BATOPIA: Empathic Listening

2021 – ongoing.

Mixed Reality perspective-taking game.

Recipient of CAMIT Award, 2022-2023.

Shortlisted for S+T+ARTS Prize.

Work in progress. Funded by Counsel of Arts at MIT (CAMIT), exhibition coming in November 2022.

By Trans-Species Collective in collaboration with Yujie Wang.

BATOPIA is a VR game by @trans.species.collective that reconstructs the positioning of human beings in relation to other species, through letting the player become a bat in conceptual, technological and imaginative lenses, to experience survival complicated by anthropogenic stressors, seeking to decenter humanity in Anthropocene and bring empathy to animal conservation on the individual animal scale.

What practices can we use to develop our listening and sensorial abilities to be able to tune in to other non-human mind and be open to witnessing those of which we’re not aware?

The environment and evological challenges we are facing today lack action from the public due to Psychological Distance, which makes it difficult for us to relate ourselves to the actual impact of those problems on animals. From the Anthropocentic view, that humans are morally superior, to the Ecocentric view, that all living beings have equal intrinsic value, we need a paradigm shift and an alternative socio-ecological narrative.

As Pierre Schaeffer said, “Sound if the vocabulary of nature.” We believe listening as the non-human will open people up to richer, more engaged relationships with non-human co-inhabitants of Earth and the ecosystem in whole. The cognitive and artistic potentials of listening to non-humans are huge and underexplored in arts and humanities. Built upon Jakob von Uexkull’s theory of Becoming Non-humans and research on empathic computing, this research-driven art game BATOPIA, using immersive and wearable systems through perspective taking, aims to foster cognitive empathy towards animals through Trans-Sensory Listening (TSL) with non-human-centered storytelling.

With science translated into narrative, BATOPIA, a bat-as-subject perspective taking game, investigates what it means to become another species with some distance from us on the phylogeny. Player with trans-sensory vision, trans-sensory listening from ultrasound will experience a bat’s foraging in urban areas affected by anthropogenic noise and light pollution. Completing foraging tasks with disturbances derived from actual environmental challenges, the player understands the bat as a subjective character, which opens people to a more engaged, empathic relationship to the non-human inhabitants of the ecosystem. BATOPIA provokes a transition in the relationship between nature and human toward respect and empathy to non-human beings, with the potential to mitigate some of the harms pervaded by Anthropocentrism.