Real & Virtual Worlds — Week 5 (Viewing /Reviewing)

This week (technically two- As we had our Easter break) on the Real & Virtual worlds unit, I spent a lot of my time re-thinking some of my previous thoughts on the end of unit hand in. After presenting during our last session, I realised that my concept needed to be more focused, rather than vaguely covering multiple themes.

To this end, I’ve decided to go backwards somewhat, and focus more on the automation idea, and how I could create a message within a game for this topic, rather than forcing a related theme into an idea that I’d already had. My new idea is something I’d mentioned previously- A sort of VR-City-builder simulation, but one in which you have to balance the construction of automated things in the environment with the impacts that they have on a measurable value, being the unemployment rate of people in the city that you are constructing. I think that this gives the player a lot of control, but also makes them consider the impacts of introducing this kind of technology, and reflects my view that ultimately these are good changes, but need to be made slowly in order to minimise the impact upon the populace of a given area.

Changing my concept in this way does give me a bit of extra workload — in that originally I was considering using part of a project from outside of the course that I had been working on, but now will not be doing so. I’ll need to spend a bit of extra time making a new unity project for this, so for right now there’s not a lot to show in terms of prototyping or pre-production sketches, but I have prepared a small storyboard (not sure if I should call it this?) within a VR tool that was suggested within one of our previous presentations. I’ve also started work on a script, but due to changing ideas somewhat last minute, it’s still a work in progress (I will try to include it in my next blog post here.)

A small storyboarded area made in Sketchbox (VR)

Following this, we were asked to read an extract from three readings, as well as listen to another episode of the “Voices of VR” podcast (#569). The first of these I spent my time on was the podcast, as I find these kinds of things quite relaxing to listen to whilst doing other things.
This one in particular was an conversation with Kai Reimer about Phenomenology of Perception. I thought this podcast particularly was super intriguing to listen to especially in regards to learning about one’s self through technology such as virtual reality, and how it’s a form of media that allows you to experience things that you would never be able to experience in reality. Studies of the mind have always interested me in the past, so this was a really fun listen.

Writing this, I now just realised that I was a week ahead on readings, so please refer to my previous medium post on this unit to see some of my readings there. That said, I didn’t get around to fully reading into the third reading we were provided for this week: Ethnography and Virtual worlds: A Handbook of method.

The extract from this we were provided with covers the history of ethnographic methods used over time. I’m not well versed at all in some of the writing that accompanies these, so I may want to do additional research on these in the future just to improve my own understanding of texts like these.
One of the ideas proposed in this is the concept of “Thick description”, from one of the author’s citings, which is the idea that “without contextual embedding, it is not possible to meaningfully interpret what we see”.

This concept is one that I think can be meaningfully applied to our work in virtual reality, insomuch that placing a user into a virtual space places them into a new context of sorts, where the designer of the environment needs to provide context and surroundings to the player such that they properly interpret and understand what they are seeing.

The chapter continues to talk about other areas of this, such as how Feminist ethnography has had a long presence and has evolved over time as well as how ethnographers in the past questioned the universality of gender roles, going as far back as 1935 (as cited by the author). He states that this feminist focus of ethnography has particular relevance when applied to video games because of their pervasive gender imbalance. While I think that this is something that has improved over time, it’s still something that’s quite apparent within some gaming communities, especially when it comes to more traditionally “hardcore” gaming audiences such as those that might be more likely to use technology such as virtual reality. This is a topic that has been tackled a large amount, but I feel that there’s still a lot that could be learned from academic written work such as these, and more of it could be applied to both design and concept, particularly when it comes to what the author here calls “gendered rhetorics of costuming”.