Making Eye Contact In VR


They say eyes are the windows to the soul. At the very least, eye contact is one of the most intimate forms of connection two people can make with their underwear on. Valve spent a fortune ensuring that looking into Alyx Vance’s eyes wouldn’t be robotic and awkward. A big reason for Vampire: Bloodlines’ characters being so successful is that they, likewise, hook you in the eyes and refuse to let go. Of course, being a horror game, some of them would probably rather be doing it with a fish-hook.

In virtual reality, eye-contact becomes code for ‘alive’.

It doesn’t matter if the person is FMV or CG or even an active participant. My favourite VR demo, Arkham VR*, demonstrates things better than most, whether it’s Joe Chill’s gaze following you around Crime Alley or standing face to face with Batman characters in his little holographic simulator. Even if a character can’t actually do much, it’s ridiculous how effective simply a small head turn, a blink, or tracking your own eyes as you walk around can be. It’s a level of intimacy – no snickering, please, I’m not talking about the many purveyors of VR porn out there – that you just don’t get with a conventional monitor in front of your face, as well as one of the many frustrating parts of the VR experience that can be described, but really have to be experienced to ‘get’.

(* Virtual Rickality, above, is fun, and had better screenshots. So why talk Arkham VR? Sadly, Rickality shoots itself in the plumbus by limiting Rick and Morty’s presence and being mostly about standing alone in a garage, with Rick on speed-dial. Grr. As if anyone wanted Not Rick And Morty. With the possible exception of non-Rick and Morty fans. But why would they buy one of their VR games? No, sir, it makes no sense!)


  1. DrazharLn says:

    Two posts in and already the OoO tag has fallen by the wayside, to be forgotten just as completely as the once-beloved staring eyes.

  2. Eleven says:

    The ability for a character to acknowledge the viewer is one of those promising avenues for VR that’s almost completely unexplored at the moment. Even the simplest of things, just making eye contact, can make a powerful difference to a scene. It’s like the difference between theatre and a movie, in that the viewer isn’t fully isolated from the performer and the experience is very different because of it.

    There was a demo called “Coffee Without Words” that worked on the now obsolete, non-consumer versions of the Oculus Rift. It’s really simple, just you sitting in a cafĂ© across the table from a woman who would occasionally emote languidly at you with significant glances. There’s almost nothing to it but it’s powerful nonetheless: a simple scene turned into almost a piece of performance art just by having the character acknowledge you in a instinctively intuitive way.

  3. Kefren says:

    After setting this up they could do so much with the reverse. A character that won’t look you in the eye. The player might not even consciously register why they feel uncomfortable around that character. Psychological cues playing in to trust and decisions. It’s the kind of thing writers try to do – slipping things between the lines so they have an effect without drawing attention to themselves (easier said than done).

  4. svge says:

    Where does one go to try VR? It’s been around for ages but beyond stumping up the moolah, where can I found out what it’s all about and whether I’ll be hideously sick upon entering those electric dreams.

    • Kefren says:

      I first tried it at a local place I wasn’t even aware of until a friend pointed it out, link to
      Then I kept going back, and taking friends and family. It wasn’t a dingy place like a PC repair workshop, it was a really nice area with a smart lounge and private, clean and tidy room with a big screen for seeing what the player is doing.
      Now I have an Oculus Rift and when my new PC arrives next week, I’ll be able to do the same at home.
      But back to your question – check if there is a place like VR Land in your town, or one nearby. Or if you go to another town or city for anything, see if there’s one there. It’s a good way to try it out. You may have to dig around, they aren’t always well publicised.
      I was won over almost immediately. Though I am just as interested in playing my favourite old games in VR, being “inside” them and seeing them in a new way, as I am in buying new games.

    • Vandelay says:

      Quite a few Game stores, as well as others, in the UK offer a place to give the Vive a try. Don’t believe they charge anything for it, but not certain on that.

      Should be a list of places on the Vive website.

  5. Tiax says:

    I found that the first human you meet in Lone Echo has this kind of effect on you.

  6. Mungrul says:

    I’d love to see someone here review Lone Echo. I’ve not played a huge amount yet (I bought it at the height of summer; not comfortable VR weather!), but interacting with Olivia is fascinating, and not a small part of that comes down to eye contact.

  7. K_Sezegedin says:

    Yeah when she floats up in looks you in the face I felt like my personal space was being invaded and wanted to pull away, its really strange.

  8. SimulatedMan says:

    Eyetracking helps with this sort of thing. Especially for player avatars.
    link to

  9. baekhesten says:

    *baffled and alarmed autistic noises in the distance*

    Honestly, this just made me realize that one of the things I enjoy about video games is that the lack of character eye contact means I can study the character’s face and expressions without making actual eye contact. Irl, I miss a lot of expression because I’m constantly trying to dodge eye contact; understandably, if I look even a little close to a person’s face, they try and make eye contact, and I’m just like NO PLEASE I WANT TO READ YOUR EXPRESSION NOT LOCK EYES WITH YOU.

    I am a little curious about whether I’d have the same aversion if a video game character made eye contact with me, but given that research suggests autistic aversion to eye contact has to do with sensory overload in the brain rather than any sort of social discomfort… I’m gonna have to get used to dodging eye contact in video games too now, dammit.

  10. Uberwolfe says:

    It was eye contact and a subtle body movement that gave me my first sense of “presence” in VR.

    Presence is defined as that moment when your brain thinks you’re actually, physically, inside the world in front of your eyes.

    I was standing next to Harley Quinn, I turned to look at her and she turned her head and met my eyes. I then wanted to check out the detail a bit better so I leaned in a bit closer, in which she responded with an facial expression and leaned away from me.

    For some reason – for only about 2 seconds – my brain convinced me I was there.. It was weird, but an awesome feeling.