Real & Virtual Worlds — Review Week #2

For week two, I was assigned to review:

- Voices of VR Podcast: #72 Jacquelyn Ford Morie — History of VR (2014)

- “Rethinking VR: Key Concepts and Concerns, In Hybrid Reality: Art, Technology and the Human Factor” by Char Davies (2003)

Voices of VR #72

This podcast episode looks at the history of VR since 1960 through to 2014, in the eyes of Jacqueline Ford Morie, a Senior Research Scientist. The content outlines her journey within the technological field of virtual reality and explores her artistic background and how she used that to create interesting pieces using the new medium.

Between the 1960’s and 90’s, there was a significant lack of development within the field. This was due to the high cost of the equipment and the use being predefined for specific activities such as training. She further continues to state how it was originally used for training purposes such as military simulations for the army.

The main milestones mentioned are:

  • 1968 — Ivan Sutherland invents the first head-mounted display (HMD)
  • 1980 — Habitat (a complete virtual world in 2D made by LucasArts) which led to the social growth within Virtual Reality multiplayer
  • Mid 1990’s, Military Simulations were born such as the Tank Simulator (using SimNet) at Fort Knox by Jack Thorpe; advantage was it could train 250 people in a group at once, disadvantage was that it focuses on training individuals as opposed to squad teams

Morie then continues to talk about her specialised field of research which included the use of Virtual Reality with art and her own personal projects. She was particularly interested in the accompaniments of the use of smell and evocation of emotions.

I found it particularly interesting as to how she describes the growth of women joining the technology industry, such as within the niche of virtual reality, as beforehand, it was typically a male dominated field. At figures of 70% of the projects being led by woman, it was an astounding progression as she describes that when she was starting out, she was one of the few women involved. She provides a potential reason for this as woman are more drawn to creating a non-authored environment. This is the opposite of a contrived experience which is solely lead by the creator and instead focuses on free will; up to the user to interpret the space.

“DarkCon” was a project created in the 2000’s which focused on creating a sensory environment with the user taking on the form of a scout in an abandoned site. The main difference was that the user was not provided with a gun or weapon. Morie describes the reactions of different people such as gamers, whose instinct is to rush through the environment as quickly as possible, in turn, missing all the clues. An interesting take was with a woman’s experience in which she questioned why she couldn’t be a refugee, which took Morie by surprise.

In continuation, after DarkCon, she wished to focus solely on emotional response. One of the first environments features the player being face to face with an extremely large spider and pitch-black setting, designed to invoke fear. This was accompanied by heartbeat sound effects which tied in with the spider’s state e.g. resting or hunting. This was extremely powerful with a lot of users running terrified from the experience. Typically stems from cliches such as dark tunnels will instil terror.

From here, it progressed by involving the use of smell within the projects. To combat the issue of scent cartridges being extremely large and space-invading, she invented a Bluetooth triggered ScentCaller, to contain and release the scent solely positioned in front of the users face at specific points within the environment. This was further developed using infrasound which would operate at a lot frequency during points of tension, to heighten emotions and eased off to promote relaxation.

Jacquelene links narrative and environmental storytelling to the use of smell and sound which she incorporated a lot of within her pieces. Spatial sound is extremely good combined with movement and lights, as players can’t help but navigate towards these.

Jacquelene links narrative and environmental storytelling to the use of smell and sound which she incorporated a lot of within her pieces. Spatial sound is extremely good combined with movement and lights, as players can’t help but navigate towards these.

One of the highlights of the talk was the investigation into how mindfulness can be achieved through virtual reality and how effective this is in comparison to reality. The main project explores the effects of social isolation for a period of a year on a person e.g. astronaut with family avatars being present within the environments. This is continued by proposing the future of VR with the use of rehabilitation treatment. An example is with soldiers suffering from trauma, of which other treatments have been proved to be non-effective, receiving.

There is also a brief overview of neurotechnology being utilised within virtual reality, but it is described as early in development as opposed to head-mounted displays and is in line with the progression of haptics.

Finally, the creation of the Holodeck, this was envisioned within Star Trek in 1987 and thus inspired by due to a few members having worked on the set! This was developed within the ICT. The future aims for the device is to enable objects to be created such as the ability to sit within a chair.

Overall, Morie has an expansive history and powerful involvement within the advancement of Virtual Reality technology and the podcast provided a wonderful insight into how some of the predictions curated within 2014, have come to fruition and are continuously being developed as of modern day such as rehabilitation.

Rethinking VR: Key Concepts and Concerns, In Hybrid Reality: Art, Technology and the Human Factor

Within this text, the author, Char Davies, sets out to attempt to address a series of questions relating to the matter of shifting technologies and how different subcategories of artists, philosophers and critical thinkers are moving in relation.

In continuation, in the introduction, Davies address her practical projects which she feels, directly addresses these issues proposed by Conley. This is shown within Osmose (1995) and Ephemere (1998) which both utilise full body immersion.

The first section proposes the idea of the “Cartesian philosophic tradition” such is the idea of the dualistic privilege of mind over body, male over female and humans over nature. This is reinforced within Virtual Reality with the absence of a flesh body and thus the human is reduced only to a single, isolated viewpoints which is the epitome of Cartesian desire.

Within section 2, Davies address how culture affects technology and how she avoided cultural bias within her creations by providing users with a non-conventional worldview. This is also linked to the ideal of the loss of what it means to be human through technology and the domination of nature.

Furthermore, in section 3 Davies associates the meaning of virtual reality and how she distinguishes that from virtual space, immerse virtual environments. One key concept is how she addresses the users as an “immersant” as opposed to players or users which is a phrase, she coined in 1995. Alongside this, she refers to her work as “full body immersive space” as immersive has become a term that can be associated with any image that is wider or higher than the standard frame.

Within the final segment, Davies finishes with the statement of the potential of immersive environments can only be achieved if the user is presented with an unfamiliar space based on a reflection of an environment we know well. This ideal is present within Osmose as it features a forest space and underwater but still is somewhat unsettling due to the floating, dream like state the player undertakes.

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