Dystopia disguised as Metaverse
Camouverse is a meta-speculative AR artwork created with Unity and Vuforia. It shows a person wearing a tiny XR headset sitting in a windowless room full of garbage. However, if the room is viewed via another room-size virtual XR headset, it becomes a beautiful beach interleaved with glitches and flashes of the harsh reality. In addition, the whole body of work is mediated through an AR experience with a creepy background music, forming multiple layers of realities.
Camouverse utilizes marker to anchor the spatial position of the scene objects. The AR marker was specifically designed with glitches covering a dangerous skull symbol to match the theme of the project. The strips help improve the quality of the marker and make it more easily recognizable.
The entire scene comprises of three layers - Virtual World, "Real" World, and XR Headset. The camera in each world can only see the objects in its own layer, and similarly, light sources can only lit objects in their own layer. However, the main AR camera can see both the "Real" World and the XR Headset layers.
The data from both the virtual camera and "real" cameras is streamed to the "Screen" object through their corresponding RenderTextures. A glitch effect shader is specifically added to the result of the virtual camera as a URP post-processing step. In addition, the script for the "Screen" randomly switch between the two RenderTextures to show a flash of the "real" world.
Both virtual and "real" cameras track the movement and rotation of the main AR camera. They have the same relative positions to their reference points, which are the virtual "screen" and "screen" respectively.
Also, a background music and a poem are added to provoke emotions and thoughts. The poem titled The Room of My Life was written by Anne Sexton. Although it was originally a reflection of her mental stability, the poem is also riddled with voyeuristic imagery of pervasive objects that appear to control the poet. Such sentiment aligns with the theme of this artwork very well.
Blender was used as the main modeling tool in this project. Both the "real" room and the XR beach scenes are isometric models created by combining various online and self-made assets. The XR headset was also modeled from scratch by myself. The result was exported from Blender into Unity as a FBX file. In Unity, the model is unpacked and the individual materials are extracted so that they can be modified in Unity and fine-tuned specifically for the Universal Rendering Pipeline.
Like other experimental artworks, camouverse is open to interpretation and is intended to provoke thoughts and emotions. However, I do have a few intentions when designing the work.
Over-fantasization of the Metaverse
While I am not against the concept of the metaverse, the unrealistic expectation that the metaverse is destined to be a utopia has always haunted me. Here, I am not referring to a matrix-ish reality-bending virtual world. Instead, I am talking about giving up the physical world but ending up stuck in a half-baked metaverse. What if we fail to develop immersive technologies beyond just 3D controllers and HD XR displays? What if our senses stay deeply connected to reality even when we are in the XR world, just like how it is today? What if, despite all these, we are still pushed to spend time in such a low-fidelity metaverse all day long?
Such a bleak future is entirely plausible, given the slow development of fully immersive technologies like Brain-computer Interface, and the ironic hard sell of the metaverse by enthusiasts and big corporates. In this sense, the artifact is designed to challenge the over-idealistic worldview of the metaverse.
The Escapism Nature of the Metaverse
The mainstream metaverse rhetoric often portrays reality as a corrupted and unequal place. However, the virtual world is more like a facade hiding the actual problem than a genuine solution. Even worse, the metaverse presents an opportunity for technology companies and authorities to control even bigger parts of our lives. This work intends to provoke reflections on the above narrative.
The Ubiquity of Manipulative Media
The presentation is purposefully mediated through a layer of augmented reality. Even when the viewers are reflecting on the previous two themes, it is still done via an artificial medium that is prone to manipulation. In this sense, this work is also meta-critical, questioning the fact that criticism is consumed in the same way as the narrative that it is criticizing.