Immersive Virtual Reality (VR) technology, while popular in the late part of the 20th Century, seemed to
disappear from public view as social media took its place and captured the attention of millions. Now that a
new generation of entrepreneurs and crowd-sourced funding campaigns have arrived, perhaps virtual reality
is poised for a resurgence.
This panel and dialog-paper explores the potentials at the intersection of art, science, immersion and highly dimensional, “big” data to create new forms of engagement, insight and cultural forms. We will address questions such as: “What kinds of research questions can be identified at the intersection of art + science + immersive environments that can’t be expressed otherwise?” “How is art+science+immersion distinct from state-of-the art visualization?” “What does working with immersive environments and visualization offer that other approaches don’t or can’t?” “Where does immersion fall short?” We will also explore current trends in the application of immersion for gaming, scientific data, entertainment, simulation, social media and other new forms of big data. We ask what expressive, arts-based approaches can contribute to these forms in the broad cultural landscape of immersive technologies.
Virtual Reality was a technological wonder in its early days, and it was widely held to be a domain where men were the
main practitioners. However, a survey done in 2007 of VR Artworks (Immersive Virtual Environments or VEs) showed
that women have actually created the majority of artistic immersive works. This argues against the popular idea that the
field has been totally dominated by men. While men have made great contributions in advancing the field, especially
technologically, it appears most artistic works emerge from a decidedly feminine approach. Such an approach seems well
suited to immersive environments as it incorporates aspects of inclusion, wholeness, and a blending of the body and the
spirit. Female attention to holistic concerns fits the gestalt approach needed to create in a fully functional yet open-ended
virtual world, which focuses not so much on producing a finished object (like a text or a sculpture) but rather on creating
a possibility for becoming, like bringing a child into the world. Immersive VEs are not objective works of art to be hung
on a wall and critiqued. They are vehicles for experience, vessels to live within for a piece of time.
We describe a project designed to use the power of online virtual worlds as a place of camaraderie and healing for
returning United States military veterans-a virtual space that can help them deal with problems related to their time of
service and also assist in their reintegration into society. This veterans' space is being built in Second Life®, a popular
immersive world, under consultation with medical experts and psychologists, with several types of both social and
healing activities planned. In addition, we address several barrier issues with virtual worlds, including lack of guides or
helpers to ensure the participants have a quality experience. To solve some of these issues, we are porting the advanced
intelligence of the ICT's virtual human characters to avatars in Second Life®, so they will be able to greet the veterans,
converse with them, guide them to relevant activities, and serve as informational agents for healing options. In this way
such "avatar agents" will serve as autonomous intelligent characters that bring maximum engagement and functionality
to the veterans' space. This part of the effort expands online worlds beyond their existing capabilities, as currently a
human being must operate each avatar in the virtual world; few autonomous characters exist. As this project progresses
we will engage in an iterative design process with veteran participants who will be able to advise us, along with the
medical community, on what efforts are well suited to, and most effective within, the virtual world.
The idea of Virtual Reality once conjured up visions of new territories to explore, and expectations of awaiting worlds of
wonder. VR has matured to become a practical tool for therapy, medicine and commercial interests, yet artists, in
particular, continue to expand the possibilities for the medium. Artistic virtual environments created over the past two
decades probe the phenomenological nature of these virtual environments. When we inhabit a fully immersive virtual
environment, we have entered into a new form of Being. Not only does our body continue to exist in the real, physical
world, we are also embodied within the virtual by means of technology that translates our bodied actions into
interactions with the virtual environment. Very few states in human existence allow this bifurcation of our Being, where
we can exist simultaneously in two spaces at once, with the possible exception of meta-physical states such as
shamanistic trance and out-of-body experiences. This paper discusses the nature of this simultaneous Being, how we
enter the virtual space, what forms of persona we can don there, what forms of spaces we can inhabit, and what type of
wondrous experiences we can both hope for and expect.
Virtual reality has been in the public eye for nearly forty years. Its early promise was vast: worlds we could visit and live in, if we could bend the technology to our desires. Progress was made, but along the way the original directions and challenges of fully immersive VR took a back seat to more ubiquitous technology such as games that provided many of the same functions. What was lost in this transition was the potential for VR to become a stage for encounters that are meaningful, those experiences that tap into what it means to be human. This paper describes examples of such experiences using VR technology and puts forward several avenues of thought concerning how we might reinvigorate these types of VR explorations.