Chess to be another

In Paris I had a chance to try The Machine to be Another. This is a virtual reality empathy project that has been going on since 2012.

Two participants each wear a VR headset, with a camera attached to the front. The camera feed from the first person is routed to the VR headset of the second person, and vice-versa.

Essentially, you find yourself staring across a table at yourself, as though you are the other person. The feeling is as though you have swapped bodies.

The two participants are then asked to perform an exercise in which they both move their arms and hands very slowly, trying to match each others movements. The effect is that you look at the arms, hands and fingers in front of you, and it feels as though they are your arms, hands and fingers.

It is as though you are inhabiting the body of another person. And it is all very spooky and fascinating.

I was interested in seeing how this medium could be extended, so I asked whether we could extend the paradigm to the manipulation of physical objects. So at some point this afternoon I found myself sitting across a chessboard from myself, ready to play a game of chess.

One thing I soon realized was that it wasn’t clear which chess pieces I should play: The ones that were nearest to my point of view, or the ones nearest to my physical body.

I ended up opting for the ones nearest to my body. Perhaps this was because the muscle memory of pushing a pawn away from my body was stronger than the visual memory of seeing a pawn move away from my eyes. Maybe somebody should do a study to see whether different people make this choice differently.

We ended up running out of time, and I still had so many questions. Would it feel different to play “view-centered” rather than “body-centered”? What would happen if we rotated the chess board 90 degrees and we both played from the side?

Could you eventually learn to all sorts of physical tasks from a perspective outside your body? Play the piano? Shoot a basketball?

Now I want to try out all of these things.

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