Human communication is a far from perfect process. For all the words in our vocabulary and ways we can express ourselves, we often end up misinterpreting each other in unintended ways. Kind gestures can come off as opportunistic passes, cheeky jokes could be seen as overly aggressive, and distractions can be mistaken for boredom all because of a certain facial expression or tone in your voice. Talking to any human — especially one you’ve just met — can be like navigating a minefield of misspoken accidents, and it can be as awkward and uncomfortable as hell.
In My Shoes: Intimacy from Jane Gauntlett is a 360-degree experience that explores the themes of human understanding and relatability in fascinating ways. Two viewers — ideally strangers — put on a headset each, and then find themselves sitting next to another person entirely in VR. In the pre-recorded videos, the people in focus will have a conversation, while each viewer will hear the thoughts of the character they’ve become.
Obviously I want to avoid plot details as much as possible, but there are three scenarios in total. The first sees two strangers trying to make small talk on a train journey, then there’s a couple slightly at odds with each other, and two people on a first date. At first these interactions appear slight, lasting no more than a few minutes, but striking a familiar chord in how your own impressions of the other viewer’s character might link up or differ from your own.
For lack of a better term, it’s very human. The characters you embody are riddled with confidence issues, constantly concerned with what others think of them, and in many ways uncomfortable in their own skin. That’s not to say they’re without joy, but I certainly knew who many of the characters I played reminded me of: me.
I stared at one character that joked he’d written the book I was reading with a kind of contempt, under the assumption he was trying to make a pass at me. I became frustrated at my partner that couldn’t seem to take anything I said the way it was intended. I felt the nerves of the man that was sweating as he spoke to a girl for the first time in a bar. These are all situations that I’ve encountered in one way or another in real life.
The beauty of Intimacy isn’t discovered within the experience, itself, however. What strikes you at first as a novel concept quickly expands into a remarkably enlightening experiment as you talk with the person you experienced the piece with. Can you imagine just how liberating it feels to talk to another human about your impressions of them with no strings attached? Intimacy gives you a virtual mask to hide under, an identity to assume, and then lets you take it all off and sit and have an honest conversation about what you thought about your other costumed accomplice, and the results will surprise you.
It reminded me that I’m not the main character in this world; I’m not the only one with nervous thoughts and the occasional feeling of the weight of the world on my shoulders. As I chatted with my partner, I realized that malicious looks had been taken as an attack, when their bite was meant to be far more subdued. I saw how jokes I thought were harmless could get under the skin of those I wanted to protect. I saw the explanations behind perceived overconfidence and over defense, and I was shocked to learn things I had said in passing had been heard loud and clear.
Intimacy has some important reminders behind it about human connection, and the ways in which you discover them are some of the most unique and interesting I’ve yet seen in VR. Make sure to be on the lookout for a demonstration near you.