Beyond Human: Animals as an Escape from Stereotype Avatars
in Virtual Reality Games

Andrey Krekhov, Sebastian Cmentowski, Katharina Emmerich, Jens Krueger,
University of Duisburg-Essen

Alberto Mora
Oct 2 · 2 min read

The choice of our virtual representation, our avatar, has a strong influence on how we perceive a game. Hence, introducing novel avatar kinds, beyond stereotypes such as knights and wizards, is a viable option to create refreshing and engaging player experiences. This choice applies even more for virtual reality (VR) games, because such immersive setups are capable of amplifying the bond with our virtual self. That bond can be strong enough such that we start perceiving the virtual representation as our own body — a phenomenon also known as the illusion of virtual body ownership (IVBO).

By a smart choice of avatars, VR games could allow us to collect impressions and experiences that would not be possible or would be far less engaging in a non-immersive setup. One prominent example is games focused on nonhumanoid creatures, be it real animals or mythical creatures. Even though players enjoy beastly non-VR games, such as “Black & White” and “Deadly Creatures”, similar scenarios are offered very rarely. Especially in VR, where the presence and the IVBO effect could significantly intensify our experience when using animal abilities, games like “Eagle Flight” remain an exception. We see manifold reasons why that potential remains unfulfilled, including the very few studies on creature embodiment in VR, which makes it difficult for game designers to predict whether and how players will perceive animal avatars.

Our paper makes two contributions. First, we explore nonhumanoid avatars in VR using escape room games built around three very different animals: a rhino, a scorpion, and a bird. Each game explores a different control mechanism and focuses on distinct “superhuman” skills that are typical for these animals. Our evaluation underpins the resulting high player enjoyment, especially from these animal abilities and additional body parts, such as horns, tails, or wings. Accordingly, we draw design implications for animal avatars and present our lessons learned during the design of such VR games.

Our second contribution is the investigation of IVBO in such scenarios. We study how the nonhuman morphology influences our ability to embody such avatars in VR games. In particular, our evaluation reveals correlations between IVBO, game enjoyment, and presence, and confirms that additional body parts and skills are not an obstacle for inducing IVBO. Hence, we assume that our work will motivate researchers and practitioners to reconsider IVBO-enabled nonhumanoid avatars as an important component of player experience in VR.

Contact author: Andrey Krekhov

CHI PLAY session:
Beyond the Stereotypical
Friday, 25 October 2019, 9:00–19:30

Please feel free to also write comments or questions for the authors in the space below!


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