Decided to mix in some Guild Wars 2 imagery* for this comic, which is sort of a sequel to It’s Important and It’s Really Important, and the spiritual successor to the Show Me Your Cyber Face comic from a while back. I dare say the first panel overshadows the rest of the comic in scope, and I’ll make adjustments for clarity as needed.

Remember virtual reality? Remember when wearing a big headset and funky gloves was the coolest thing in the world? VR promised to be the next generation in human experiences. Despite the nascency of the technology, it rose to the challenge set upon itself by…itself, and bestowed upon the 90′s much richness. Gems such as VirtualBoy, VR.5, simulation sickness, and rumors of brain damage defined a technological era.

Okay, okay, VR was terrible. But it may have just redeemed itself a tiny bit. Published in PLOS One last week was an experiment conducted by the University of Barcelona that had humans cooperating with rats in a virtual reality game. Separated by 12km, the human and the rat inhabited a shared digital space where they could see each other and move about the room—the human participant by using a VR headset and controller, and the rat via camera tracking. Since the rat can’t see the digital space, a small robot represented the human player’s movements. It’s complicated, and I hope the comic did the explanation justice. Or else I failed entirely.

The catch line of the paper is slightly misleading because during the first trials, the human participant was told that they were playing with a rat. In fact, to cement this notion in their head, they were occasionally shown footage from the rat’s arena. In the later trials, the researchers used this to trip up the participants by showing them footage of a woman waving at the camera. Player 1 never caught on that Player 2 was still a rat, and even changed their behavior slightly. For example, they kept a greater distance between the avatars, possibly due to social notions of personal space.

So what did they accomplish? This is possibly the first time VR has been used in order for a human to interact with an animal on their respective scales—meaning the space and avatars were sized according to the user. I can see this form of teleoperation (TO) used in bee hives, with a small human-controlled robotic bee interacting with the colony. Even better, imagine doctors being able to enter a person’s body and perform microscopic surgeries without having it huddle around a tiny space.

VR has a long way to go, but this is a pretty good start.


*For fans of the tuxedo-wearing Charr engineer, you can see his first appearance in the infamous On Playing Well With Others comic.