Perceptions of One’s Self and Others in Virtual Reality

Designing minimal form virtual embodiments that establish social presence, reduce bias and raise involvement in VR environments.


When users enter a digital environment, like making an account on a computer or playing a game, the application gives them the opportunity to create and customize what they will be represented as in that context (i.e. their embodiment). In games, users can spend hours customizing their characters. This is not unlike an individual spending time picking out an outfit for the day. Giving users this opportunity for customization increases the likelihood of bias and stereotypes. In the attempt to make things more immersive, content creators tend towards the most realistic approach possible. However, photorealistic embodiment inhibits expression of personal information as users begin to connect with one another. My investigation explores ways for users to enter a virtual reality environment, embody a form that reduces bias and stereotypes, while attempting to raise participation others in the space. I built upon the research Bailenson and Blascovich have been doing in the Virtual Human Interactions lab while utilizing Biocca and Harms Networked Minds Theory for measuring Social Presence. In my investigation, I used research through design, case studies, interviews and experiments to establish a prototype. My hi-fidelity prototype creates a testing ground for further exploration in minimal form representation in VR. The tool allows designers and psychologists to observe passively or interact with participants in the space while collecting data for future analysis.

Final Video
Graduate Symposium Poster
360º video of one of my multi-player experiment


When I’m asked why Virtual Reality (VR), I find myself giving a variety of answers. At first it was like, “Well it’s cool!” That didn’t go very far in conversation, especially when I’m talking to other academics. Then I thought about it more and I would give answers like “Well, it’s immersive.”  Haha, I feel like I can laugh at myself now for that, especially after reading such texts as Rules of Play: Game Design Fundaments by Salen and Zimmerman. They describe this notion that people deal with the Immersion Fallacy. This notion is not their own but they did a great job collecting, explaining, and adding to the idea. This is the idea that when we are interacting with a medium that we became so immersed in that our sensory inputs are tricked into thinking what isn’t This sounds great and all but as aptly as they put it, we can be immersed in a board game, video game, a book, movie, conversation, etc. We don’t need to trick our senses into becoming immersed. So, if it’s not feel this sense of immersion what is it? Why VR?

I enjoy VR because it asks me to engage and participate. I want to be involved physically or mentally with the subject matter which is not innate in other mediums. When I am engaging with it, I get an additional sense of presence with that content.

Ok, so I just used two buzzwords in like two minutes, I know how that feels, but it’s true I become more present than other with other media.

So, over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2016, I was working on my thesis and grappling with the notion of Why VR? Reading more, thinking more, reading..thinking…etc.  Then, my then 4 year old niece came downstairs because she wanted to play with it. I thought, why not give her a game that I designed in Unity. I had her play my Clumped game. She picked it up quickly and loved it. After she was done, I thought, why not give her a VR game to try. I pulled out my phone, and put this WorldVR app on. This app was a simple low poly environment with low poly pigs and chickens walking around while classical music plays in the background. Throughout her playing with the app, she would take it off and show me saying things, “LOOK IT’S A PIG!” and “WHAT’S THIS!” (Yes, she exclaimed all of these with great assignment). This made me think, why am I not in there with her? How can I join her?

  • VR World

    VR World, pig walks around

  • Using VR

    Niece using VR for the first time

Prototyping in Unity

I am working with Unity3d game engine to explore various concepts of Virtual Reality. To the right are some quick videos of different investigations. This leads up to the test that I’m running on social presence in VR.