When Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion in March of 2014, it brought virtual reality into the forefront of developing technology to shift futures. Since then multiple companies within Silicon Valley’s landscape of digital interest have allowed virtual reality to rise as a prominent medium. After shifting the narrative format within film & animation, into a medium that allows the viewer into an experience that shares the stage, virtual & augmented reality entered other areas such as military, education, advertising, and gaming. The virtual aesthetics merged the line between viewer and image, a fused perspective that democracies the image. Once the image became immersed, the saturation of picture and narrative opened the doors for thought on the full potential of media.
Silicon Valley, as a nesting ground for rising technology, fueled the pathway for virtual reality to enter the social and political atmosphere. The Rift, Oculus’s first virtual project, changed media in its access to the viewer’s perception. The image became reality, changing the surrounding environment from a bedroom to a portal heaven. The format of linear narrative and the dictatorial image became an option for the viewer to follow. “Open your eyes listen, smell and feel – sense the world in all its magnificent colors, depth, sounds, odors, and textures – this is the cinema of the future. The screen will not fit only 5% of your visual field as the local movie screen does, or the mere 7.5% of Wide Screen, or the 25% of Cinerama – but 100%. This screen will curve past the spectators ears on both sides and beyond his sphere of vision above and below.” (Morton Heilig’s The Cinema of the Future, 1955)
The aesthetic experience of virtual reality reflects a similar experience to that of previous forms of art and visual perception such as anamorphic art. When the viewer gazes upon fresco ceiling paintings like Andrea Pozzi’s The Apotheosis of St. Ignatius, or Hans Holbein’s The Ambassador, they are channeled into an immersed experience. The distorted perspective becomes interactive when seen from angle that activates it. “Looking at the painting [The Ambassador] we experience it as if it were co-extensive with reality itself. At the same time, however, we are made forcibly aware that there is a difference and, in particular, that the room depicted is artificial, a representation, by the presence of a gray elliptical blob in the foreground.”(Aesthetic Theory and The Video Game, pg. 124) Virtual reality allows viewers to immerse themselves within the image, co-existing with forms of color and light. The aesthetic becomes neo-baroque, in the sense that the drama of the technology can sometimes outweigh the proportions of the image within it. This function of the sublime is a powerful device for understanding media as a device for communication and immersion.
Immersion, within virtual reality, is a technological induced phenomenon, the experience of being surrounded by data. By contrast, the immersion in a book is a purely mental experience brought by the act of imagination. This factor is important in developing the perception of the virtual space, the loss of self. “ It is the pleasure of the body…but also a pleasure of its dissolution, of “losing oneself”. Bliss is not a product of social discourse, but exists outside of it. It occurs “at the moment of the breakdown of culture”, as John Fiske observes, rooted not in affirmation or subversion of ideology but in its negation. According to Fiske, bliss is therefore an “evasive pleasure”, the pleasure of a body out of control, through which an individual escapes the structures of social discipline. It is not concerned with meaning, as is social pleasure, but with presence and intensity – it is a “reading with the body””(The Pleasure of the Playable Text, pg. 5). As one gradually shifts into the virtual world, it separates itself from their original surrounding. No longer is the viewer sitting in their bedroom, but instead on a military training ground.
Simulations within military training were a common practice before the accessibility of virtual reality. However, since its integration the simulation capabilities has allowed for trainees to enter a battlefield experience, combat and vehicle training, as a virtual boot camp. It has allowed domestic training facilities to exist outside foreign countries territories, allowing soldiers to experience situations without personal danger. Additionally, the virtual scenarios have lowered the diagnosis of PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as offering virtual therapeutic help to those in suffering. It has created coping strategies for soldiers whenever they are placed in situations of danger or stress.
Meanwhile, the classroom has become a virtual landscape where a student is immersed within their pre-constructed lesson of the day. The ability to change one’s surroundings is the underlying experience of virtual and augmented realities. The teacher becomes a tour guide on virtual trips from Shakespeare plays to inside the human body. However, it is not only the isolation of the individual that generates the simulation but also the collective unit as a social collaboration. The student is no longer confined to the limitations of their classroom or their classmates, but instead enters the cyberfield of students and teachers all over the world. A student’s day consists of participating with other students from other regions of their country or even foreign countries, as social platforms within the virtual format bring together culture and communication.
Virtual reality brought identity changes to many forms of media such as movies, television, and advertising. As the level of immersion increased and brought the viewer closer to the image’s presence, so too did it bring it the ideas being projected onto them. Immersive media amplified the ability for corporate identity and brands to reach out further to its consumer. The consumer no longer gazed at 30-second car ad, displaying the latest automobile technology, but instead tested the car’s abilities in a virtual experience without leaving their kitchen. Restaurants, on the other spectrum, place the viewer within an organic journey from the agricultural farm to the kitchen in which their food is made with perfection and awaiting their reservation.
The perception of virtual, augmented, or immersed reality relies on images ability to consume the viewer. Respectively, the viewer is asked to enter the image, as it becomes an illusionary space. It allows an aesthetic experience to occur which merges the viewer with its content and allow a sense of loss to occur. As virtual reality liberates imagery, allowing individuals to create their own experience, then the perception of imagery becomes even more relevant. The political and economic context of media is an important reminder to those who consume it. “The ultimate display would, of course, be a room within which the computer can control the existence of matter. A chair displayed in such a room would be good enough to sit in. Handcuffs displayed in such a room would be confining, and a bullet displayed in such a room would be fatal. With appropriate programming such a display could literally be the Wonderland into which Alice walked.” (Ivan Sutherland’s The Ultimate Display, 1965)
Kirkpatrick, Graeme. Aesthetic Theory and the Video Game. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2011. Print.
Packer, Randall, and Ken Jordan. Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality. New York: Norton, 2001. Print.
Lauteren, Georg. “The Pleasure of the Playable Text: Towards an Aesthetic Theory of Computer Games.” ResearchGate. JSTOR, 2013. Web. 20 May 2016.
Rock, Irvin. The Perception of Movement. Cambridge: MIT, 1997. Print.
Ivan, Sutherland. “The Ultimate Display.” The Ultimate Display (1965): n. pag. Web.
Heilig, Morton. “The Cinema of the Future.” The Cinema of the Future. Cambridge: MIT, 1955. N. pag. Print.