Salon109 in High Fidelity
ITP Thesis 2019
Salon109 proposes a framework for creating meaningful connections in Social VR, by collaboratively constructing a space to safely start conversations and take ownership of the virtual world-building process.
As social dynamics in open virtual worlds have largely been unfavorable towards women, Salon109 revives the historic model of salons as a force where women facilitate an exchange of ideas and culture in their living rooms. In High Fidelity’s decentralized platform, I can truly play host with my own domain and server where I can decide who can come in and who’s allowed to make changes. Best of all, I am able to invite my family and friends to create the world with me from within.
My ethnic and cultural background is highly diasporic, and Social VR metaverses represent a form of freedom where we exist as entities on the cloud and extend our lifestyles to places that forsake geography. My virtual identity is embodied in a unique avatar I created with Adobe Fuse.
The collaborative creation of Salon109 took place at https://hifi.place/salon, culminating in a virtual opera recital by my sister Aili. To best mitigate the reality that access to VR is limited, those without headsets were able to follow via a Youtube livestream and send in chat messages. The final form of the space will be packaged and sold on the blockchain at the High Fidelity marketplace for 1HFC (approx $0.01), as an offering to the platform, and the footage captured through headsets from the event will also be made into a short documentary.
Thesis Presentation Video:
Where are all the women in social VR?
How do we take ownership over our future digital realities?
How can we foster safe, inclusive, and positive VR spaces?
Living the XR Lifestyle (instagram @extendingreality):
Over the course of 100 days, I immersed myself in XR experiences. I went to virtual events across Altspace, VRChat, TheWave, and High Fidelity, including raves, educational tours, talks, meetups, film screenings (watched Ready Player One in VR!), rocket launch viewing parties, and weekly Town Hall meetings. I also took up a routine of VR boxing and painting.
Creating a virtual identity:
I wanted my virtual identity to closely mirror my actual physical likeness in order to represent my real self in public spaces on social VR platforms. I used Adobe Fuse to create a humanoid avatar and create one for my sister as well.
Hosting my own world and event:
After spending so many days in public VR spaces and meeting new people there, I wanted to create a world where I could bring my “real world” friends in, and interact with them in a more intimate, and controlled way.
Picking a platform:
I chose High Fidelity because I can host my own domain using a server on DigitalOcean. This allows me to have control over who is allowed in to my world, who’s allowed to make changes or additions to the space, who has rights to kick other users out, etc.
Organizing an event:
I set up a rough agenda beginning with on-boarding and inviting my friends to contribute to the space. The event would culminate in an informal virtual opera recital performed by my sister, for which I also built a stage with seating and a reverberant audio zone.
Access & Prep:
I gathered five oculus headsets and VR-ready PCs to set up for my friends, and four of the participants were able to join in from their setups at home. I set up a few machines including my own to capture video from the HMDs.
A few findings:
Identity - The participants seemed to strongly identify with their avatars and spent time choosing them. Some even went through the clunky process of uploading their own. At three instances, people were bothered when someone else picked the same avatar as them, either by accident or intentionally. Some people seemed to enjoy changing avatars multiple times, whereas others stayed in their original form. People were also able to recognize my sister and me just from our avatars, which was satisfying.
Design & Collaboration - Building out a virtual space from within VR is a clunky process, compared to using a mouse and keyboard. Designing a 3D space collaboratively also has its own dynamics when everyone has permission to make changes. In order to move 3D assets around, users point at an object, squeeze the trigger, move, and release. I intentionally didn’t lock any assets ahead of time, except for the stage area for the performance, so many assets were unintentionally moved around during the world-building portion of the event. This caused for some confusion and chaos, but it also resulted in more collaboration as people worked together to remedy the situation (like restoring the floor, which was accidentally deleted).
Social - The live performance element was a huge success, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone contributed as a supportive audience member, and went through efforts figuring out how to clap with their avatars. Most said it was emotionally moving and highly memorable. One friend who hadn’t seen me in person for over a year, said she felt as though we were actually hanging out in person.
I believe that having a curated guest list with a clear host (me) contributed to a safe space where people could establish a sense of trust much faster than in public social VR spaces.
I am cutting together a short film using footage that has been captured from the event. The process of watching back clips from my own headset is quite surreal, as it is essentially reliving the exact perspective that my eyes captured.
I would like to continue to create virtual spaces that can host communities, and explore cinema creation tools in XR.