VR and the body

A colleague of mine, one who has great insights about things, said something surprising to me today. She told me “VR that doesn’t involve moving your body is stupid.”

I disagree with that statement, but I think it reveals something more interesting than a simple difference of opinion. I think it shows that she and I, although we both work in what is usually called “VR research”, are actually working in somewhat different fields.

To her, and to many good researchers, virtual reality is primarily an exploration about the possible ways we can connect with our bodies. I completely agree that this is a great problem to explore, and there are many exciting questions to ask in that direction.

Yet for me, the most interesting questions about VR center about how people relate to each other. Such questions can involve moving one’s body, but they don’t need to. They can, for example, focus on how we tell each other stories.

The promise of VR is, after all, the promise of sensory immersion into other worlds. Those alternate worlds can potentially affect us in profound ways, and those ways can be intellectual, emotional, spiritual or physical.

From my perspective, learning how to use VR to help achieve a profound connection with another human being, even when we are both simply sitting down in one place, is a valid direction for exploration.

It is not that I am against the vast space of how we might use VR to connect with possible worlds through the movement of our bodies. That is indeed an incredibly rich area for exploration.

It is more that I think that as a researcher I prefer to think less in terms of “What is the right direction for VR?”, and more in terms of “What are the many possible directions?” For me (and I speak only for myself here), the latter question is much more exciting.

2 thoughts on “VR and the body”

  1. For me, the appeal of VR is the sensation of physically existing in a different space. Being able to use my own physical body to move around in the virtual space is key to that sensation.

  2. I totally get that. Manipulating objects in VR can be a powerful and compelling experience.

    I was just saying that it’s not the only interesting experience one can have in VR. I have had amazing experiences in VR (as I have also had in dreams) where I am simply going on a journey.

    I suspect that as the medium matures, what we now think of as one thing (with the catch-all label “Virtual Reality”) will end up separating into what we will come to think of as different things.

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