I have a lot of ideas. Really great ideas too! So many great ideas in fact that when, back in February, Magic Leap came around asking for proposals for augmented reality projects, I decided to give ‘em one, free of charge.
And what a prime idea it was too! Nothing short of a meditation on what it means to be a corporeal being; a brave stride forth into the post-physical realm; a glimpse at the future. So I drafted up a slick project proposal, sent it off, and prayed. My proposed project was titled “Detachable Penis”, and you know what? I never heard a damn thing back.
Man, this happens all the time. I get myself all hyped up about a project but can’t get others on board. And in this case, I really wasn’t asking for much: a proper AR headset to prototype with, a haptic vest or something, plus maybe some technical and non-technical support. That last part was what I was really after.
However on some level, I can also kind of rationalize this cruel rejection. It’s entirely probable that my proposal didn’t even make it past the spam filters. And my credentials in the AR/VR space are hardly noteworthy. (Although under “prior experience” I could that list time I stuck a camera connected to a Cardboard headset up on a 10 foot tall PVC tube so that you could see the world like a giraffe. Giraffe reality is pretty innovative! Required some real fancy taping skills too.)
The main problem though is that I’m no good at marketing, so when it came time to select a title for my proposal, rather than conduct a user study, I just deferred to King Missile and called it a day. In hindsight, that choice may have given certain people the impression that I was not entirely serious. However, spoiler alert, I was entirely serious.
Because first off, the project was not really about penises at all. I mean, it was, but they were more of launchpad so to speak. Here’s the gist of my proposed project: create an AR app that would let you place virtual body parts about their real environment—arms, calfs, noses, and yes even the titular penis—with each of these virtual body parts linked using haptic feedback to your real body. Poke at a virtual AR arm for example and a small haptic vibrator worn on your real arm would be triggered.
Where thing would really get interesting though is if multiple users were wearing AR goggles in the same space, all able to see and interact with each other’s virtual body parts. What would social interaction be like if you could literally tap someone on the shoulder from across the room? What would intimacy be like? I was proposing a low fidelity glimpse at a future where you can break up your body and its senses, remixing them to create new sensory organs, new experiences.
So yeah, there’s “Detachable Penis” for you. In retrospect, a title such as “Virtual Embodiment” may have met with more success, but “Virtual Embodiment” just sounds all fancy and complicated. I hardly wanted to make any grandiose promises or anything, certainly not to Magic leap! No, as a professional amateur, my aim was always something a little closer to an AR version of Poke the Bunny… except this time the bunny is you!
“But Matt,” you interject, “if your purported goal was creating augmented body parts, surely the hand, or the knee, or even the elbow would have been a far better—and more PG—starting point than the penis!”
Which I agree may well be a valid point, but answer me this: are you aware of any songs about a “Detachable Elbow”? I think not.
Indeed the phallus has always occupied a special place in human culture. You need only consult Priapus or the Bobbitts or your friendly neighborhood internet troll to understand as much. And as for detachment, in modern times at least it seems that many individuals of the XY persuasion live in mortal terror of some abstract sort of Spontaneous Penis Loss Event (pronounced “Splee!”). Yes, “Detachable Penis” will fit right in.
The penis also has practical advantages. Rather than trying to create high quality haptic interactions, I could just link the virtual penises—those potent symbols of physical desire—to some form of sexual stimulation and call it a day. And while creating a high quality 3D model of a human hand is notoriously difficult, any sixth grader can throw together a quite reasonable 3D penis in under a minute within their preferred multiplayer video game.
And then consider the potential market. Around 50% of the population doesn’t have a penis—which I personally consider a big point in their favor—but as a dear old Austrian friend reminded me: they too may very well enjoy taking one for a spin every now and then. And with regards to that other 50%, I think most reasonable people would agree that many members of the Penis Club could really do with having their so-called memberships revoked a good deal of the time. Win win.
Of course, once the penis had been conquered, then we could move on to hands and ears and navels and ossicones and those weird Vortigaunt third arm things…
But now I’m straying into elevator pitch territory. The fact was that I never heard anything back from Magic Leap, and so I began to doubt myself. Was it a sign? Maybe my idea wasn’t as great as I thought. Maybe “Detachable Penis” wasn’t going to be the next Uber. Maybe building an AR app about detachable penises is in fact not a normal hobby. Maybe I should just give up…
Yet I refuse to accept a future where placing virtual TVs that stream CNN 24/7 about your living room is considered exciting. Not that I’m bitter or anything mind you. And while it is debatable if a future full of virtual penises is necessarily the best of all possible futures, to me at least it is a step in an interesting direction, one where humans aren’t constrained by their physical form and where virtual and real bodies merge to create new realities.
So I decided to build the damn thing anyways. And so now, a good three quarters of the way into this post, allow me to share “Detachable Penis” for iOS.
The app lets you place a collection of colorful, AR penises about your environment. You interact with them using your real hands. Poke at one and it’ll trigger some fun physics based animations—which in my humble opinion truly gives Dead or Alive a run for its money—as well as setting off a wireless vibrator.
You can place as many penises as you see fit using the app, scaling them up and down appropriately to boot. Both wireless egg and plug vibrators are supported too so no one should feel left out.
And, you know, while even I must admit that the app is dumb as hell and super janky, that fact is that it let me place a giant blue and pink penis in my apartment and go doing dancing about it, with every poke triggering a slight physical twinge! Feels like the future.
I won’t be submitting this to the App Store, at least in its current form. It needs a lot more polish and frankly I don’t feel like sending Apple any more videos involving vibrators. And while I know that I personally will exercise great restraint in wielding these new AR powers, I unfortunately can’t entrust my fellow man to do the same. After all, it only takes one dick to ruin the fun for everyone. (Which coincidentally I believe was the message George McGovern ran on.)
Rather, I’m more interested in getting shared AR environments supported. Imagine an AR based hookup between people using an app like this for example. And why stop at two? Why not Pokemon Go this shit? (Which, of course, would be an absolutely terrible idea in practice due to the aforementioned dick issue.)
But in all seriousness, as fun as all this has been—and as much fun as I’ve obviously had writing about it—my original proposal to Magic Leap was serious. My end goal was always to create an AR experiences for various body parts. Maybe use a haptic vest to let two people poke at (or caress) each other. Maybe wire up some haptic gloves so you can physically show another person what you feel from across the room. What would those experiences be like? What other post-physical realities could we create?
Maybe one day I’ll be able to explore more of these. Hopefully someone does. Because the future should be fun, and weird, and yes, even magical. And maybe sometimes that future starts with a song by King Missile.