The Self-Revelation and Cognition of VR-Facilitated Virtual Worlds: Towards a Phenomenology of Virtual Habitation

Three Axes of a VR-Facilitated Virtual World

AVANT: Trends in Interdisciplinary Studies 11, no. 2 (2020)

ABSTRACT: In this text it is argued that immersion in virtual reality (VR) with the aid of contemporary VR equipment may offer access to novel types of virtual worlds that differ qualitatively from the “real” world and from other types of fictional worlds. The text begins by (a) distinguishing between VR systems, virtual environments, and virtual worlds; (b) showing how the virtual worlds facilitated by VR systems resemble and differ from the “virtual worlds” created in one’s mind when, for example, reading a novel or watching a film; and (c) identifying necessary and optional elements of a VR-facilitated virtual world. Employing a phenomenological approach that draws on the thought of Ingarden and Norberg-Schulz, it is shown that a visitor to a VR-facilitated virtual world can (and frequently does) shift his or her conscious attention along three different “axes”. First, one’s attention can move “horizontally” between the media that disclose the virtual world through different senses. Second, one’s attention can shift “vertically” between the virtual world’s different ontological strata, including its layers of myriad atomic stimuli; distinguishable elements that possess spatiotemporal extension; assemblages of elements that have a context and relations but lack individual meaning; glimpses that build up a lattice of meaning and contribute to one’s knowledge of the world; and the virtual world envisioned as a coherent mentally concretized whole. Third, one’s attention can shift “interspatially” between the many different overlapping constituent spaces of the virtual world, including its perceptual, concrete, natural, built, identifiable, technological, emotional, social, economic, political, cultural, ecological, and possibility spaces. This triaxial phenomenological framework can shed new light on the rich and diverse ways in which VR-facilitated virtual worlds manifest themselves as emergent wholes constituted within human consciousness; also, it suggests approaches by which visitors might more proactively mentally explore and come to inhabit such virtual worlds.

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Phenomenology of the Gameworld: A Philosophical Toolbox for Video Game Developers

Phenomenology of the Gameworld (front cover)

ISBN 978-1-944373-74-0 • Defragmenter Media, 2019 • 362 pages

Good video games transport us to incredible new worlds. We don’t just enter such unforgettable “gameworlds” when we play first-person RPGs with high-resolution graphics; even relatively simple 2D puzzle or strategy games with retro visuals can immerse players in worlds that are beautiful, terrifying, mysterious, or moving, that are brutally realistic or delightfully whimsical.

The process by which a particular gameworld emerges is a symbiosis between developer and player: the game system presents a carefully architected stream of polygons and pixels, which somehow leads the player’s mind to construct and explore an intricate world full of places, people, relationships, dilemmas, and quests that transcend what’s actually appearing onscreen.

This book is meant for developers who want to create games that will evoke richer and more memorable gameworlds in the minds of their players. Drawing on insights from ontology and philosophical aesthetics, it provides you with conceptual frameworks and concrete tools that will enhance your ability to design games whose iconic gameworlds encourage the types of gameplay experiences you want to offer your players.

Once you’ve undertaken this philosophical and artistic journey, you’ll never look at your games – or their gameworlds – in quite the same way again.

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Beyond Buildings: A Systems-Theoretical Phenomenological Aesthetics of ‘Impossible’ Architectural Structures for Computer Games

Beyond Buildings (figure)

In Proceedings of the European Society for Aesthetics: Volume 11, edited by Connell Vaughan and Iris Vidmar Jovanović • European Society for Aesthetics, 2019

ABSTRACT: This work draws on Ingarden’s systems theory to develop a phenomenological aesthetic account of the kinds of reason-defying buildings that cannot exist as physical structures in the real world but which are frequently encountered within the virtual gameworlds of computer games. Such “impossible” buildings might, for example, take the form of colossal biological entities or violate established principles of physics or geometry. First, the evolution of Ingarden’s systems theory is traced, and an account of his mature systems theory is presented: pivotal is his concept of the “relatively isolated system” whose contents are partially engaged with and partially sheltered from the external environment via the system’s complex array of semipermeable boundaries. By applying Ingarden’s thought in a novel way, a systems-theoretical phenomenological architectural aesthetics is then formulated that conceptualizes the “building” as a set of overlapping physical, informational, and psychosocial boundaries that generate interior spaces that possess rich structures and dynamics and mediate their occupants’ relationships with the world. Using this conceptual framework, it is shown how the systems-theoretical properties of real-world buildings and virtual gameworld buildings can (and often do) radically differ. Three types of “impossible” gameworld buildings are analyzed: (1) the floating castle that is a recurring element of fantasy games; (2) the shapeshifting haunted mansion that appears not infrequently in horror games; and (3) the high-tech facility that functions as the gigantic “body” of an AI, which is common in science-fiction-themed games. This aesthetic framework may be of value to game developers seeking to employ techniques of “hyperdeconstruction,” “hyperfolding,” or architectural posthumanization to design more memorable and meaningful gameworlds.

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Novel Forms of ‘Magical’ Human-Computer Interaction Within the Cyber-Physical Smart Workplace: Implications for Usability and User Experience

International Journal of Research Studies in Management (2019)

ABSTRACT: The growing use of advanced AI, ambient intelligence, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) technologies of the sort found within the emerging cyber-physical smart workplace has been described as enabling new forms of human-computer interaction (HCI) that are “magical” in nature. This study shows that from an anthropological perspective, such a workplace environment can indeed be understood as “magical”; however, that “magicality” is a double-edged sword that can potentially both enhance and damage user experience (UX) for workers and other occupants of such environments. First, by analyzing existing social anthropological and philosophical anthropological accounts of magic, typical elements of magical practice are identified. Using Nielsen’s empirical analysis of HCI usability heuristics as a basis, a prospective heuristic evaluation is then carried out for the usability of a generic “magical” environment, in order to identify elements of magical practice that might be expected to enhance or impair user experience when they are required for interaction with the environment. A more specific heuristic usability evaluation is then performed for the “magical” aspects of HCI created by two kinds of constituent technologies that are typical for a cyber-physical smart workplace: those of (a) ambient intelligence and IoT-enabled systems and (b) AR and VR systems. It is shown that the magical aspects of HCI within the emerging cyber-physical smart workplace differ significantly in their potential UX impacts from the magicality involved with earlier forms of computing, and the implications of this fact for the management of future workplaces are identified and discussed.

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A Phenomenological Framework of Architectural Paradigms for the User-Centered Design of Virtual Environments

Virtual Architectural Paradigms

Multimodal Technologies and Interaction 2, no. 4 (2018)

ABSTRACT: In some circumstances, immersion in virtual environments with the aid of virtual reality (VR) equipment can create feelings of anxiety in users and be experienced as something “frightening”, “oppressive”, “alienating”, “dehumanizing”, or “dystopian”. Sometimes (e.g., in exposure therapy or VR gaming), a virtual environment is intended to have such psychological impacts on users; however, such effects can also arise unintentionally due to the environment’s poor architectural design. Designers of virtual environments may employ user-centered design (UCD) to incrementally improve a design and generate a user experience more closely resembling the type desired; however, UCD can yield suboptimal results if an initial design relied on an inappropriate architectural approach. This study developed a framework that can facilitate the purposeful selection of the most appropriate architectural approach by drawing on Norberg-Schulz’s established phenomenological account of real-world architectural modes. By considering the unique possibilities for structuring and experiencing space within virtual environments and reinterpreting Norberg-Schulz’s schemas in the context of virtual environment design, a novel framework was formulated that explicates six fundamental “architectural paradigms” available to designers of virtual environments. It was shown that the application of this framework could easily be incorporated as an additional step within the UCD process.

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