The Uncanny Valley and VR
When we play games or watch movies, we often encounter technologically generated people. Like real actors, they’ve managed to become just as ingrained in our lives as their human counterparts. We know they aren’t real, but we still accept and enjoy the entertainment they provide. But what happens when CGI characters have the opposite effect? Sometimes their artificial nature has the ability to unsettle us. A current problem that persists as we try to design digital experiences in which users interact with CGI people is the “Uncanny Valley”. For those who are not familiar with this term, the Uncanny Valley is when artificial faces look familiar to us, but are different enough that it alienates and unsettles us. Though this is a common problem overall, it poses a great challenge for VR applications.
When designing a VR experience, the developer’s aim is to fully immerse the user in the world they are aiming to create. As one would expect, these worlds often feature CGI characters. When we share our world with these characters, the uncanny valley can make the difference between an enjoyable experience and a disturbing one. It is one thing to see strange, artificial faces on a screen in front of us, but when we exist within the same space, the unease will increase. When making CGI characters, creators sometimes try to make them look vastly different from a normal human. An example of this is how Pixar characters have a tendency to have large eyes. If developers are looking to make realistic avatars to interact with, they will have to find the right balance between what seems real and what doesn’t in order to make a space in which people want to coexist with them.