Real & Virtual Worlds — Week 9 (Viewing / Reviewing)

This week on the Real & Virtual worlds unit, for readings, we were given another episode from the Voices of VR podcast to listen to (#611) as well as three written sources.

Storytelling for Virtual Reality : Methods and Principles for Crafting Immersive Narratives

The first source for this week was “Storytelling for Virtual Reality : Methods and Principles for Crafting Immersive Narratives”. The chapter we were provided here talks about the creation of narrative structures.

A lot of this chapter talks about the standard narrative structures, and things that you commonly see in narrative, such as metaphor, irony, etcetera. It then goes on to talk about specifically regarding virtual reality, and ways that the player can be propelled into narrative action. Most of ways this can be done are fairly self explanatory, with most of them being the introduction of an opportunity, test, event or some kind of foe arising.

I can see how these function as ways to get a player invested into a story, but these are all story tropes which are fairly common in narrative structures.

Narrative as virtual reality 2: revisiting immersion and interactivity in literature and electronic media

The second reading for this was chapters 3 and 4 of this book. Hopefully I read from the correct chapters here, as the book was separated into sub-sections, so I found it a little bit confusing. The two chapters that I read covered: “The Poetics of immersion” and “Varieties of immersion: Spatial, Temporal, Emotional”.

The first of these two chapters compares immersion in Virtual Reality (VR) to that of Immersion in more traditional media, such as books, and the experience of immersion in a book is in contrast to that of immersion in VR, in that it is purely a mental phenomenon, whereas Virtual reality is what they describe as a “technologically induced phenomenon”. While I don’t wholly disagree with this notion, I’d be curious to know where they draw the line between these — Is it the introduction of any kind of screen that changes it to a technologically induced phenomenon, or is it the immersive surrounding of one’s self that a virtual space provides?

Much like this week’s first source, this source also discusses the concept of metaphor in that we lose ourselves in metaphor once immersed, forgetting its metaphorical nature, and once again talking about this in relation to books as well as virtual spaces. Personally, I find it a lot harder to find myself immersed in a book than something like a game or a film, but perhaps that’s just me being more receptive to visual stimuli than to more mental aspects of immersion.

They discuss kinds of metaphor, such as the metaphor of Transportation (Gerrig), which are in essence metaphors that explain to the player or reader how they reached the metaphorical scenario that they are in now, and how this is often a process by which the writer has to ensure that each aspect of this transportation has to be plausible within the context provided, and that inconsistencies within this or things that cannot be explained may break this state of immersion.

The second chapter (chapter four) of this book that we were asked to read covers the concepts of Spatial, Temporal, and emotional varieties of immersion. This, at least to some degree, is something that I have read about before in other sources while on this course, so conceptually these already made quite a bit of sense to me. In this chapter he focuses more on the mental operations and textual features responsible for these forms of immersion.

One statement that was made in this reading that I thought was particularly interesting is the idea that an efficient way to create a sense of place without resorting to lengthy descriptions is the use of “proper names” in the semantic sense that these contrast with more commonly used nouns through the uniqueness of their reference. This is something I feel that maybe I should apply more to game design document work that I have been doing, as it’s a simple change that actually (at least to me) makes a lot of sense, and I can see why it would help with immersion in a subtle manner.

I also enjoyed the notion towards the end of the reading that ideas that encourage contemplation from the player (such as paradoxes) you can indirectly cause emotional responses such as anxiety from the player. This chapter specifically mentions the being on the edge of a building causing the person in question to entertain the thought of losing their footing, and that this can make the person experience vertigo.

Virtual Art: From Illusion To Immersion

For our final text-based reading of this week, we were tasked with reading two chapters from Virtual Art: From Illusion To Immersion, specifically: “Evolution” and “Perspectives”.

The first chapter talks a lot about inspirations drawn from nature, and how some interactive experiences have been created using nature, to create “natural interfaces”. One example specifically used plants that when touched trigger interactive events, which is a really unique concept, and a really interesting way to integrate technology with nature.

It follows on to describe other projects such as A-Volve, a project that implements genetic algorithms to incorporate biological mechanisms like growth, procreation, and mutation, essentially making a complex interactive experience that evolves over time. Obviously this takes a lot of inspiration from real-life evolution, but to some degree many kinds of art draw inspiration from the world around us (This reminds me somewhat of the golden ratio in art from back at school). In some ways, some games have also drawn inspiration from such things — Some games like Spore have been successful in the past, which while not nearly as complex, display many of the same interactive goals.

The second chapter we were asked to read from this source covered a lot about perspectives and “illusion” conceptually.

The most interesting part of this chapter to me was that “throughout history, ruling powers have tended to press the most advanced medium into their service” in the sense that they applied the use of such concepts through “powerful images that occupy the functions of memory”.

This is something that I think is especially prevalent in modern society, with technology and social media, and the “illusion” of places such as Instagram, displaying an ideal that is not attainable by the average person in many cases.

Some of the terminology in this chapter did go a bit over my head, so there’s some stuff in here I’d like to look up in my spare time. Similarly to some of my other readings from previous weeks, this chapter makes some references to homo ludens, which I feel I should take the time to re-read somewhat as it may help with my understanding of some of this.

The Voices of VR Podcast #611
This episode of the voices of VR podcast had the host interview the creative producer of “Sleep No More”, an immersive theatre piece made by the company Punchdrunk.

Probably one of the biggest things I drew from this interview was the notion that the term “immersion” sort of just appeared in their eyes, as a way to describe a sensation that reviewers couldn’t really explain in other ways.

To me as a developer I think I would find this somewhat concerning, in that I imagine it’s harder than usual to actually sell a product if all the reviews say is “you should try it”. While those are obviously positive reviews, I imagine a lot of people wouldn’t really be convinced by just a simple “It’s good” without any further explanation about why it would be as such.

Project Work

This week, I took the weekend to spend some solid time to actually work on my project, as up until this point I spent a lot of time doing small technical work that honestly wasn’t creating anything visually impressive.

Unfortunately I ended up having a bad setback this week — It turns out that due to the headset I am using, it is unsupported in older versions of unity — Specifically the versions I was attempting to use windows MRTK in. This combined with the fact that MRTK was being deprecated in unity 2020 and onwards meant that I had to end up switching to a different plugin for this project. I ended up settling on Unity 2021, as it has support for the much newer OpenXR plugin, which functions a lot better than MRTK did for my purposes.

I couldn’t get a gif to upload here for whatever reason, but I’ll link some twitter links for things that I have shared to do with this project work:
Experimentation with basic controls in Unity 2021.

Somewhat Basic object socketing (for use of placing objects in the game)