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This is Twenty Milliseconds, a site documenting what works and what doesn't in virtual reality design.

Unrealistic Avatars Break Immersion

Summary: Looking down at a body that does not resemble your own can be quite a shock. Mitigate this by adding configuration, avoiding avatars, or avoiding the amount of the avatar that is visible to the user.

In a recent article, Katie Goode of Preloaded wrote about putting on a VR headset, looking down to where her chest, legs and shoes usually are, and finding a surprise:

If I’m playing as myself, as a female, when I look down I expect to see my breasts. I lose presence on demos which I have been forced to play as male avatars. It is important that people who associate themselves as a certain gender can play as that gender when they are physically forced to walk around as it.

The experience of walking around as a man threw her off, and we should expect similar results for male players forced to walk around with female avatars.

Experiences in other games

Jaunt's tripod The Jaunt tripod can't capture "down". Photo credit: Gizmodo

There aren’t clear best practices currently on what developers should show on the screen when users look down to where their body would normally be. Jaunt VR, working on a World War II action movie in 3D, can’t show the area directly below your head because that’s where the tripod stand goes. They show the Jaunt logo where your legs would be, though I sadly don’t have a screenshot of this.

Other games haven’t implemented avatars well.

A little alarming. Screenshot from Inputs and the Rift.

The answer, for developers that want to persist with avatars, may be yet another configuration screen before beginning to play the game, to go along with choosing your sound settings (headphones vs speakers, to allow for proper stereo sound) and your intensity setting. Until we have a better picture of best practices, it’s probably good to allow users to choose how they’d like to be represented.

Mitigating strategies

If an unrealistic avatar breaks presence, here are some strategies you can use to help maintain immersion.