An Absurd Quest
Human Trials -- by Josephine Anstey, Dave Pape, and Sarah Bay-Chengis -- is simultaneously a public / private and embodied / disembodied performance. One user enters an immersive VR and is led on an absurd quest. The challenges appears to be about control and the choices one makes with power; but the games are rigged, the characters are duplicitous, the quest is a decoy, and the underlying test is how to cope with disempowerment. Meanwhile the experience is screened for a voyeuristic audience primed by reality TV. The audience members simultaneously watch multiple viewpoints of the virtual world, while live performers, networked into the VE, attempt to entangle the protagonist in their improvisational machinations.
The performers play two characters, Patofil and Filopat, who engage the participant in a set of overt challenges involving computer-controlled characters and dynamic virtual sets. Beyond these obvious tasks, the participant must also interpret and negotiate a subtext about world views, relationships and alliances. The participant's reactions are logged, interpreted psychologically, and affect the characters' behavior, the presentation of further challenges, and the ending. Although we expect the story to follow a basic arc based on a storyboard, our script/improvisation notes for the actors are evolving during performances.
Human Trials is designed for CAVE or CAVE-like, tracked, immersive VR systems. 3-D stereo displays with one large screen or multiple screens and/or HMDs. Ideally the participant and two human actors each enter the virtual environment from their own VR system. In effect the actors are manipulating life-size puppets since their tracking systems animate the avatars of Filopat and Patofil that the participant sees. A fall-back position is to have the actors operate their puppets from monitors without tracking systems, in this case they can still navigate their puppet wherever they need in the virtual environment.
Human Trials builds on Josephine Anstey and Dave Pape's previous experience building dramatic VR, The Thing Growing, and Networked VR projects, and Sarah Bay-Cheng's experience with drama and puppetry. Human Trials is a sister project to The Trail The Trial, experimental research focused on building intelligent agents to take the place of the human actors.