Anamorphic Agency

Anamorphic Agency:

An interactive recreation of my experience with sleep paralysis, the demo begins with a fictional sleep therapist introducing the test study for users to test when they try the project demo live. A testing assistant aids the user in putting on the inflatable suit that inflates and deflates based on the user’s concentration levels read by the brainwave sensor. The inflatable suit simulates the immobility and pressure on the body experienced in sleep paralysis. The aid then helps the user don the brainwave sensor and Oculus headset. The brainwave sensor tracks the user’s concentration levels which effects the suit and the virtual environment in the Oculus. In the Oculus, the user will see a spotlight meter projected from their point of view. The size and intensity of that light works as a meter for the user’s attention levels. The focus of the camera is also tracked to the user’s attention level, so simulate the muddled feeling of trying to wake up. As the user looks around, he/she must reach a concentration threshold before the simulation begins. First the lantern will flicker and the user must look at it to turn it off, the shadow demon screams when the user looks at the light because it is weakening it. Second the standing spotlight flickers and the user must do the same to turn it on. Now the shadow demon is revealed and now flickers with the lights, so the user must defeat it by looking it and concentrating as he/she did with the lights, the demon’s pink heart grows with the user’s attention level. The simulation ends when the shadow demon is destroyed and the sleeper sits up and lights come on.

Project Description:

As a result of suffering from sleep paralysis in my childhood, I became afraid to go to sleep, so I found that by concentrating really hard on certain objects during the episode, I could wake myself up. Thinking these experiences were abnormal, I grew older to find others who experienced this disorder as well. Writing stories about my experiences and keeping dream journals were some methods of coping with this sleep disorder. However as my coping progressed, I ventured down artful avenues of expression, trying to make sense of these experiences. Though sleep is supposed to be a safe space where people have comfort and safety, my sleep experiences were normally disturbed by these paralytic states. In the past my sanctuary could not be found in my bed; however, it was found in my recreations of this disempowered state designed to empower the user from these experiences. Designing Anamorphic Agency using my art and technology skills became a therapeutic exercise through sharing my experience of the user learning to gain control in an environment where he/she initially does not have control.


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 helped form how I dealt with difficult situations awake or unawake today, and I hope that Anamorphic Agency will aid others to find agency where they are set to 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 aid in evoking the feeling of anxiety through the user’s connection with his/her virtual shadow.