Connecting with the Virtual Environment: Avatars, Embodiment, and Co-Presence in Virtual Reality

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Let me guess: you’ve never wondered why you don’t have a body in a video game. Typically, in AAA games, whether first-person or third-person, you have some form of a body—like seeing your arms holding weapons or viewing your character from behind. This creates a sense of embodiment, though not complete, as you don’t truly feel like the character. But what happens in Virtual Reality? In Virtual Reality, the main character (and body) is you! And what if there’s more than one person in the same environment? Who is the character then? Are they the same? Let’s explain!

Avatar: You Are a Embodied Deity

The term “Avatar” comes from Hinduism and literally means the embodiment of a god in the terrestrial plane. In Virtual Reality, and even in video games, it’s the same: your avatar is the representation of yourself in the virtual world.

Earlier, we mentioned “embodiment.” This is the connection of your mind with your virtual body, and this body affects your mind. Have you ever heard of the Proteus Effect? If you’re curious, keep reading!

In Virtual Reality, as developers, we need to make the user feel their virtual body as if it were their real one. In other words, developers should create a sense of embodiment, which is the user’s perception of owning and controlling the virtual body to interact with the virtual world. To achieve that sense, developers should consider three components of embodiment: body ownership (the player feels the virtual body as their own), agency (players feel they control their body), and spatial location (the player feels their body is in a certain place).

Why should developers aim for this sense of embodiment? Numerous studies support the idea that an avatar increases immersion and presence, thereby enhancing concentration because you feel more a part of the video game.

Agents: Avatars Do Not Belong To You But Are Present

An agent is an entity with objectives in the virtual environment. It’s usually controlled by a human (another player) or by a computer, such as Artificial Intelligence or through pre-recorded interactions.

Be careful not to confuse this with the sense of agency, which is the perception of controlling the virtual body that a player owns to achieve a certain result.

It’s possible to have more than one player in a Virtual Reality environment, perhaps to collaborate or have opposing objectives, such as playing on different teams. When there’s more than one player, we encounter Co-Presence and Social Presence.

First, let’s explain presence. In Virtual Reality, players feel presence when they feel they are inside the virtual environment, part of it, and can interact to see how the environment responds to them.

Now that we know what presence is, social presence can be described as socialization in a virtual environment with another player. It’s the moment when you perceive other users as real, with distinct personalities, with whom you can interact and feel their emotions, even if they are simple.

Co-presence is different from social presence. Co-presence is the feeling of being physically in the same environment as other players.

All of these (presence, social presence, and co-presence) are important. These feelings indicate that the application or video game is well-developed and has excellent usability. Making players connect with others as in reality is amazing! It’s like creating a new reality for them, making them feel at home or with friends! The virtual environment becomes a playground, a safe place!

Proteus Effect: You Are the Way You Look

This effect is not new! When you adopt a new body (and its personality), you can experience this effect. Imagine feeling a magical connection with a character in a film or with the character you control in a video game. Even after playing, you might behave like them! This can also be influenced by the way they look or dress. In Virtual Reality, it can happen too!

Body Tracking: Capturing the Real You in Virtual Reality

If you want to implement avatars or agents, you must ensure that the player’s real body is tracked accurately in Virtual Reality. There are plenty of techniques to do this! Let’s explain some of them:

  • Head-Mounted Display (HMD) Tracking: Using the headset to determine the position of the hands or controllers and using inverse kinematics to estimate the body’s posture.
  • Camera-Based Tracking: Utilizing cameras that don’t record but “see” where the player is and how they interact to position the body correctly. You can add trackers to help recognize hidden joints or add more cameras for better accuracy.
  • Additional Trackers: Using sensors placed on the body (e.g., on wrists, ankles, and torso) to provide accurate data on the player’s position without the need for a camera.
  • LIDAR Technology: Employing LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) to map the environment and track the player’s movements by measuring the distance between the player and the surroundings.
  • Infrared Sensors: Utilizing infrared sensors for high precision tracking of body movements.


What do you think about avatars and agents? Have you ever felt the Proteus Effect? Leave your thoughts in the comments! We also respond to your questions!


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