23 April 2016

AR is the future, VR is the past...

"VR = Virtual Reality, AR= Augmented Reality"

The VR push is in full force now. Demo, after demo, after preview after developer release after... you know what? VR is a great technology.

I'm not sold on it.

However, it is truly a great technology and I think that it has some applications. They're very narrow (IMO!) but it does have some applications. I do think that those applications may be in the consumer entertainment space as opposed to the home entertainment space, though.

What was interesting to me, though, was a comment from Connor Martin on an article on GI.biz:

"Gamers are tired of being told how they feel, I know how I feel. I feel like many have lost the sense of beautiful joy and poetry in weaving together a game product and it shows consistently. Many old games were terrible, however the good ones stood out not by simply not being bad but rather by using the limitations to ground the joy in the simpler things. I hated Boom Blox on the wii for many control reasons and yet the concept of knocking shit down is one that is something almost all of us enjoy. Make a good, well made game about knocking shit down and I'll be convinced."

While I agree with the sentiment that gamers are tired of being told how they feel - *I* certainly do! - I underlined the part about making a game about Jenga for a reason.

You know what's great about Jenga? You're not playing alone.

You know what you do in VR? You play alone!

Huh, funny anti-coincidence or real life freudenschade? 

Seriously, this is one of those fundamental ideas that makes things work or not. I haven't really talked about VR versus AR on this blog before but I think we're at the critical mass where I am able to do so. I have spoken to various advocates about it though, specifically, the wonderful Bill Harris and although I always had a very defined reactionary theory surrounding the topic, I now feel that my reasoning is much more crystallised. 

To put it simply, VR is an old way of thinking. AR is a new way of thinking.

Expanding on that: the old way of thinking was immersion of experience through deprivation of sensory input. The new way of thinking is immersion through enhancement of sensory input.

Think about it for a minute.

All of our art thus far has been about bringing a person, a consciousness, into an experience. The experience itself may or may not elicit a reaction or the desired reaction but the idea is to make the person experience something. Books, paintings, theatre, TV, cinema, board games and video games all desire the full attention of the consumer in order to elicit a desired or intended response. Each one suffers from less of the phenomenon of reality. i.e. It's easier to zone out to a book than a painting. It's easier to zone out to a television than a book (arguably!) and a cinema (which is a curated experience, originally) is a step further. Games suck in players through absolute concentration due to their interactivity and are a step above anything before (except interactive theatre - which is not necessarily easy for the participant!)*.

Each and every one of the existing and evolutionary experiences requires user attention and does so increasingly through exclusion of other stimuli in order to monopolise emotional and physical responses so that the actual received sensory inputs are magnified. VR is no different from any of these previous ideals. In fact, it is the ultimate implementation of this ideal. It is the deprivation chamber of the art world. These mechanical functions allow a person to focus upon a single idea or event through the exclusion of the external world... and that's a very valid experience in some instances.

Unfortunately, the future is inclusion.

The future has always been inclusion. From the times of verbal knowledge sharing, the invention of the board game, the Gutenberg press and the internet we have seen that we, as a species, appreciate inclusion and sharing as part of our shared ideology above all else. Cooperation has gotten us to the point we are at and thus it shall always be if we are to achieve 'immortality' as a species. Facebook and Google+ et al. and various mobile programmes ("apps" are a marketing term and have always existed as applications/programmes!!) are a further enshrinement of the human proclivity towards shared experiences as an inorganic replacement/enhancement to biological evolution. 

As I explained in my sci-fi tropes article on the singularity, humans evolve through more than just biological means. Our intelligence provides a different evolutionary path which can evolve depending on our shared experiences on an experiential level as opposed to a shared genetic experiences level. What I'm saying is that, we evolve genetically through isolation and exposure to pathogens. We evolve memetically through intelligent interaction - i.e. social interaction and artistic interaction**.

The point is that humans aren't geared up to accept exclusionary experiences as a positive. We value inclusory*** experiences - even if they aren't emotionally positive

Conversely, AR is exactly what humans desire. 

AR is inclusive by default. If you imagine playing Jenga in VR, an AR Jenga match is better because you can put three of your friends in a room with you and play that Jenga game together without causing collision. With VR you currently can't and even so, with advancements in technology, will require four very powerful computers to do so in the same room without you colliding with your friends or other 'real world objects', e.g. the ground.

AR allows the user to integrate the environment around them with their experiences. You can play Jenga on top of a table you already own in the physical world or a virtual table you don't have in the physical world. You can play with friends - as many as you have headsets and base units, Yes, you still have the problem of powering these things but you won't be knocking into each other or objects in the room and that's a huge plus.

On top of all this you still have the ability to take notes, look a mobile phones, watch TV series, apps and etc. which is the want of human beings in their current multi-absorbtional existence.

Given a perfect VR experience for a specific application, I can see that it wins out. However, for general use, AR is much more applicable and versatile. Thus AR wins out overall. Looking back at all technological evolutions and revolutions, the overall win is the one that really lasts.

Getting back to the inspiration that brought me to write this article. It's not Jenga that I immediately think of when reading Connor's comment, but tabletop gaming. I imagine a fully realised D&D game running on a tabletop with six friends all huddled 'round. Fireballs being hurled, monsters running and princes and princesses acquiescing to the players' whims! 

What I want from technology is the enhancement of reality. Not a new reality. I think that this general trend is borne out over our social evolutionary history and this paints VR as an interesting evolutionary dead end...

*Yes, I just recently watched 'The Man Who Knew Too Little'
**I include science as an art here.
***According to dictionary.com there are no adjectives for inclusion but there are for exclusion!

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