Can virtual reality act as an affective machine? The wild animal embodiment experience and the importance of appearance

Alexandra Sierra Rativa, Marie Postma, Menno van Zaanen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionScientificpeer-review

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In view of the growing urgency to protect wildlife, the general goal of our research is to develop an immersive virtual experience where users can step into the ‘shoes’ of wild animals. The specific objective of this research is to explore the possibility of creating a strong emotional connection experience with a virtual animal body. In a game setting, users explore a simulated natural habitat of the animal. At the end of the game, users experience a distress event during which they become the target of an illegal animal hunter. The users receive physical feedback through haptic virtual reality suits (vibrating motors) that mimic the sensation of feeling pain of a hunter's shot. We compare the perceived pain, empathy, immersion, and embodiment experience evoked through a game character with a natural body (beaver), with an artificial body (robot beaver), and an amorphous body. The results of this investigation show a significant effect of game character appearance and perceived pain during the distress event. Moreover, we find a significant effect of game character appearance on immersion. These results suggest that the design of the game character appearance can influence users’ emotional connectedness to the character and the game experience.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMIT LINC 2019
Place of PublicationMIT
PublisherEPiC Series in Education Science
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2020
EventMIT LINC 2019 Conference: Massachusetts Institute of Technology - Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, United States
Duration: 18 Jun 201920 Jun 2019


ConferenceMIT LINC 2019 Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


  • Animal Conservation
  • artificial body
  • empathy
  • Justin Beaver VR
  • Perceived-pain
  • robot beaver
  • immersion
  • game character appearance
  • Virtual Reality


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