Virtual Reality: the World Is Not Enough

Virtual reality is currently the ultimate form of transparent immediacy according to Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin, authors of Remediation. It seeks to integrate the viewer completely (immediacy) and seamlessly or seemingly without a medium (transparency). As I read this I tried to apply the theory to something relevant to my life, which is the best but not most effective method I use to finish my course readings. Regardless, the thoughts that came to my mind were slow at first. The über-popular Wii game “Just Dance” occurred to me as a family-friendly relative to the science-fiction reminiscent “virtual reality.”

As a devoted fan (and frequent champion) of “Just Dance,” I thought about the characteristics of “Just Dance” that attract me to the game. I could dance along to a video on YouTube, but there was something different about this game.

  1. The people dancing with you – or instructing you, whichever phrasing you prefer – are very encouraging. They are brightly colored and move enthusiastically. Their faces are indistinguishable as they are just outlines. This connects with the player emotionally in a way dancing to music videos can’t: these dancers aren’t trying to be fierce, they’re just having fun and they want the player to have fun too. There’s no judgment from the brightly outlined mystery dancer.
  2. The responses are immediate. When moves are executed correctly, points are added to the player’s score. Clearly, this standard of measurement is the only fair way to settle which dancer is better.

Because the player’s are encouraging, it makes being a bad dancer okay. It’s as if the dancer is saying to the player, “It’s okay if you suck because I have both of us covered.” Sure, the score will show the accuracy of the player, but that’s not a true indicator of the player’s heart, which the dancer ensures all watching the player has.

Just Dance in action.

The problem of the medium comes in when the player is refused points for accuracy because he is not directly in front of the sensor. Various situations fall prey to this problem, which is unfair no matter what the reasoning, like Player 2 hogging all the space, the sensor falling down, etc. This is where the quest for transparent immediacy hits a roadblock.

Everyone’s favorite Asians demonstrating how to successfully complete a dance on “Just Dance.”

Xbox recently released the state-of-the-art add-on to their already complex system: the Kinect. Hook this snazzy little camera up to the Xbox and it follows the player’s every move without a controller. I have tried to use this creepy camera and while it’s pretty nifty to touch the air and achieve a command with the system or tell the Xbox to perform a certain action and have it follow my directions, it’s still weird how the camera turns to follow you until you leave the room. I’m still convinced it follows you past there too. Big Brother… Enough said. The Kinect wants to break free from the boundaries previously held by video game systems and adopt and interface that responds to movements as well as commands.

Another characteristic of virtual reality I would like to explore is introduced in the following quote from Remediation: “In the name of transparency and presence, virtual reality applications are refashioning point-of-view editing, as it has developed in the Hollywood film tradition.”

I’m not quite sure in what ways virtual reality refashions point-of-view editing other than the obvious. The obvious being films in which the camera depicts the created world from a character’s point of view (get it?) parallels the view of a participant in virtual reality. But virtual reality takes it to the next level in the way it responds to the user, allowing the user to take on a new active role instead of the monotonous hat of passive viewer.

Since I do not have access to the secret chambers of virtual reality footage, it is my pleasure to share a clip from a certain award-winning film that captivated me and exquisitely manipulates the point-of-view editing virtual reality aims to replace.

This clip demonstrates the technique used throughout the film Black Swan (directed by Darren Aronofsky). Nina sees her reflection in the mirror, but the viewer only sees the front of Nina through the reflection as well, uniting the viewer with Nina as she experiences the phenomenon. As she travels to identify the voice of her understudy, the camera follows her rather than cutting or panning out, again uniting the viewer with Nina.

Obviously, the best of both worlds would be to have a choose-your-own ending film, where the main character is the viewer! The film would lead to its own conclusion – which would be limited in possibilities – but the paths to get to said conclusion could be unlimited. Alas, this seems to be a shallow adaptation of the goal of virtual reality created by a girl with not intentions to ever participate in such technological craziness.

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