Regular travellers to this part of the internet will know I’ve taken to looking at how virtual reality (VR) has been represented in fiction down the years. Not just VR of course, but also augmented reality (AR) and pretty much any interpretation that could be made on the theme of immersive technology. So, we’ve had various head-mounted displays (HMDs) in places, VR game that have come to life thanks to slightly murderous children (twice). All manner of things like that. We’ve had them over video games, television programmes, films and there’ll be other mediums such as books, comics and manga that we’ll get into more in the months ahead once I’ve done a bit of research.
“Sorry boss, can’t write that story about a market forecast by somebody or the other just this second. I need to read this comic!”
Clearly, this series was a spectacularly good idea.
Anyway, a few weeks ago I had a discussion with an old acquaintance who’d been keeping an eye on VRFocus’ Twitter account and was confused by some of the content. Normally I wouldn’t say I could blame them, as we cover everything relating to immersive technology and so have a huge range in topics and discussions. At the time we were going through our most recent period of covering the various film festivals and so there was a lot of news specifically relating to VR, 360 degree video and their places within the film industry.
They had questions, then they expressed their opinions on the matter which rapidly became “facts” – you’ll please note the quotation marks there. I explained to them that which I could. (I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject after all and pointed them in the direction of various stories on VRFocus and elsewhere where they might be able to gleam better insight into all that is going on. Strangely, at least to me, they had a real issue about immersion within film. A film was something you watched not something you found yourself in.
I was, I admit, somewhat lost for words. How could someone think you couldn’t get lost in a film? You can get lost in a book, become lost in pretty much anything. There is, even when you are aware of the fiction you are watching, something called ‘suspension of disbelief’. To become ‘immersed’ is in fact pretty easy. The definition of it is to involve oneself deeply in a particular activity; if we are to quote the version on Google. What VR does in this instance is open a new way for that immersion to occur, for it to up the sensory level.
“But.” They said. “It’s just a film.” How can technology make anything become more immersive beyond surround sound? “Tell me an example of immersion that’s happened to you.”
I listed off a few examples of getting involved in the film. Apparently though they weren’t good enough examples. Technology will “never give you the feeling of being there”. Well, to that person I can give them a brand-new example to consider. Because you don’t need technology in order to get a sense of immersion.
So, it’s the weekend, and I’ve been re-watching The Matrix films with my girlfriend, she’s never seen them before so we’ve gone through the whole thing and a couple of bits of The Animatrix too just to flesh out some of the supporting characters like Kid. (Ironically, a character who managed to take himself OUT of an immersive environment through strength of will.) We’ve got through to the end, the final combat in Revolutions between Neo and Agent Smith in the ruins of the corrupted Matrix. It is, dark, menacing, rain is pouring down and, at the same time as the battle the sky darkened outside. Thunder and lightning rattling the building as the rain started pouring down.
And when I say pouring down, I do mean pouring down. As in ‘I’ve only ever seen rain that heavy twice I think in my lifetime’ kind of rain. Within a couple of minutes, the road outside was partly a river, and all around the city flash floods struck. So now we have an additional soundtrack and visual effects coming from outside. It seems however, that Mother Nature really wanted this battle to be as immersive as possible as, beautifully in sync with Neo being thrown through a wall into a building… things got even more immersive for us as the rain started coming THROUGH THE CEILING. Straight through the light fitting above our heads, as a matter of fact. I dived at the light switch to turn it off, as we rapidly moved things out of the way. All the time the rain continuing to thunder down, the lightning and the TV the only illumination in the room and the noise of the rain and the fight ringing in our ears. So if anything it all became a bit too real.
Now, if nature can do that without even trying, then VR that is trying can certainly heighten the atmosphere and make it feel like you’re in a movie. If anything, there’s even such a thing as too much immersion. I’ll take VR over what we had the other day though thank you though.
I’m less likely to get electrocuted for one thing.
This article was originally written by the author for VRFocus.