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Parsons MFA Design&Tech

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Anamorphic Agency

A virtual reality experience of my personal re-creation and resolution with sleep paralysis

  • games-play
  • installation
  • narrative-storytelling
  • virtual-reality
  • wellness-access
  • FACULTY
    Thesis Studio

    Colleen K. Macklin

    Nicholas J. Fortugno

    Writing and Research

    Barbara B Morris

    Christine L Prentice-Popken

    Inspired by the childhood trauma of sleep paralysis, Anamorphic Agency encompasses the process of my therapeutic exploration with the creation and implementation shared with users. As sleep paralysis afflictions increased during my youth, I found a method of waking myself up through concentrating on specific objects, so the objective in Anamorphic Agency is to teach the user to focus based on the feedback given through the visuals and physicality of the project. Utilizing the technological tools of a virtual reality headset, a brainwave reader, and an inflatable suit, the control elements are mapped through the user’s incoming brainwave data to translate the experience of concentrating to wake oneself from sleep paralysis. Anamorphic Agency escalates virtual simulation design through transparent interactive approaches structured by negative or traumatic narratives to recreate disempowering experiences into empowering ones.

  • Project website

  • Waking paralyzed, muted and scared during my childhood in a semi-dreamlike state, I looked around, but I couldn’t speak, it felt like my lips were glued shut, and I couldn’t move my body. Feeling a heavy pressure on my chest, I saw a brooding shadowy figure before me holding me down. My parents and I searched for numerous ways to cure it, using talismans from Buddhist beliefs to dream journaling. Eventually I found solace in making art, and continued to cope with it in the creation of a sleep paralysis simulation. I began with setting an eerie, entrapping, environment to evoke fear in the user with the movement of shadows and auditory forms to aid in setting the mood. However, the goal of this simulation is to lead the user through and experience where he/she will guide himself/herself out this fearful and immobilizing scene. In this scene the user gains agency by experiencing how to take back power in a situation where power and movement have been restricted from him/her.

    The re-creation of this experience stems from when I learned how to gain agency during my own sleep paralysis episodes by forcing myself to wake up from that state. Although those experiences of waking myself up were not easy to communicate, I drove to recreate the empowerment of breaking myself free of that debilitating phase. These childhood experiences formed how I dealt with difficult situations awake or unawake today, so I targeted the design to be evident to those who have or have not experienced sleep paralysis. The narrative path from powerless to power in these contexts guides the user across vulnerable platforms into confident routes of overcoming the self that holds them back.

    Creating a simulation of my experience with sleep paralysis, I began with setting an eerie, entrapping, environment evoking fear in the user. The movement of shadows and auditory forms aid in setting this mood, however the goal of this simulation is to lead the user through an experience where he/she will guide himself/herself out this fearful and immobilizing scene by focusing his/her attention levels. Initially the user cannot see in the environment because the user’s attention level is mapped to the focus of the camera, and in order to see, he/she must focus to gain a clear vision of the virtual environment. The translation of the blurry vision simulates being blurry-eyed when waking from sleep. A spotlight meter also aids the user in seeing his/her attention level, so the user can learn to control those levels. The recreation of this experience stems from learning how to wake myself up from sleep paralysis. Directing my user to focus their attention level, while eerie shadows and noises in the virtual environment aims to distract, teaching the user to concentrate despite diversions. In this creation from disempowering to empowering, the instantiation of power from these contexts guides the user through this anamorphic experience.

    The technology setup will begin with the Oculus Rift, which will give the user an immersive stereoscopic experience without setting up an entire room, and the Neurosky biofeedback sensor will track brainwaves to control the lighting in the virtual environment. These technologies will add to the loss of control anxiety from sleep paralysis since both technologies are difficult to control, the Oculus’ motion sickness issue, and the Neurosky’s biofeedback control. The sleep paralysis experience will be best simulated using a virtual reality platform referencing studies on lucid dreaming and agency implemented through video game environments and video games. The addition of the inflatable suit adds an experiential element to the simulation by adding air pressure on the user when his/her attention levels are low, and decreasing air pressure when his/her attention levels are high. This element mimics a heavy pressure I felt on my chest and body when I experienced sleep paralysis that has been documented in many sleep paralysis case studies.

    Sleep paralysis formed how I dealt with difficult situations awake or unawake today, and I hope that Anamorphic Agency will aid others to find agency where they believe they have none. The recreation of my experience evokes empathy through the user’s loss and gain of control. Addressing people who are entrapped by their own subconscious boundaries, Anamorphic Agency will target people who have experienced similar powerless states. Its virtual world will be constituted of the user’s shadows and sleep demon shadows, so the user will only experience his/her presence through his/her virtual shadow. The use of shadows will be crucial in creating an experiential interface for the user to identify with, but also be detached from since it will be an extension of the user’s virtual self. The metaphoric connotations of shadows will be a key element in effecting the user’s dissociated state, as well as evoking the feeling of anxiety through the user’s connection with his/her virtual shadow.


    Julie Huynh

    Julie is an artist and interaction designer specializing in play and virtual spaces. Beginning her studies in Studio Art and English Literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara, she is continuing her art at Parson’s Design & Technology MFA program. Her works incorporate an array components, varying from Arduino, Kinect, openFrameworks, and Unity. Her work aims to make playful environments and spaces using technology to create another level of interaction for users.

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