Claudia Miranda
UX + XR designer, new media artist, and content creator living in Oakland, CA

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Dara Doll Digital Toy App

This is one of those projects that just has to get out of me. It is the synthesis of so many things that I enjoy and am intrigued with. I have a vision for how all these elements can be combined and birthed into the world as and understated but powerful digital experience.

Where to begin...

I think about 5 years ago I was reading Jaron Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget and got introduced to the concept of  "somatic cognition" or an awareness of your body. Jaron Lanier is often credited as the father of virtual reality, btw. He describes a realization that happened upon experiencing a glitch in an early prototype. His hand was suddenly much larger than it should be in the simulation and he realized that the mind was able to adapt surprisingly quickly to this new body. For details I highly recommend this article by Jaron Lanier in 2010 titled "On the Threshold of the Avatar Era" where he dives deep into the idea. He says...

...the mapping of the homunculus could be so flexible as to adapt to non-human bodies was initially a shock, but a delightful one. The sensation of inhabiting a nonhuman avatar is a new kind of pleasure. Think about what it would be like to wear wonderful clothing, combined with driving a superb vehicle, combined with mastering an extraordinary physical skill. It is like all those things together, but more expressive.

That idea really resonated to me and my philosophy on styling one's appearance. An informal philosophy developed initially more as a way to exercise my creativity in the daily march of life. A way to stay engaged in routine day to day interactions. When I get dressed I become this nonhuman avatar, and now everyday interactions are more engaging through this lens of pretending. Psychological implications aside, I am a believer in the potential of virtual reality to hack our somatic cognition into making us feel and experience really significant things.

That is the ultimate end goal - exploratory experimental avatar embodiment and customization.

A step in that direction was inspired a few years by my nieces (both under 5yrs old) and my own acceptance of makeup as a natural extension of appearance styling (clothes, hair, shoes, nails) and the disintegration of a deeply held belief that it was frivolous because it was girly. It's not. I was a closet beauty junky and this triggered plenty of feminist guilt. (Related: A video of Caitlan Moran sharing that her makeup goal is to look like a Puffin.)  As I looked towards my two nieces, I wondered what type of media or digital experiences might help them reach that conclusion sooner and embrace that makeup is there for them as just one of many elements with which they can play with their appearance.

Toca Tailor is a rare awesome gem. Some examples from tocatailor.com
Toca Tailor is a rare awesome gem. Some examples from tocatailor.com

Finally I played with the mobile game Toca Tailor and Toca Hair Salon. I went looking to see what else was out there in the way of doll games. I'm a grown woman but I can still lose hours to customizing an avatar, I can't be the only one? Checking out the competitive landscape of iOS doll games - I was left mostly unimpressed, somewhat insulted, and just saddened at the quality of the graphics and interaction and concepts.

I envisioned busy mom's downloading doll games for their introverted children to entertain themselves while they run errands (the 2015 equivalent of my late 80's bi-monthly Barbie doll purchase) and leaving them to learn that dressing up and looking pretty is only for thin white girls girls and the aim is to get asked out to drink with hot frat guys (the name of this app is "College Girl." Our girls deserve better digital toys with complex female characters.

college_girl_app

And so an idea was born: Dara the Digital Doll. A stepping stone towards that ultimate goal of creating a digital experience (virtual and/or augmented reality) of avatar embodiment and customization.

Dara Doll is a mobile app and game. Dara likes to express her individuality and style by dressing creatively. The game encourages dressing up as a means of self-expression and as a valid artistic endeavor. It aims to encourage play with personal appearance and style as a means of self-expression, artistic statement, and identity exploration.

dara_sketches_rough_wip
dara doll digital toy app