In this superficial world of eggplants, players experience the doubling effect of sexual objectification in the gay culture through modifying their bodies to meet society’s arbitrary expectations.

“Perfect Eggplants Don’t Exi- offers a goofy, sobering look at the futility of pursuing a perfect body.”

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Concept

Perfect Eggplants Don’t Exi- is created in direct response to gay men’s obsession with their own body images. In this game, players are able to experience self objectification, objectification of others, and being objectified by others through interactions such as customizing their own bodies, taking selfies, and being judged and influenced by social media. The game substitutes male bodies with an eggplant avatar to directly objectify male bodies as merely sexual objects. The metaphor also serves to deviate from heteronormative values, and leaves the beauty standard to be randomly generated by code. The game mechanic uses the classic avatar customization tool and turns it into a sandbox environment where players can change their body shapes, and receive quantitive compliments in the form of social media likes.

SELF OBJECTIFICATION

Self Objectification happens when the player first enters the game and see themselves being projected as an eggplant in the mirror. In this scenario, the player judges their body representation and is self-obsessed with their own image.

OBJECTIFICATION OF OTHERS

Player can also object others through looking at their social media feed and checking out what’s the latest hot eggplant shape. The trending look doesn’t just serve as the ideal body image, but is constantly being objectified by the player.

BEING OBJECTIFIED THROUGH SEXT

Player experience being objectified when they receive unsolicited text messages. This scenario references the normalization of sexual objectification in gay dating apps like Grindr and Jack’d.

Development

User Experience in VR

One of the challenges creating Perfect Eggplants Don’t Exi- is defining user-friendly interactions in VR. UX/UI in the realm of virtual reality has yet to be defined and standardized by the industry. Unlike mobile apps, most of the virtual reality apps and games are still experimenting different usability approaches for best practices, while leveraging both mobile and console platforms with their respective controllers.

The user experience of Perfect Eggplants Don’t Exi- evolved from traditional raycasting and gaze trigger interaction commonly found in Google Cardboard and Oculus DK1&2, to physics-based gesture interaction using the Oculus Touch motion controllers.

Illustration of raycasting interaction system.

Oculus Touch motion controllers.

Raycasting

As the player is looking around in the VR environment, an invisible line is drawn from the center of the player’s eyes to the 3D space to check if the player is looking at a certain object. This interaction method commonly referred as “raycasting” is used for trigger detection and distance calculation. To help the player understand where the center of their field is, a small crosshair is placed in the center of the viewport, allowing players to focus on objects that they would like to interact with.

In the game, the sliders are set as interactable objects that responds to the player’s interaction. When the player is looking at a slider, the invisible line drawn from the center of the player’s eyes triggers the value of the slider to increase by 0.1 every second. The player can then select the value they want by looking at the slider for various amount of time.

Physics-Based Interaction

With the introduction of motion controllers in VR, I started experimenting with gesture controls and simulations. From playing games like Job Simulator, I identified that the game uses the motion controllers as the player’s virtual hands, and apply physics simulations to virtual objects to mimic real-world interactions. For example, players are able to pick up an object, aim, and throw it precisely at a target. The precision in physics simulation increases player engagement, and makes the experience more immersive.

Thus, in Perfect Eggplants Don’t Exi-, I replaced raycasting interaction with the new physics-based interaction system NewtonVR, an open-source VR interaction framework developed by Tomorrow Today Labs. The system works with UnityEngine’s Rigidbody physics simulation to calculate mass, gravity, and velocity inside the VR space.

Realtime Mesh Modifier in Unity Engine

The game uses realtime mesh modifier to deform the shape of the eggplant. Using the Mega-Fier plug-in, I wrote the C# script that bridges the slider interactions with the mesh deformation. When the player drags the handle on the slider, the mesh value attached to the eggplant model is modified and remapped, thus changing the shape of the eggplant.

Exhibition

Perfect Eggplants Don’t Exi- has been exhibited at multiple festivals and exhibitions, including Games For Change Arcade, Immersive Storytelling Symposium, IGDA Microsoft Center, Spectrum MFADT Thesis Show, and Rawhaus Experiential Design.

I was also invited as a guest speaker for VR For Change Summit to present my work, discussing body images in the digital era and how Perfect Eggplants Don’t Exi- uses game mechanics to make players feel better about their own bodies.

Games For Change Festival Artist Talk

Press