Designing for Virtual Reality

“Thus “phenomenology” means…to let that which shows itself be seen from itself in the very way in which it shows itself from itself.”

― Martin Heidegger, Being and Time

Now what does this mean? I don’t know but I’m about to try explain how Heidegger, geometry, The Lawnmower man, time, design and virtual reality all are mashed up in my perverted mind. I know most of these seem unrelated, but I’m bored and have some time to kill. As you will see it gets more confusing, but I’ll do my best to be clear as possible. If while you’re reading, you find yourself saying “what” then good. This is what I’ve been saying about these subjects for awhile. Believe me I know I’m ridiculous, but I have some good ideas.

Most people I know seem to have a handle on the idea of virtual reality. They gotta have at least seen the recent ads and commercials that highlight how cool this new technology can be. Everyone has that annoying nerdy friend that keeps them up to date on new technologies and advancements. But what really is virtual reality? Is it just a connection between software, hardware and the human experience? Do they think it will change the world? Or is it just accepted as new technology that will be as common as the cell phone today? And finally how can I use this as designer?

I mean… WTF; is it? I looked it up and of course I got a full history of the technology and how one of its first applications was a weird video game like machine called the “sensorama”. The inventor Morton Hiieg wanted to create an enhanced theatre experience that engaged all the senses. So he built a seat connected to a platform to a large box you place your head and hands in, then you watch a series of films that were specifically made for this “realistic experience”. When you look back, I think it’s kinda funny to think that or first attempts to recreate reality are done in the most unreal ways. But all of this aside I really think about what is it on a conceptual level. So bare with me or leave NOW! I’m about to get heady.

My first experience with virtual reality was in the 90’s in the movie The Lawnmower Man. Where an intellectually challenged gardner is experimented on by Pierce Brosnan with a potent mix of drugs and technology in the hopes to improve his cognitive abilities. It ends up “Jobe” the gardner gets trapped in virtual reality and falls in love with a real woman. He gets pissed and uses telekinetic and pyrokinetic abilities to make life shitty for a couple of people. But………. he chooses to stay in virtual reality. It kinda makes you think, doesn’t it…WHY?

So, where I immediately go is to think what is real and how does that relate to me? I think in order to define one you start by defining its opposite and the most known.

So here we go!

In my mind “the real” is an organization of these large lenses or mental filters that are composed in a manner, where the viewer sends and receives feedback. So if you were standing in place you would be looking at a “transparent” horizontal surface then behind that is another surface that reflects though the first surface back to you. The first surface is your perception, it so called “transparent” and seems clear because we project our reality on it. The second surface is actually reality and is interpreted through the first surface. Are you still with me? Here’s the order again, perception, reality and its translated back to you making some mongrel of truth. I like to call this mongrel kid “feedback”. So we project our understanding onto reality and receive feedback.

Have you ever look through a window and seen your reflection in the window but also be looking out through the window. Or look into a mirror with another mirror behind you. It’s all kinda like that and one of the most hypnotizing things I have ever seen. So next time you look at a mirror stop for a minute and think about what I just said. Then next time you are in an argument or disagreement stop and think what is the truth. Or are both of you looking through your own manifolds I just described.

At first I thought that these were clear distinct lenses, but now what happens if we’re to view them as tilted and touch at one end then spreading out at the other. Basically making a large triangle in profile. So now we have a gradient in our mongrel reality and have the ability to be more or less real depending on how close that second lense is. Near the top we are closer to the truth, follow? If not don’t worry I’ll have diagrams at the end of this indulgence into my mind. This is what happens when you read too much Heidegger and think in terms of geometry. I don’t claim to understand either and couldn’t be counted on to make intelligent remarks on either. This is just how I think and unfortunately for you; I have your attention. Now back to business. So in our organization, where I’m stuck is what’s at the top? That piece at the top of the triangle connecting the surfaces. So if you’ve been following along, what would you call it when the two lenses are touching. Would it be clarity? I don’t know but it’s what I daydream about or try explain to my poor wife when I’ve had too many. I guess that’s the thing, there is no answer.

Now back to where I first started. Virtual reality and WTF is it. I just had to set you up; with how I see it. I assume you’re probably shaking your head, thinking that something is wrong with me. But, lets dig in on virtual reality. Let’s start by throwing in time. Now as I understand it time is a constant and I think, from this Einstein deducted that time is an illusion. It’s this illusion part that gets me. What I previously described wasn’t real either, huh? Now here’s where things get fucken weird. So in virtual reality we have a new organization.

Both organizations

The viewer is now in looking a new set of lenses of understanding. The viewer now projects their understanding through the lens; the device of virtual reality. Then through the other two lenses of perception and then finally onto reality. Now we’re cooking, think it about; reality is the last lense in the order. In virtual reality we have a new profile. It looks kinda like a broken W, missing one vertical stem. In this order we also have two of those points now that I described as clarity. This is where I get stuck again.

“Time is not a thing, thus nothing which is, and yet it remains constant in its passing away without being something temporal like the beings in time.”

― Martin Heidegger, Being and Time

I can easily say that I have experienced looking through the manifold of reality at many spots along its surface, but I can’t say that I have seen through that point at the tip. Now from my logic there’s another point. One at the top and another at the bottom. Its pretty confusing, but that’s what I live for. The idea that there is a point of clarity that we can reach in design or in life. A point when our vision is not influenced by that mongrel feedback. A point in which we only see that last lense. I think that virtual reality will provide a lot of opportunity for designers, but it’s also kinda scary to think how the reality lense is getting further away. How will people see things in the future when feedback has another lense to go through. Is this what happened to Jobe in The Lawnmower Man? By know way do suggest that we hesitate advancing virtual reality. I’m actually excited to potentially create with it. I just think that we should at least all be aware of its implications. As of now I’m still try to get a hold of reality and trying to see the same reality as others. Now I’ll have people that I couldn’t see the same reality before also looking through the lense of virtual reality? In design we look through lenses in order to create. It’s how we see things that influences our decisions and if we any good we are aware of it. The next time you find yourself lost staring into space ask…was that clarity.

“truth is that which makes a people certain, clear, and strong.”

― Martin Heidegger

I know, I know. Heidegger has some negative connotations, but he makes me think.

Ha. I told you. I would connect it all together.