PERFECT EGGPLANTS DON’T EXI-

Oculus Rift + Touch, Unity Game Engine, Cinema 4D

 Virtual Reality Experience

 The New School Press Room

 Spectrum MFADT Thesis Show 2017

Immersive Storytelling Symposium

Rawhaus Experiential Design

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.

Check out The New School Press Room’s coverage on Perfect Eggplants Don’t Exi-.

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.

Perfect Eggplants Don’t Exi- is designed to be endless, and the ultimate goal of the game is to have the players realize that the ideal body image is unattainable.

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.

GAMEPLAY

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 Game 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.

Random Generation

The ideal body eggplant shape is randomly generated every 30 seconds using a bunch of Random.Range code to determine the beauty standard in the world. Every time the player begins the game, their body shape will also be randomly generated to mix things up.

RESEARCH

Self Objectification In The Digital Age

In the Digital Age, new technologies and social media generate a new wave of visual consumption in the gay culture. With the media’s heavy emphasis on a hyper-sexualized muscular body appearance, gay men are adopting these superficial values as measurements of self-worth.

In Martins et al’s study on the role of self objectification in gay men’s body image,  they borrow the concept of objectification theory proposed by Fredrickson & Roberts to explain gay men’s body dissatisfaction. “Objectification Theory asserts that individuals who live in a sexually objectifying cultures may adopt an observer’s perspective and base judgements about themselves and their bodies on the extent to which they emulate the sexual and body ideals of their culture” (1997).

The problematic self objectification can be observed in gay men’s social networking applications. In these apps, users often upload sexually suggestive body images of themselves, and browse for body images posted by other users. This rapid consumption cycle in social media reinforces the Objectification Theory, which further motivates individuals to participate in self objectification based on sexualized body standards.

The Gay Male Gaze

Obsessive self objectification may result in self-loathing, intense feeling of inadequacy, and sexually undesirable. On top of these hardships, researches have indicated that gay men experience the highest percentage of body dissatisfaction compared to straight males, straight females, and lesbians. In an empirical literature review conducted by MJ Wood, he points out that “the intersection of gender and sexual orientation compounds body dissatisfaction among gay men, since it reinforces their tendency to objectify both themselves and each other, and to judge their bodies by diverging and conflicting standards” (2008). Wood’s research summarizes that heteronormativity and gender oppression are actively reconstructed in the gay communities, which celebrates masculinity and “straight-acting”, while condemning femininity and obesity. At the same time, these values are projected on body aesthetics, which determines power relations within the gay communities.

A prime example of heteronormative values can be observed from the now-ubiquitous phrase “No Fats No Fems”. Popularized from the gay social networking apps, the term implies that a person is not looking to hook up with men of size or feminine men. “No Fats No Fems” is a self-loathing and discriminating term that promotes masculinity and muscularity to be the only acceptable body appearance in the gay community. In 2016, online retailer Marek + Richard released a tank top with the phrase written on it, which further proves that heteronormativity continues to be influential through media representation, dating norms, and the gay community.

The Proteus Effect

The Proteus Effect proposes that the visual characteristics and traits of an avatar are associated with specific behavioral stereotypes and expectations (Yee, Nick, Jeremy Bailenson, 2007). In Perfect Eggplants Don’t Exi-, the player is immersed in virtual reality and inhabits an eggplant body. Through the use of mirror as a tool for self-identification in VR, more than 75% of players have identified the eggplant as their virtual self. Players also exhibit exaggerated behaviors when identifying with the eggplant. The use of mirror has been widely adopted in Facebook’s Oculus Avatars and David O’Reilly’s Character Mirror.

ARTIST TALK

As part of the Parsons MFADT Thesis curriculum, I gave an artist talk for Perfect Eggplants Don’t Exi- in April 2017, detailing my research and how I developed this game.

PRESS

NYC MEDIA LAB

RAWHAUS DESIGN