child playing VR game

Justin Beaver: Get into the skin of an endangered species

Campus Shot 2 min. Marlies de Brouwer

PhD student Alexandra Sierra Rativa studies the impact of VR games on humans. To that end, she has developed an app, together with Marie Postma and Menno van Zaanen. This app, which is called 'Justin Beaver VR', allows people to feel like an animal through Virtual Reality.

Justin Beaver is the virtual main character in the game. With a VR headset and a special haptic vest, users feel as if they are actually in the skin of a beaver that is moving around in a natural 3D environment. Based on the vibration motors in the vest, they can experience the feeling of swimming in water, touching fish, and even being shot by a hunter.

Alexandra came up with the idea to develop Justin Beaver VR because of the many endangered animal species in her native Colombia. "The protection of wild animals may be in the hands of biologists or politicians, but I think that everyone can contribute to solving this problem." With this game, she want to increase empathy for wild animals.

Alexandra Sierra

I think that everyone can contribute to solving this problem

During Night University, the University’s annual science festival on October 3, 2019, Alexandra first tested the game. She chose a special target group: children aged between 9 and 14. For a few minutes each, they were allowed to experience what it is like to live like a beaver (although the hunter was left out of the game on this occasion!). For them it was a wonderful introduction to the many interesting and relevant studies that are being conducted at the University.

For Alexandra and her fellow-researchers, this demonstration during Night University was a good way to show what they had in mind with Justin Beaver VR: to increase, by means of VR games, empathy for wild animals threatened with extinction.

It is Alexandra’s ambition to promote Justin Beaver VR among young people around the world and to make the game available to be used in education. Her research is almost done. She is in the process of writing her PhD thesis and gives presentations all over the world to share her results. She hopes to finish her PhD before November this year.

More information about the research 'VR application with vibrations makes you feel like an animal and stimulates empathy'.

Date of publication: 16 July 2020