Interaction vs. Immersion: The Challenges of Mobile VR

Interaction vs. Immersion: The Challenges of Mobile VR

by Sadah Espii Proctor

There is a difference between interaction and immersion.

It’s something that I’m learning in theatre, and now it’s something that I’m coming to understand in regards to virtual reality (VR).

I see the debates between 3DOF (3 degrees of freedom) vs. 6DOF (6 degrees of freedom) and what constitutes as a “real” VR experience.

* 3DOF — being able to move your head and look around in a fixed position
* 6DOF — being able to move your head and look around, and also move about the space

I think developers sleep too much on mobile VR.

We take our smartphones everywhere. They are already integrated in our everyday life. One of the benefits of mobile VR is that you can experience something wherever you are. You don’t have to be tethered to your laptop/desktop (wire or wireless), or have to leave your home to go to the movies, theatre, opera, etc.

You can experience something wherever you are.

That’s one thing that Hollywood has fought against in regards to video-on-demand (VOD) and streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. And as you can see, it’s a losing battle.

I know we’re in the infancy stages of VR, but we have to get out of our heads what our personal feelings are on “true VR” and look at the devices that people use to consume content.

If you create non-engaging content, it will fail to reach people whether or not someone has the freedom to move around in that virtual environment or not.

The technology may not yet be up to where our dreams are at, but that doesn’t excuse a lack of engaging content. We have had amazing experiences with worse graphics, so we REALLY have to pay attention to how we’re crafting our material.

“VR is an isolating experience.”

What is it like to create for an audience of 1? What is it like to create an experience that someone feels is just for them? An experience that they leave and tell their friends that they have to also experience this moment? How do you create an experience that’s not meant to be physically shared with others?

“You can’t move around in mobile VR.”

Again, we experience many things that demand that we sit still. We watch movies, go to the theatre, etc. We watch our favorite heroes fly across the screen, drown in a puddle of tears, and learn something new about themselves all while we passively watch. The key thing to mobile VR is IMMERSION. Immersion is the main deal. Being in an uncharted environment is what makes it so interesting. It’s not so much as how I can manipulate my environment. Interaction (as of right now) is limited and experiences/games should be crafted towards that right now instead of complaining about it.

In a VR experience that enables us to move around, how do we add meaning to that heightened level of interaction? What compels someone to move around? What compels someone to interact with and manipulate the elements of their environment? What does it mean to give someone permission to do that, compared to creating a sense of awe and wonder from stillness in mobile VR?

For these kinds of experiences, INTERACTION and IMMERSION go hand in hand, but shaping interaction is a key ingredient.

Every medium has their own limitations that shape how we craft and experience that medium.

Virtual reality has its own capabilities, but it also has its own limitations. Rather than fight against them, we should use that as a map to help us create the best ways of creating the best experiences for our audiences.

In the theatre, I work as a dramaturg. A dramaturg has an adaptable role, but we research contextual information for plays, facilitate/co-facilitate the development process for playwrights and ensembles, give feedback on work, critique productions, and look at different structures to tell stories. (and more..)

I LOVE narrative (linear or non-linear) structures. It’s one of the most interesting things I find about virtual reality. And I believe that we can embrace the limitations of it, despite the amount of freedoms it gives us.

Sadah Espii Proctor is a dramaturg, performer, and sound & media designer based in Brooklyn, New York. She collaborates with artists and technologists to develop immersive, interactive, and performative experiences. Influenced by Cyberpunk, Visual Kei, and Afrofuturist movements, she aims to create a “cyborg theatre” that integrates the body with technology in live performance.

Sadah is a fellow at Timewave Festival/NYU’s VR/AR Story & Game Studio. She has served as a mentor for MIT’s Hacking Arts hackathon. She is also a past recipient of the SH//FT scholarship for the Oculus Connect 3 conference and has taught workshops at NYU’s ITP Camp.

Skye Von