“There are no days more full in childhood than those days that are not lived at all, the days lost in a book. I remember waking out of one such book […] to find my sisters all around me. They had unlaced and removed one of my shoes and placed a straw hat on my head. Only when they began to move the wooden chair on which I sat away from the window light did I wake out of the book, to their great merriment.”
John McGahern “The promise”, The Guardian, Review, 27.08.02005
Much like how books seem to transport you to another world without being there physically, so do immersive environments physiologically. This “transportation” to alternate realities is also known as creating a presence and allows us to escape from reality.
According to Alison McMahan, presence is a result of “perceptual and psychological immersion” this can be done “by blocking as many of the senses as possible to the outside world and making it possible for the user toperceiveonly the artificial world” and “results from the user’s mental absorption in the world” (McMahan 77). Therefore in order to create this presence we must first isolate and separate ourselves from the world. And it is then and only then that we can actually believe that this presence could be an actual reality and then we can enter this reality. Also Gaston Bachelard puts it as “By changing space, by leaving the space of one’s usual sensibilities, one enters into communication with a space that is psychically innovating”
But how does one achieve this isolation from the real world? Alison McMahan gives some possible ways of how to do it by the use of “use of goggles, headphones, gloves, and so on” (McMahan 77). A great example of an installation piece that achieves this is Osmose, by Char Davies. Osmose is an “immersive interactive virtual-reality environment installation with 3D computer graphics and interactive 3D sound, a head-mounted display and real-time motion tracking based on breathing and balance”. In this piece the viewer needed to wear a head-mounted display and motion-tracking vest, which separates the individual from the real world along with allowing them to communicate with, is alternate reality.
But that isn’t all, because this presence can be understood in various ways, depending on how the viewer observes the world around them. And this can make a huge difference between what we see and what we may ignore. For example when David Rokeby, was doing his piece Watch, he had positioned it at Spandia and Richard for a short while. His installation Watch, takes live feed video footage and separates it in motion and motionless. So on one part of the screen you could see all the cars and people on the streets, while on the other one was the buildings and homeless people which at often forgotten or “erased” from our view of the world.
Going back to Char Davies’ Osmose, we can see how this piece plays around this perception of this presence. The point of his piece is to create “a space for exploring the perceptual interplay between self and world” or as Gaston Bachelard puts it, “By changing space, by leaving the space of one’s usual sensibilities, one enters into communication with a space that is psychically innovating. … For we do not change place, we change our nature”.
A Method for Analyzing 3-D Video Games. Chapter 3: Immersion, Engagement, and Presence –Alison McMahan http://people.ict.usc.edu/~morie/SupplementalReadings/ch3-McMahanrev.pdf
The concepts of Presence and Immersion http://www.hohlwelt.com/en/interact/experie/presence.html
Char Davies – Osmose http://www.immersence.com/osmose/index.php
David Rokeby – Watch http://homepage.mac.com/davidrokeby/watch.html