week 8: Interactive Spaces

Interactive Spaces: LARPs / theme parks / VR / mixed reality

Prepare Nakevska, Marija. et al. “Interactive storytelling in a mixed reality environment: The effects of interactivity on user experiences.” Entertainment Computing. 21 (2017) 97–104.

Nakevska Interactivity Mixed Reality

Plato, The Republic. Book VII.

Plato Cave 2

Hayles, N. Katherine. “Toward Embodied Virtuality” and “Conclusion.” How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetic Literature and Informatics. Chicago UP, 1999.

Hayles Posthuman 2

Activity Visit Jaunt Lab, pioneering the future of creative storytelling through cinematic virtual reality. Founded in 2013, Jaunt is the leading developer of the hardware, software, tools, and applications to enable cinematic VR and put the power of virtual reality in the hands of today’s best content creators. In addition, Jaunt also works with leading creative—from brands to artists to filmmakers—to create cutting-edge content through its studio arm, Jaunt Studios. www.jauntvr.com.


4 thoughts on “week 8: Interactive Spaces

  1. This week’s reading used an empirical approach to measuring interactivity that I have mixed feelings about. While on the one hand, I like seeing different perspectives on how we might gauge interactivity and I found it useful to see a more social-scientific understanding that used survey methods. But, on the other hand, I was left with many questions about how one can measure “agency” and “empowerment” using Likert scales. It’s not that measuring subjective experience is the problem, but I feel like asking people if they feel empowered opens up a can of conceptual worms – the same can we’ve been sifting through all semester. After all, we’ve been talking about empowerment and agency as being potentially illusory for the past few weeks. This brings us back to the political aspects of agency and empowerment that are very influential in popular discourses in many spheres of contemporary life, from games to politics to corporate advertising. It might be interesting to compare this study to our experience in the escape room (to which this experiment does bear some resemblance) when we go later this semester.

    On a different but related note, I wanted to share this game and article I found about Uber and to see what all of you think about it. The object of the game is to see if you could make it as an Uber driver by earning $1000 in one week of driving. I played twice and fell just a few dollars short of the game’s objective each time. Uber loves to take advantage of game-like elements in their platform to encourage drivers to head to surge hotspots and to drive longer. Through this, they shape traffic patterns and transform the personal car into a workplace (sans any worker protections). Since we’re talking about interactive spaces, I think it’s useful to explore how companies like Uber and Lyft transform urban spaces.


  2. This week’s texts got me wondering, in anticipation of our morning at Jaunt: what kind of subject does VR produce? Katherine Hayles looks at how postwar systems theory reconfigured the human into something radically different than the liberal humanist subject of the Enlightenment. On one hand, VR addresses and produces an individual, agential subject whose solitude constitutes a significant departure from the cinematic audience. Oriented towards the individual, unlike cinema before it, VR’s head-mounted display more resembles its pre-cinematic progenitors—the kinetoscope, the zoetrope, the stereoscope, and other optical toys that were experienced solo. Its viewer is the individual subject of liberal humanism. They are, like Heidegger’s modern subject, the relational center of the world. Head-mounted displays position their subject as the relational nucleus of the world, as their surroundings are temporally and spatially modulated to that user’s desires. The subject’s sovereignty is expressed most emphatically on a visual register where the subject chooses where to look, commanding that the world reveal itself to the mastery of the I/eye.

    On the other hand, head-mounted displays loop subject and computer into a cybernetic circuit that exceeds the human and transgresses Enlightenment limits between subject and object. Cybernetics understands the human as a “set of informational processes” (Hayles 4), which is precisely how the human appears from the perspective of the head-mounted display. Head-mounted displays make the subject feel as though they command it whereas in fact the actions available to them are always already circumscribed by the computer. In other words, to invoke our ongoing discussion of digital media’s mechanisms of illusory choice, it may be that VR flatters its subject as the individual of liberal humanism to suppress the disquieting fact of cybernetic posthumanity. I think this becomes especially interesting when we consider how so much of the marketing of contemporary VR technologies has been imbricated with myths of liberal agency, humanism, and humanitarianism.

    As Hayles notes, one important characteristic that the Enlightenment subject and the posthuman have in common is their mutual privileging of mind over body, their view of the body as an incidental and inconvenient prosthesis to selfhood. There is a politics to this suppression of corporeality, as feminist and postcolonial critiques have long noted. As the liberal subject passes, Hayles understands “the present moment as a critical juncture when interventions might be made to keep disembodiment from being rewritten, once again, into prevailing concepts of subjectivity” (5). That was nearly twenty years ago. So what has happened? On one hand, her arguments are incredibly prescient and anticipate so many of the technological changes that would ensue. We are more disembodied than ever. On the other, popular notions of liberal selfhood do not seem to have retreated in any significant way. And what of the body? VR restores the body, at least insofar as the body is the material infrastructure that enables perception. That said, it is rare for the subject to have a body within a VR simulation; the head-mounted display acts as a filter that expunges corporeality from the optical field of the simulation even while that body enables the phenomenological experience of virtuality. Extending this view beyond VR, I wonder whether much has changed in terms of cultural perceptions and technological experiences of embodiment. Especially in a city like LA, popular technologies seem to cultivate an acute awareness of the body in order to commodify that awareness.

    Finally, I’d like to give particular consideration to VR documentaries. What does documentary do for the problem of information losing its body? How does the documentary impulse to make information visual graft onto this debate? I was quite amazed by Hayles’s systems-theoretical definition of reflexivity as “the movement whereby that which has been used to generate a system is made, through a changed perspective, to become part of the system it generates” (8). When what Hayles marks as the second wave of cybernetics integrates reflexivity, it tries to account for the observer, not unlike anti-observational documentaries that foreground their mediacy. How might a reflexive VR work, then, when its very form is designed to conflate the authorial observer with the spectatorial one?

  3. The Hayles reading was great! I have studied the term “posthuman(ism)” before, and understood it to denominate two brands of recent theory: on the one hand, “critical posthumanism”, which critiques humanism and the figure of the human using Marxist, post-colonial and feminist discourses. The other version is “speculative posthumanism”, which considers the limits of the biological human, both epistemologically and in terms of a “transhumanist” technological future. I have read these camps as often being opposed to each other, since critical posthumanists warn about reifying certain ideologies in the guise of biology, whilst the speculative camp can view critical reflection as anachronistic. These are broad brushstroke characterizations of many diverse thinkers, however the distinction has helped me grapple with the writings of Rosie Braidotti, Donna Harraway, Benjamin Bratton, and Ray Brassier.
    Hayles seems to be engaging with both strands of thinking in this piece. She is concerned with the history of the theory’s development in mathematics and computer science. One major thesis from her work, as I understand it, is that information theory begat an ideology that information could be abstracted or away from its material substrate. This idea has been projected onto understandings of consciousness: it is thought that memories and ideas could eventually be “downloaded” from our neurons onto silicon hard drives. Conversely, it has also led to speculation on “virtual” reality, where coded information can produce a virtual experience of the real. Hayles criticizes this idea as historically contingent, and one that misunderstands the noisy material reality of the body. Neglecting the materiality/contingency of information has led to a wholesale rejection of the body, she writes:
    As though we had learned nothing from Derrida about supplementarity, embodiment continues to be discussed as if it were a supplement to be purged from the dominant term of information, an accident of evolution we are now in a position to correct.
    From this insight, as well as the genealogy of cybernetic thought that she traces, her position ends up being both critical and speculative. She does not discount the recent theory of emergence, but rather situates it historically, and then shows why it has led to certain types of speculative positions. She also traces the fantasy of mind/machine back through the history of liberal humanism, and speculates on the ways that post-humanism can and should avoid the pitfalls of that project.
    I have a few questions about the application of her text to interactive media…I’m wondering, what are the criteria by which we would think of media as “post-human” or “post-humanist”? It seems that somehow the integrity of the player as a subject would have to be dismantled, right? That is to say, re-position the subject’s place within the interactive world—not as a soft-computer (wetware), but as something else…?

  4. The “Eat Me, Drink Me” interactive experience sounds like a cool idea. The ability to move through a space as inspired by a film/book seems to be popular and engaging. I was surprised by the results of the experiment that sought to discover how levels of “presence, agency, and dramatic involvement” were impacted by the interactivity of the environment. The authors concluded, “The results showed that the different treatments, i.e., interaction types, did not influence the feeling of presence and the satisfaction visitors gained from the experience.” While they did discover differences in the users’ behavior, this result is still surprising to me as I would have agreed with the author’s initial hypothesis that, “a more interactive setting should lead to overall higher levels of presence, agency and satisfaction.” Reading about this location based entertainment experience reminded me of a news article I saw recently about AMC movie theatres opening up virtual reality experiences with Dreamscape Immersive. Additionally, “The Void, a Utah start-up, recently announced a partnership with the Walt Disney Company to open “Star Wars”-themed virtual-reality experiences at Disney malls outside theme parks in California and Florida. Already operating are two Imax V.R. Centres in Los Angeles and New York; tickets start at $7, and the Los Angeles location has attracted 50,000 people over the last nine months. Imax said it planned to expand the concept to Canada, Britain and Shanghai this fall” (New York Times). That article however emphasizes that the draw, and the “emotional impact” would be a shared experience (more like an escape room), where the article from the reading appeared to have the participants move through the Mixed Reality CAVE on their own. While the authors found that, “‘’immersive AR can create an increased sense of presence’, and ‘’increased presence does not necessarily lead to more engagement,’” this New York Times article infers that engagement may include group activity and further engaging with an upcoming film. Additionally, the article from the reading used an experience based on a movie/book where the New York Times article about emerging virtual reality location based experiences may influence a participant to then see the film after experiencing the world for themselves, “‘If you enjoy our experience, you’ll be more likely to see the movie, and vice versa,’ he [Walter Parkes, Dreamscape management team] said” (New York Times). Therefore, this type of interactive experience seems interesting and there appears to be a trend toward more of these environments, even attached to theatres and the movie going experience to expand a film universe to an interactive environment.

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