It’s not just about legs or ferrets in VR, but those are valid points.


On the previous topic regarding the ferret test when it comes to creativity allowance in virtual worlds, there’s another thing that’s pretty obvious after a look at several that exist in VR. Mainly by looking down just slightly. To account for how a usual VR setup involves three-point tracking, with the head and two hands, several VR social apps have gone for the floating torso look, such as Rec Room, Bigscreen, and of course Horizon (the Zuckerverse). Sure, it’s a stylistic choice that means they don’t have to worry about inverse kinematics, or IK, for legs that aren’t being tracked. Even the base SteamVR app only has a basic cartoon-like head and hands, no torso. But there’s more to it than that.

In apps like Rec Room and Bigscreen, the avatar system used has some deliberate style choice to it, though still not the most exciting or featured, they at least look like a whole object due to the torso shape allowing for a natural end cap at the waist and have some particular cartoon look that is likely particular to the app design itself. In Horizon, they really just look like a half of a cartoon person because the body just ends below the shirt, not even with any visual cap so it looks like they got sliced by some kind of portal, and yet they also have connecting arms between the torso and hands, which means they have at least some limited level of IK, which means they could probably extend that to the legs but have just chosen not to. So it’s a whole person down to the waist, and somehow they’ve managed to put a cartoon that would normally be outside of the uncanny valley right into it. But it gets weirder still.

Horizon is apparently actually pulling from an existing Oculus avatar system, probably named Meta avatars now for all I know because they’re trying to be consistent with branding while not being so, and those have legs. So they’re taking a system that has working legs and just deciding to remove it for whatever reason. Apparently this isn’t even limited to Horizon but several other Oculus apps that are tied into this system also opt to remove the legs. This really can’t be down to some IK thing because they figured out arms at least. I doubt it’s also related to attempts at being inclusive to those who don’t have legs, but they could claim it’s related to that for any criticism toward their platform to spin the conversation in their favor. I should emphasize that this criticism of the platform is definitely not to make light of those who would be used as an excuse in that defense, including those who are paralyzed or physically have no legs, and additionally mention that if someone chooses for their own avatar to not have legs, it is their own choice. I’m more pointing out that it’s enforced in Horizon and trying to bring out the specifics of why.

There’s the usual three-point tracking consideration, where having legs that aren’t tracked might throw some people off. But there’s something else below the waist that isn’t just legs on the average human. There seems to be a theory regarding trying to keep things super sterile for the Zuckerverse, and that sterility might go further than an art style, or enforcing human-only avatars. Leaving out the lower half of someone could actually cut the chance of being hit on in half or more. For those who have seen avatars sculpted in an alluring matter, chances are a lot of emphasis is placed on the butt and the hips, and likely also the breasts. Removing the lower half eliminates two of those, and also the feet for those who prefer that. Of course this also eliminates the genital region, all other preferences aside.

I mentioned above the uncanny valley, and if they’ve managed to place avatars in that, physical attraction drops down significantly. Sure, someone could look purely to personality to find attraction in such a strange app, and in general I’d think personality is a strong consideration in finding mates. However if the avatar doesn’t quite fit how someone thinks they themselves should look, even with all the variety of options they’ve given the system, it not being appealing even on a non-sexual level is a problem. Even if someone who strongly identifies with being an animal or robot or some other creature is convinced to be in a human avatar, would they find this serviceable to lose a good part of their prior customization on a full humanoid? Maybe a shirt makes a lot less sense without the paired pants and shoes. Also the skin tones only featuring a span of “realistic” ones and not allowing going crazy with the colors in case one feels literally blue. Yes, like the song.

Another weird thing about this, they actually have marketing material they’re using that does feature people jumping around and having fun, and they have lower halves. Maybe this was a concept art from before they decided to just only feature floating torsos, but it does imply false advertising. Especially considering that they use it as a thumbnail for a promotional trailer which not only doesn’t show any footage of the actual app, but the render in the trailer features their chosen leglessness. Potentially false advertising on top of itself.

The point of the Oculus avatars is to have a unified identity across things, which is effectively Facebook Meta’s mission statement. And yes, it would be cool to only have to upload an avatar once to work over several platforms. But I just defaulted to the idea of being able to upload an avatar. Not just having one tied into to a social media megacorp to conform to their rules. And then we just end up back on the ferret test.

One more thing I question in Oculus marketing, they talk about their apps and games being “experiences”. I have likened a VR “experience” to some two hour maximum thing that costs $30 and doesn’t really have any replay value and more feels like a tech demo. A real-life experience in the same vein would be something like skydiving or swimming with a dolphin that has a big up front cost and someone’s not likely to do it more than once in a while if ever again. Sure, the VR version is cheaper, but distilling what can be done in VR down to only this short-form thing is limiting apparent potential. While breaks should be taken every so often when playing games and so on, and some people only have enough time or investment for only the short-form stuff, the longer options are nice. Having things like Skyrim or Half-Life Alyx available for those who want to dig deep. VR social apps can be the same way. I didn’t get VRChat to the top of my Steam playtime list by doing nothing, like what I did for a good part of my Team Fortress 2 time when idling for hats still worked. Maybe sometimes I was doing nearly nothing while facing a mirror, but there was at least conversation.

Long story short, one lowest common denominator megacorp isn’t what I’d want gatekeeping the whole of VR. Also if they follow with this name change entirely instead of half-assing it, the “Cockulus” name could just end up becoming the “Meat Quest” just by moving two letters. Then again I still call the company Facebook regardless. Like how Alphabet is just Google.