Lessons from Simone: Avatar Embodiment
Simone is a seminal virtual reality film, albeit one which is unlikely to come about. You see, the technologies presented in Simone were developed in isolation, by one person/team. Whilst that is plausible for some of them, such as the pure-VR techniques, for others such as the photo manipulation techniques, this style of development is unlikely. Thus, everything in the film has to be taken with just a pinch of salt.
However, there are several aspects of both the technology of VR and the social impact, which the film carries off very well, and which deserve to stand on their own merits. One of these is of course one part of the driving point of the film; avatar embodiment.
Disillusioned, fading film director Viktor Taransky doesn't just bring Simone to life, as the perfect actress to work in his films --although that is what he believes he is doing. With all the work he pours into her, body, mind and soul, after a while he becomes Simone.
Whilst the film explores the limits of becoming a purely virtual avatar at least using contemporary technology, it also goes out of its way to show ways that the virtual can be leveraged in order to make the avatar-self so real it can function as an independent person in the greater world. In effect, Viktor becomes Simone almost as a legal entity. The self same thing is just as possible with actual avatar systems, at least once our technology evolves to the point it catches up with the film.
Happily, we are not that far away.
What that will mean when we get there, or even just a few years away when we get closer, is impossible to say at this stage. The film does deal with the identity crisis situation where after a while Viktor begins to resent Simone for her success, with a type of disassociative personality disorder forming, and he begins to punish her (him) for the negative effect he starts to perceive on his life as she takes over.
The film never touches on the possibility of Simone being a physical being, even virtually, able to feel sensory input and deliver that back to Viktor's mind, so its predictive abilities as to what happens when that level of immersion is involved, are moot. But then it was focussing on the nebulous, ethereal quality of Simone and how she was literally intangible. This is something our avatars don't have to be. Still, if the film had focussed on that, it would not be the same film it is now.
However, as Viktor discovered, and as many thousands with one form of bodily disassociative disorder or another, also discover with our more limited contemporary avatar systems, is that by placing your mind effectively in the body of another person, whether that person is your idealised star, or your idealised self, doors which were otherwise unobtainable to you, do and can open.
In the film, Simone was an actress who starred in box office success after box office success, became a pop singer, and even went into politics in the end. Simone herself didn't have much of a mind; she drew on successful ways of speaking and moving from famous women from previous years. However, all the talent, all the control was Viktor. Essentially, his talent was expressed in her acting, in her singing, in her success. His views, thoughts and feelings continually came to the surface through her.
This is what embodiment in an avatar truly means, and what it truly offers. In the end Viktor was almost lost to Simone, and had to 'kill' her to try and get his own self-identity back. That backfired spectacularly as by that time Simone was so real to everybody else, that he was convicted of her murder.
The avatar embodies the person to be what they could be, what they would be if they trulty had that body, and it was them. Sometimes it can be an eye opening experience. Sometimes, it may be a better way to live. At others, you have to be very very careful, or the Viktor would be gone, and Simone the only mind remaining.
Then again, some would argue that that may be exactly what they are looking for.