Prof Joe DeLappe – Reality Remix Progress Report

Alexa and Ruth texting a dual tube cardboard viewer.

We are now roughly half way thru our Reality Remix project to explore “immersive practices” in VR and AR. This has been quite an interesting experience having the opportunity to dive headlong into the tech and the ideas/concepts surrounding existing VR/AR works while strategizing and creating new content for such. We met first in mid February of this year for a research salon. This was a rather extraordinary gathering, a dream team in a way of artists, designers, coders, choreographers, dancers – all of whom share a deep interest in emerging practices utilizing VR and AR for creative production. From my perspective what I truly enjoyed about this experience is nothing was proscribed – our activities were loosely structured, primarily we engaged in exploring what is out there thru our project provided individual Oculus Rift set ups, shared what we had discovered, explored certain apps together and just simply played – in a manner that reflected well on our shared interest in active and critical engagement with these technologies.

Key to the success of this event as well were the opportunities for socially, creatively and intellectually engaging with this amazing group of people. The conversations during our research sessions and during lunches, dinners and drinks were very significant in developing both a sense of camaraderie and towards formulating concepts that will feed into the final outputs of this effort. On the final day we had a sit down to discuss ideas, share concepts and strategize a bit about what might be possible avenues for focus and further exploration. The notion of holding a “Dazzle Ball” in London and NYC as the ultimate goal of the project permeated our discussions. We discussed the performative aspects of people in VR, an area that I find of particular interest, and what this might mean in creating an interactive space where people would engage in VR headset experiences but that the actual physical space would be carefully considered as intrinsic to the content of the event – ie creating a performative environment for VR experiences that might go well beyond the headset and sensors in a white space.

Bruno, Ruth and DJ in VR.

I write this in the midst of our second research salon, meeting at Coventry University. There are four of us here physically with a couple of our creative collaborators coming in to visit both in RL and VR. We’ve been having some very playful and intense interactions both in RL and VR. Yesterday five of us finally managed to all meet in the same VR space online, Dusting joined us from Toronto to explore VRchat for the last two hours of the day. Meeting as a group in VR has proven to be one of the most challenging aspects of this project. We have been hoping to meet weekly in VR, logistically this has proven to be quite challenging, considering connection speeds, endless Windows/Oculus and/or Steam updates, schedules, etc. It was quite wonderful to finally be able to all be in the same VR space at the same time.

My impressions of VRchat are initially quite positive. It is really quite like Second Life without all the complicated ways of movement, buying stuff, etc. It is really quite intuitive to use (all save for the horrid camera design). One can find hundreds of free and absurd avatar skins throughout the spaces – we found ourselves switching skins throughout our interactions. I can’t say we got much hard research accomplished doing so but that is what is one of the more curious aspects of this project – to play and explore becomes key to developing the ideas that will feed into what develops as things go forward.

One of the more curious aspects of yesterday – we spent nearly the entire day in VR. This was thoroughly exhausting both physically and emotionally. I tend to think this was partially from standing roughly in the same spot for hours on end, only sort of using the body to physically engage in these spaces. More so I suspect the exhaustion comes from the incredible intensity of the visual and auditory input one receives in such “immersive” experiences – it is truly taxing on the body. One is confronted with seemingly real visual spaces – the psyche wants to react as it would through movement and interaction – yet this is severely limited. It also leaves me thinking of the exhaustion one feels from rail or air travel – the body reacts to motion by seeking balance, ones muscles are constantly adjusting to your condition as you move thru space while traveling. I’m reminded of Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s observations in his excellent text “The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century” where he discusses the newfound experience of people being exhausted physically after rail travel.

I’m also left thinking of some of the research surrounding television viewing and hyperactivity. That is that there is some evidence that tv viewing can exacerbate such behavioral issues. The thought being that the natural reaction to visual stimuli is for the body to physically react – thus building up a backlog if you will of unreleased physical energy while engaging such media (fight or flight and all that). I’m curious if VR experiences don’t perhaps effect us in a similar manner.