Digital self-expression has evolved rapidly throughout the past couple of decades, particularly thanks to the gaming industry and strange new social worlds like Second Life that have been key in accelerating the pace. Our conception of the “avatar” has transitioned from Ultima’s symbol of the player character to the digital doppelganger of the user.

The customized sprites we choose or create tends to invariably reflect aspects of who we are or want to be, be it a projection of our idealized self, or the staging ground from which to experiment with our sense of self. Yet, however fun and fruitful these experiments can be, the screen has always stood as the nagging perceptual barrier to make us feel separated from the avatar.

The real shift in digital self-expression comes only when that barrier starts to dissolve with the virtual embodiment that is made possible with VR, in which both the body and mind can be more readily tricked into believing the fantasy is real, and it is the avatar that plays the operative role in blurring the lines. No one really understands the mechanics at work, but our physicality is well-oriented to believe that a simulated VR experience is real.

Indeed, last month when reporting on my experiences at the World VR Forum, I described how my body was instantly struck with utter awe as I strapped into the full-body apparatus of the Birdly simulator. My reptilian brain was convinced that it had somehow teleported above the skylines of New York City and my phobia of heights was triggered, so much so that my wife had to walk over and remind me to breathe.

Our bodies map themselves instantaneously and automatically to these simulated 3D worlds, and without our volition. “We ran some experiments years ago getting people to enter VR sitting down in the same seat as an avatar, whenever a participant moved their legs and arms to match that of the avatar they described a profound sense of being present.” says Danny Stefanic, CEO at, a VR platform that allows educators to enhance learning through avatars, non-linear dialogue, and gamification through virtual environments. Read more from…

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