2. Immersion: Stimulation of the senses

2. Immersion: Stimulation of the senses

Cutting strings

Image by: Fiona Rogers/Corbis / http://blog.corbis.com/portfolio/japanese-snow-monkeys/Imagine you’re a Japanese macaque enjoying the warmth of a steaming hot spring during a cold winter. Any parts of your body that are not in the water can sense the icy winds. No matter how good the warm water makes you feel, the connection with the world above the surface remains. It kind of spoils the experience as well. If it wasn’t for oxygen you’d submerge yourself fully. Now let’s pretend the world above the water surface represents the actual reality, and everything below the surface represents the virtual reality. As designers we should come up with creative ways to trick the mind into thinking that the new reality is in fact the only reality there is.

Any strings that prevent us from diving deeper into the new reality should be cut.

To demonstrate that immersion can be achieved with very simple tools I created a very basic scene in UE4. It contains a particle emitter which blows black smoke in 1 direction. I placed a blowdryer next to the monitor, and adjusted it’s position so that it blew just past the head of my test-subjects. When people tilted their heads they would sense the warmth of the black smoke, and its residue would accumulate on the virtual glasses. The results were astounding.

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Even though people knew about the blowdryer they still didn’t want to keep their heads in the stream. Their subconscious was stimulated enough to be fully convinced about the new reality. Some people actually thought they could smell the fumes! This simple test makes me confident about the potential for succes of the virtual-reality themepark The Void.They don’t just rebuild physical geometry presented in virtual space (like Trailscape), but these environments have the correct temperature, behavior and other characteristics.

Karl Woolley, creative technologist at Framestore, says it like this:

It’s shrewd to engage all senses. Sometimes we forget it’s virtual reality, not visual reality. Although visuals are crucial, it’s only by incorporating the rest of our senses that we get close to a new reality.

Just keep in mind that a strong sense of presence can be so awesome that it breaks the sense of presence. I think this is mainly due to the fact that VR is still very new for people. They’re not yet used to the idea that virtual-reality can trick the brain so easily.