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Marc Owens

Avatar Machine

What would it be like if your virtual character stepped out of the game and started walking around in the real world? Marc Owens, a product designer just graduated from London’s Royal College of Art, has invented a machine that makes such an experience possible. He demonstrated this during Club Real #3. Here you read the report.

Online games have given rise to many virtual communities that have developed a new kind of social interaction and communication, separate from reality.
Marc Owens thinks of these games as a means of identity exploration and not just entertainment. Here identities are reinvented and communities grow into new means of existence. His special interest goes out to two virtual environments: World of Warcraft and Second Life. The first because of its huge amount of players and complex social interactions, the latter because it is not a war game, but a life game. Both are worlds where anonymity affects behaviour.

Owens goal was to simulate the aesthetics of Second Life and place this environment into a real life context. He succeeded in doing this with the Avatar Machine, a system that replicates the aesthetic and design of a third person playing a game that gives its user the experience of being a virtual character, but in the real world. Through an interface attached to his head, the user not only sees himself as an avatar but also the way the environment reacts to him.

Marc Owens uses the Avatar Machine to study gaming behaviour and what it means for our sense of social responsibility. As people tend to act much more aggressive and violent in virtual life than in real life, he researched if by changing the aesthetics from real to virtual, the user would automatically take on this violent behaviour. Furthermore the suit also gives some sort of 'out of body' experience. With its design composed from a amongst others Second Life haircut and arms from a World of Warcraft avatar the suit truly makes you feel like a superhero.

The encounter between the virtual and the real functions here as a mirror in which virtual behaviour clashes with what is and is not appropriate in the everyday environment. The kinds of situations this creates can be seen in the film compilation of Owens’ experiences with his Avatar Machine, which you can watch below.

Marc Owens was born in 1982 in Leystone, UK.

Here Marc tests an older version of the Avatar Machine in Tokyo.

The avatar machine from 2008, worn throughout London.