Real & Virtual Worlds – Review Week #4

Week 4’s readings included:

  • Virtual Art: from Illusion to Immersion by Oliver Grau (Chapter 6: Spaces of Knowledge, pages 212–269)
  • Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Beaudrillard (Chapter “Holograms, ‘Crash’, Simulacra and science fiction: pages 105–128)
  • Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method by George Marcus & Tom Boellstroff (Chapter 2, pages 13–28)

Virtual Art: from illusion to immersion, Chapter 6:

Within this chapter, Grau discusses how difference spaces are used for the purpose of providing knowledge. The first example provided is within Knowbotic research and their project of DWTKS (Diaglogue with the Knowbotic South).

DWTKS utilised scientific data from research stations to construct an abstract representation of Antarctica. It provides a visual look on the on-going changes taking places in the form of data represented as “stars” or pixels, described as being similar to a constellation. The knowbots refers to the software agents that collect and re-distribute. The human user would interact with this piece via a headset and a touchwand (joystick variant). This was polysensory and helped to form the groundwork for mixed reality experiences in years to come due to being produced in 1994–97.

The second subsection explores the creation of the “Virtual Denkeaum I: Home of the Brain”. This was an immersive and interactive environment produced by Fleischmann and Strauss in 1991. It was experienced through the use of glove control and a Head Mounted Display (HMD). Unlike the former piece which was designed for information purposes, this was an interactive art experience.

This was continued through the section of “The Virtual Denkraum II: Memory Theater VR”. This was an experience created that made use of the space by providing art memorabilia in a new form that gave new life and animations to the otherwise timeless pieces. The user is placed within a circular room, representative of a real life theatre shape, which houses a circular screen. Within the center is placed a model with a 3D mouse in which the user utilises to explore the pieces within the experience.

On the other hand, the experience provided within “World Skin” is extremely different in comparison to the previous passive and peaceful experiences. This was a thought provoking piece designed to shock users with the reality of death and destruction caused by war. For example, the user would navigate the space by using a joystick to explore the virtual panorama of the battleground. This was my favourite example from the section as it highlighted the connection between emotional response and virtual reality and how this can be used to educate users in a different non-traditional way.

Overall the chapter was extremely informative and provided a great insight into the different potentials the technology has been used for in the past and is enlightening to how this can influence the future of new projects and experiences.

Simulacra and Simulation:

This extract from the book by Jean Bouillard explores the idea of what it would mean to become a hologram in a theoretical sense not physical, how technology extends the body’s capabilities and meaning behind “Simulacra”.

For example, one of the main points made is of the hologram being a direct mirror of one’s self and the initial shock that would be associated with viewing yourself outside of your own body.

This is continued by stating that the hologram “gives us the feeling, the vertigo of passing to the other side of our own body”. This theorises the question of “what would it be like to have a twin or if I had a twin and they were still alive?”.

The next sub-section “Crash” describes the ways in which technology provides an extension to the human body. In this case, how the affects of trauma connected with technology such as cars, can wreck havoc on the body. Some can be physical such as a dismemberment, head injuries and other wounds. Others provide a deeper meaning such as fluids left behind, leaving a signature imprint on the wreckage.

Lastly, the third section I was asked to cover discusses the three orders of simulacra such as:

  • Natural – imitation of God’s image
  • Productive – materialised by technology
  • Simulated – created by information

This links to the role in which science fiction plays as for example, the first is largely unaffected, the second is extremely influenced by sci-fi elements and the third leans more towards cybernetics as an advancement of science fiction.

Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method

This chapter from the book explores the three brief histories behind ethnography. Ethnography is the study of culture of a distinct group within society. Generations of people have used writing to reflect on their surrounding cultures for centuries.

It was extremely insightful to discover how the methods have evolved over the years due to influential people and new ideas.

The most relevant material was within pages 22 onwards which looked in depth into the history of virtual worlds and continued onwards to link the first passage to the research on virtual world cultures.

Some interesting points that have risen from these studies included:

  • Curtis – the emergence of new social norms such as “pretending to be away from the keyboard” which can be translated to the real world activity of blanking or ignoring one’s presence (other forms include ignoring text messages or forms of digital communication)
  • Dipola’s observations regarding avatar embodiment (some people would automatically move away when other players’ avatars approached them too closely)

The author concludes with the summary that technology is not definitive and as it can be ever changed and adapted as required and that important debates surround cultural issues in relation to technologies relationship to society must still continue to be discussed.

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