The Importance of Interaction for Presence in VR

Hrafn Thorisson
Feb 5 · 4 min read

Natural interaction is key in virtual reality. It is a vital part of feeling present in a world. There is no greater proof and sense of being somewhere than to exert your power on that world, directly connecting you to it. What does it really mean to be somewhere if the world doesn’t react to you and you can’t interact? A world that ignores your presence won’t make you feel very ‘present’, except for a brief moment. In the broader sense, seeing a reality is just what enables us to interact. The actual interaction is what what makes us really feel like ‘we are there’ — and that applies in any reality, whether it’s virtual or not.

We have eyes to help us interact

Early on during the rebirth of VR there was a lot of focus on the VR headsets alone… but they were always just half the equation. VR headsets show us the world so we can do things in it! A virtual reality needs to do much more than just look like a reality — it has to act like a reality, too, so that we can properly and naturally interact with it. Reality is not a passive experience, nor is virtual reality.

Whether it’s character reactions or weapons mechanics, natural interaction and movements like we do in reality helps amplify the illusion of ‘being there’ and sustaining the illusion of this being an actual alternate reality. This has deeply rooted connections to believability, as we’ve mentioned in our earlier post on believable worlds. For example in our content at Aldin, we have leveraged intuitive environmental interaction and interactive characters to amplify sense of presence. In our early titles Trial of the Rift Drifter and Asunder, we made characters naturally respond to physical movement and behavior — things like becoming angry if users didn’t pay attention to what they were saying. In Waltz of the Wizard we have characters responding to you when you crouch, lie down on the floor, throw objects, physically move a lot and observe the environment. These natural character reactions to your behavior are an interaction in itself, acknowledging the user’s physical presence and thereby reinforcing the user’s sense of being present.

Designing VR Interactivity

It follows from all of this that interacting is a powerful thing that greatly enhances our belief that we’re in a reality. In addition to letting us feel more present, it also keeps our attention rooted in the virtual world. While we are interacting we are engaged and physically behaving like we are in a reality. The more we behave like we are in reality, the more ‘real’ it potentially feels.

While we are physically engaged we’re also more focused on the virtual world and less likely to be thinking about something else… like remembering that we’re in VR or thinking about what we’re going to do in the real world later. We don’t want that attention drift! We want users fully engaged by our world.

Almost everything is interactive in Waltz of the Wizard. Magic and objects are all designed to only require a single action button to operate in order to make it accessible and focus the user experience on simply ‘being there’, instead of figuring out ‘how to be there’.

There are a number of things to keep in mind while implementing interactivity. Of note are:

  • Make actions intuitive. Make it easy for users to perform the actions they want in-world so that they can focus on simply enjoying being there, instead of focusing on ‘how to be there’.
  • Design to make the VR hardware interface invisible. In reality there is no hardware interface between us and reality. It is an unfamiliar element of being in a reality. We want to avoid reminding users that this is a simulation.
  • Be consistent and predict potential user interaction. Know that if you make some things interactive then users will expect other elements in the world to be interactive. If you can’t make everything interactive, then guide users away from what isn’t or make it clear what the user can interact with to avoid the disappointment of trying to perform an action that isn’t possible.
  • Make interactions meaningful. Keep focus on the broad strokes that enable the user to get an action done in a way that feels natural, but avoid details that are unimportant or tedious parts of the interaction process.
  • Do user testing, obsessively and extensively — you can only foresee a tiny part of what users do. Observing playtests helps polish the user experience, which is vital to make it comfortable and all interactions smooth.

Think of Interaction in a Broad Sense

Keep in mind that, even if hand-tracking are the most obvious means of interaction, there are other types of interaction that are also important. In reality, interaction goes beyond just our hands and the more we reflect all that interactivity, the better. Things like our glances and overall physical movement, communicative gestures like head-nods, or hand-signalling, reactions to events and more.

Characters in our experiences have different reactions to user behavior in addition to hand-based interactions. For example reactions to the user staring at them, looking at objects in the environment, lying down on the floor, moving a lot and crouching.

In coming years we’ll see more of our bodies brought into virtual reality in ever greater detail, and with it come new and incredible opportunities to make worlds more interactive and reactive to our various behaviors. It’s part of our mission at Aldin to continue leveraging this new input to drive increasingly more believable and immersive worlds.

Aldin Blog

Behind the Scenes in VR production

Hrafn Thorisson

Written by

CEO and Creative Director at Aldin. Creating virtual reality entertainment experiences designed for immersion.

Aldin Blog

Behind the Scenes in VR production