An Augmented Reality Game Aimed At Making You More Saintly

Put on these glasses, and you won’t just see more clearly. You’ll be a better person.

As difficult as we make it sound, self-improvement can be a straightforward thing. It’s relatively easy to become more fit (diet and exercise) or even to become smarter (read more and attend classes on a topic). But how do you possibly approach making yourself a better person?

For his thesis project, Michaël Harboun, now a designer at Ideo, tackled that question through a concept called Transcendenz.

His vision was for an augmented reality interface that wouldn’t just tell you where the nearest burrito joint could be found in the city, but to help you discover something inside of yourself.

"Regular AR applications add a layer of objective data, informing us about our surroundings. They give us an instant answer, so that we immediately know what we see," Harboun writes us. "Transcendenz doesn’t give answers, it asks questions. It believes in the user’s ability to put the world around him into question, and to not content himself eating instant available data."

The application builds empathy through a mature gamification. It tracks, not just your eyes, but your emotions and actions in the real world. As the user takes actions that are empathetic, they level up. But they’re also constantly challenged by the application to broaden their worldview.

Watch the embedded clip from 6:45 in, and you’ll see Transcendenz alter the worldview of someone who puts out their cigarettes on a tree. "By transforming the perception of the user, Transcendenz points out to an invisible philosophy, hidden behind the everyday world," writes Harboun. "The application encourages us to leverage our consciousness of things and to transcend what we see."

And in doing so, Transcendenz functions differently from most technology we use in our lives. Rather than ignoring one’s spouse to play Angry Birds, Harboun’s app forces the user out of technology, to be "fully immersed into the present moment."

"My hope for AR glasses is that it will make people look away from their screens," Harboun writes. "My fear is that it will make us see what’s overlaid, and not the underlaid anymore."

Well put.

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6 Comments

  • SpartacusRex

    Arrogance and pretension warning. As a former renunciate I can tell you, it is easy to believe that you can "make" the world a "better" place. The trick is to find yourself and integrate into the world as it is. Neither as you wish it to be or imagine it to be. This takes all effort at all times until it becomes effortless as they say. Om.

  • Christopher Burd

    Somehow I have an image of the designer being beaten with staves by a crowd of genuine Buddhist monks. Somehow I do not disapprove.

  • Jeremy Laurin

    I would have the same fear as the designer mentioned. Who would be programming this "augmented" reality? Is that still reality then? After a while it becomes almost a matrix and as is usually the case someone will exploit this for evil intent. The idea of altering reality to change behavior is scary to say the least, as I said who's doing the programming of your world view with these glasses. 

  • Joshua D.

    A brilliant idea, and opportunity for humans to reconnect with being human.