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Seminar

Questioning Immersion

Questioning Immersion is a two-day cross-disciplinary seminar on the theory and design of spatially immersive technologies. The seminar brings together local, national and international researchers, and is hosted by the UiB network for games research. The seminar is open for all (no registration).

Hovedinnhold

Programme 2. June [10.00 - 17.00]

10.00-10.15

Welcome / opening remarks

Rune Klevjer, UiB
10.15-11.15Keynote: Existential Immersion in Virtual WorldsStefano Gualeni and Daniel Vella, University of Malta
   
11.30-12.00Transgressing Immersion: Player Engagement and the Impact of Transgressive Game ExperiencesKristine Jørgensen, UiB
12.00-12.30Immersion by proxy: Imaginaries of virtual reality in digital gamesRagnhild Solberg, UiB
   
13.30-14.30Refiguring Empathy and Immersion in Narrative VR: Empirical InsightsAstrid Ensslin and Maud Ceuterick, UiB 
   
14.45-15.15

Videogame virtuality and the diegetic imagination

Rune Klevjer, UiB
15.15-15.45The World as a Representational StructureJohn Richard Sageng
Game Philosophy Network
   
16.00-16.30Redirection in VR, with an example of Redirection While Opening Doors in Virtual RealityMorten Fjeld, UiB
16.30-17.00Hearts and Minds and Screens and Caves and Domes and Head-Mounted DisplaysScott Rettberg, UiB

 

Programme 3. June [09.30 - 15.15]

09.30-10.30KeynotePresence in immersive environments: how much does it depend on self-awareness, agency and body ownership? Kamilla Bergsnev and Ana Luisa Sánchez Laws UiT the Arctic University of Norway
   
10.45-11.15User-Environment Relations in Immersive Virtual RealityJoakim Vindenes, UiB
11.15-11.45Virtual Reality: a general introductionLars Nyre, UiB
   
12.45-13.15Being-at-home in in the metaverse – attunement, dwelling and immersion in VRLeighton Evans
Swansea University
13.15-13.45Immersive manipulation: A new medium to exercise old tricksAlisa Rysaeva, UiB
   
14.00-14.30Re-thinking the world through immersive experienceJason Nelson, UiB
 
14.30-15.00A Heideggerian Critique of Immersive ArtHarri Mäcklin
University of Helsinki

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Abstracts

 

Keynote Day 1: Existential Immersion in Virtual Worlds
Stefano Gualeni and Daniel Vella, University of Malta

Drawing on phenomenology and existential philosophy, this talk introduces the idea of virtual subjectivity, that is, the sense of ‘self’ that relates to one’s being-in-the-virtual-world. On the basis of the work done in our 2020 book Virtual Existentialism, we claim that the user’s existential situatedness as a virtual subject in a virtual world has often been conceptualised through the notion of ‘immersion’. In this talk, we argue for an understanding of immersion that accounts for the existential structures of our virtual subjectivities. To demonstrate this, we will primarily focus on the existential structures of projectuality and care that a virtual subject can express within (and towards) virtual worlds.

 

Transgressing Immersion: Player Engagement and the Impact of Transgressive Game Experiences
Kristine Jørgensen, University of Bergen 

While disruptive gameplay moments are often associated with competitive and confrontative player interactions, such situations can also emerge from encounters with provocative, disturbing and emotionally uncomfortable game content. Building on qualitative studies of player experiences with such content, this presentation will discuss the impact of such encounters on the players’ sense of immersion. 

 

Immersion by proxy: Imaginaries of virtual reality in digital games
Ragnhild Solberg, University of Bergen 

Virtual reality is lauded as an immersive bodily experience for the (human) player, but it is also frequently portrayed within the virtual environments of games where the player character is the one who is immersed. Without having to account for existing technological limitations, these games can be seen as showcasing cultural imaginaries of what virtual reality can and cannot do. In this talk, I examine how digital games diegetically represent aesthetics and functions of virtual reality technologies, using fourteen games published between 2010 and 2020 as empirical base. All fourteen games have distinctly named virtual reality technologies that are used frequently by the player character. My aim is to show how their near utopian representation as tools for learning and controlling is contrasted by their introduction as faulty and even dangerous technologies – a step that can be considered a computational and narrative choice to ensure player character empowerment and/or regulation but which nonetheless influences how these technologies are imagined.

 

Refiguring Empathy and Immersion in Narrative VR: Empirical Insights
Astrid Ensslin and Maud Ceuterick, University of Bergen

In this combined presentation, we report on the findings of a cognitive, empirical audience research project using Randall Okita’s biographical The Book of Distance (2020). Ensslin will focus on how participants experienced and discursively constructed different nuances of cognitive, affective, associative and commissive empathy in relation to individual characters on the one hand and personal and situated factors on the other. Ceuterick will, in turn, examine aspects of spatiotemporal positioning and immersion, in particular regarding audiences' perception of the spaces of experience in VR, and will build on the idea of VR as creating "transitional spaces". In our discussion, we will explore how our qualitative study confirms and refines the findings from existing empirical research on immersion, spectatorship and empathy in VR. 

 

Videogame virtuality and the diegetic imagination
Rune Klevjer, University of Bergen 

In this article I will discuss the relationship between virtual game space and diegetic worlds in videogames. By “diegetic” world I mean a storyworld as it is typically being conceived in film theory, a world in which we imagine that real people, like for example Luke in Star Wars or Fern in Nomadland, are having their experiences and live their life.  The category of “virtual game space” as I am using it here is meant to include any kind of participatory real-time generated graphic environment, but of particular interest are the kind of 3D-navigable environments that are similar to Virtual Reality except they are projected on a screen, and navigated via a combination of virtual camera and playable character or avatar. Because such game spaces appear quite similar to cinematic spaces, it is tempting to assume that their player- and AI-controlled characters should be seen also as characters in a diegetic world, and that their actions should count also as as actions performed in this world. 

The standard conventions of narrative design in story-driven games align well with the general idea that virtual game spaces are in some way continuous with storyworlds. In story-driven games, we get to play out the same characters, settings and scenes in virtual space as those that are being presented to us in literary and cinematic narration, and our own player-character is most often cast as the protagonist in the story. Such games also employ a range of design techniques that aim to integrate interactive narration and cinematics with virtual game spaces. 

I would like to propose an alternative view of the relationship between the virtual and the diegetic in games. Against dominant theoretical models of interactive fiction and narrative, I will argue that storyworlds and virtual game spaces are not continuous but separate ontologies, in the same way that the space of a film set is ontologically separate from the imagined space it is being used to evoke, and in the same way that the actor Claire Foy is separate from the imagined person Queen Elisabeth of The Crown. In contrast to players’ interactions with interactive narratives, ordinary actions in virtual game space do not make anything true or not true in a world of imagined people.  We may still recognize that characters and actions in for example Mario Bros. or Fortnite are “fictional” in some sense, but in a non-diegetic way, and as such comparable to other forms of non-diegetic fiction. Drawing on established theories of digetic worlds and diegetic fictionality, I will suggest that diegetic characters and events in games are produced neither by camera or screen nor by actions in virtual space, but by a very particular and medium-independent act of diegetic imagination. 

This dual-ontology model of video game representation has implications for how think about the role and status of virtual game spaces in gaming and media culture, and more specifically for how to think about integrative diegetic-virtual hybridisations in games, VR, interactive cinema and elsewhere. 

 

The World as a Representational Structure 
John Richard Sageng, Game Philosophy Network 

Immersive experiences are commonly regarded as instances of subjective states like flow, absorption, attention or engagement (Csikszentmihalyi 1991;  Jennett 2010;  Calleja 2011).  In this chapter I  propose that we can construct an objectivist and externalist understanding of immersion - one that ties the character of immersive experience directly to features of its spatial or social contexts - by adopting a notion of a “world structure” inspired by Spinoza’s metaphysics. According to Spinoza, the world (or Nature) is a substance which can only be experienced from the inside and which is the ultimate carrier of attributes, whether it is what we call properties, things, situations or events. Thus, the knowledge and experiences of individuals are unified by being about the same creating power (natura naturans) that give rise to different individual characteristics with regard to content of the world (natura naturata).

Using theories of truth as a starting point (Wiggins 1980), I work out the semantic underpinnings for how representational content in immersive experience is structured around a “world substance” (Sageng 2019). I argue that such experiences in a range of central contexts should be understood as hybrid affective and representational states, similar to the the experience of the beautiful, the effervescent, the stylish or the ominous -  all of which have distinctive combined contents and affective uptakes in the form of beliefs, moods, emotions, desires and aesthetic assessments.  According to this proposal, the depth and impact of immersive experience has its root in the cohesion and sense of alterity that its world-structure manages to attain. I investigate how the world structure facilitates this sort of alterity in imagination in cases like literature, such as being transported to the imaginary world of “Macbeth”, by goal attainment in a game such as Skyrim, or by real-life practices in such contexts as shrines, churches or techno clubs. 

References
Calleja, In-Game, Gordon. In-Game: From Immersion to Incorporation, Boston, MIT Press, 2011.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Harper Perennial, New York, 1991.
Jennett, C.I.; (2010) Is game immersion just another form of selective attention? An empirical investigation of real world dissociation in computer game immersion. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).
Sageng, John R. Immersion as the Experience of World Involvement, 2019. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Immersion-as-the-Experience-of-Wor...
Spinoza, Benedictus De. Ethics. Translated by W. H. White and A. K. Stirling. Revised edition. London: WORDSWORTH ED, 2001.
Wiggins, David. ‘What Would Be a Substantial Theory of Truth?’ In Philosophical  Subjects: Essays Presented to P.F. Strawson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.


John R. Sageng is the coordinator of Game Philosophy Network and editor of Journal of the Philosophy of Games. He has published work on the methodology of interpretation, on the semantics of action in graphical environments, on agential forms in computer games, and on the ontological status of game ecologies.

 

Hearts and Minds and Screens and Caves and Domes and Head-Mounted Displays
Scott Rettberg

This talk will reflect on the Hearts and Minds: The Interrogations Project and in particular on the process and effects of adapting a VR work made for and within a very specific environment and adapting it for presentation and experience in other environments, considering how the nature and scale of immersion can change the experience and affect of the work. Hearts and Minds: The Interrogations Project is an interactive, immersive, and cinematic environment that draws users into the haunting memories of ordinary American soldiers who became torturers in the course of serving their country. This project about human rights foregrounds veterans testimonies of US military enhanced interrogation practices and human rights abuses during the Iraq War, often by young and ill-trained soldiers who never entered the military to become torturers and still find themselves struggling to reconcile the activities they were asked to do. The work was developed in the CAVE2 at the Electronic Visualization Lab (EVL) at the University of Illinois Chicago through a four-university collaboration and tours in other immersive 3D environments and in a 2D version suitable for cinema screening.

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Keynote Day 2: Presence in immersive environments: how much does it depend on self-awareness, agency and body ownership? 
Kamilla Bergsnev and Ana Luisa Sánchez Laws, UiT the Arctic University of Norway

It is currently argued that self-awareness, sense of agency, and sense of body ownership are directly linked with the sense of presence (Grassini & Laumann 2020). If this is the case, it would mean that the sense of presence requires a reconsideration of non-semantic learning in its dimensions of intentionality. The way in which correspondences between stimuli are part of learning to orient ourselves in the broad sense of knowing, “being there”, and responding to the environment, would necessarily demand that some form of “aware agency” takes place in the non-conceptual way we relate to the world around us. 

This talk will investigate this issue through a narrative review of current literature on self-awareness, sense of agency and sense of body ownership as moderators or mediators of presence in immersive environments. 

The issue is relevant for the design of technologies for immersion, as understanding these interconnections demands that we reconsider how to incorporate self-awareness-raising, agentic and body-ownership-enhancing design elements. If the answer is that indeed, the sense of presence is positively related to these three factors, this would also imply that we can safely assume that individuals will be able to control the degree to which they want to be “immersed” in the immersive space. If, however, presence is produced by processes beyond self-awareness, agency and body ownership that are not immediately available for regulation by an individuals’ “meaning-making” of his or her situation, we should design immersive experiences so that the user can become more aware and be able to counteract the manipulative potential of such induced presence. That is, we should strive to intentionally create “breaks in presence” (Sánchez-Vives & Slater 2005) and offer experiences that give participants the ability to safely control their desired level of presence.  

 

User-Environment Relations in Immersive Virtual Reality
Joakim Vindenes, University of Bergen 

In HCI, interaction is traditionally understood as something that occurs between the pre-given entities of a human user and a technological object. The technology of Immersive Virtual Reality (VR) in particular forces us to re-consider these presuppositions, as the human user and the virtual environment mutually shape each other in the relations constituted between them. Postphenomenology seems to be a promising candidate to account for the complexities of VR mediation as it takes a more holistic view, attending to how technologies mediate human beings' lifeworlds. As virtual environments are not just tools we interact with or use, but environments in which we exist and through which we are shaped, postphenomenology seems to offer a promising perspective for furthering our understanding of how VR takes part in altering our experience of who we are in relation to our worlds.

This will be a presentation of my doctoral work where I have inquired into how postphenomenology can be constructively used to gain a qualitative understanding of user experience in Immersive VR. I will present theoretical, methodical and empirical explorations of postphenomenology and Immersive VR. 

 

Virtual Reality: a general introduction
Lars Nyre, University of Bergen

«Theories about technology» is a textbook to be published in 2023 for the Norwegian publisher Universitetsforlaget. It aims to reach bachelor and master students, as well as the general public. It introduces a number of theories about technology and presents technology domains such as machines, media, networks, artificial intelligence and robots. There is a separate chapter about “Virtual reality”. What should be included in such a general introduction to VR? What should be considered received wisdom and what are the standard theoretical perspectives? Which texts are classics? It would be very helpful for my writing process to discuss these issues.

Lars Nyre is a professor media studies at the University of Bergen and a professor II at the University of Stavanger. He has a background in the history and theories of sound media. He has also led several qualitative evaluations of news and sound interfaces, and he was a central investigator in evaluations of INJECT, an EU funded tool for journalist creativity. He has published normative and methodical articles about Media Design. Nyre is the director of the academic network TekLab where students and researchers design, evaluate, and report on media system prototypes.

 

Being-at-home in in the metaverse – attunement, dwelling and immersion in VR
Leighton Evans, Swansea University 

As thoughts turn to the possibilities and realities of metaverses and spending more time in Virtual Reality (VR), it is worthwhile to reflect that there are no definitive accounts on how immersion occurs or what immersion is in VR. This is problematic as discussions of immersion will soon turn to discussions of dwelling, and the place of the human in the metaverse is at risk of being subsumed by naïve technological determinism concerning the technology or environment. Dwelling as a condition of being-in-VR will be more than immersion. The feeling of comfort and being-at-home in a virtual environment will be a pre-requisite of a functioning, economically fulfilling metaverse for the data harvesting companies that are chasing the dream of virtual worlds in which we inhabit, spend and socialise. Accordingly, the lack of a satisfactory understanding of the processes and factors in immersion is problematic when considering dwelling in VR. To understand how one may dwell in VR will require an acute understanding of how one becomes attuned to VR. Within this process of attunement, there are under- or non-explored factors that are critical to immersion. Little attention has been paid to the mood of the VR user or player in how immersion, and then dwelling, occurs. Mood in this sense refers to the attunement or towards-which of the person which is directed in a manner to dwell or to be immersed. This mood or comportment is emergent through our engagement with VR – with the equipment, the interface, the rendered environment, the visuals, the audio, other users, the hapticity of the experience and our own prevailing comportment to the experience. Using several case examples of games and interactive experiences, this paper will look to understand how mood or attunement functions today and may be constructed by the likes of Meta as we hurtle towards their vision of a metaverse.

 

Immersive manipulation: A new medium to exercise old tricks
Alisa Rysaeva, University of Bergen 

At the beginning of the two years of my MA studies, I endeavored to form a general view of VR technology. The purpose was to map the positive and the negative aspects of VR and use this mapping later to focus on the most problematic/exciting/inspiring/interesting one to form a base for my final design project. This process directed me to the topics of manipulation and autonomy and the role of ethics in using technology in a commercial context.

During my presentation, I will take you through the process of establishing the conceptual part of a discursive design project and conclude with the results of the practical part of it: a VR game based on the manipulation tricks used online.

 

Re-thinking the world through immersive experience
Jason Nelson, University of Bergen 

Immersive experiences can be powerful, artistically, poetically, culturally.  But as immersive technologies such as VR, large-scale or 360-space projection have evolved, immersive content has often relied on spectacle or replicating physical environments.   Outside of the initial "wow" reaction, rarely do these kinds of spectacle spaces reach an immersion state that transports visitors/players/readers the same way good music or movies or books can.  That doesn't mean it isn't possible, but it might signal we are emphasizing the wrong things when creating immersive works.  

For example, a company in Australia is offering audiences a traveling projection space filled with, what they call, immersive experiences. But instead of experiences that truly transport the mind/brain/heart, they've created a technically impressive, but largely hollow, series of creations like indoor fireworks or screensaver visualisers.  Similarly, other institutions have attempted to replicate historical sites or offer virtual tours. Again, they are touted as being immersive. And yet, the experience is usually limited to the initial "wow, that's cool", and rarely followed with repeat visits or explorations.  A university in Australia once invested nearly a million dollars in creating 3-D first-person classrooms for students online.  After they launched the initial student reaction was strong and promising. However, three weeks into the experiment, virtual attendance dropped dramatically. The university tried to replicate the physical in an entirely non-physical space and students weren't compelled to return to the space after the first or second visit. 

These examples aren't intended to reduce the possible impact and institutional/artistic/scholarly investment in immersive technologies, experiences, artworks, and digital narratives. Rather, we should go back to the very first step, and attempt to understand what do we mean by immersive.  How do we replicate the truly powerful, transporting abilities of our favourite music, story, or artwork, but in virtual reality or an immersive projection space?   Similarly, while I, as a digital artist, love exploring new technologies and new creative tools (hardware, software, code), the fanciest of toys do not automatically equal the best and most immersive experiences.  Better graphics do not equal better artwork, bigger projections do not equal a more impactful experience.  Overall, I want to know how we can re-make and re-think the world, instead of just replicating it. And to understand how to create immersive artworks using such tech as VR or projection that go beyond a "wow and leave" experience. 

 

A Heideggerian Critique of Immersive Art
Harri Mäcklin, University of Helsinki

Immersive technologies have quickly become an intergral part of contemporary art. Yet, so far there has been little philosophical discussion on value of this immersive trend in art. In this presentation, I show how Martin Heidegger’s meditations on art can provide a robust assessment of immersive technologies and their impact on art. On the one hand, immersive art can be taken to culminate in Heidegger’s views on the “machinational” character of modern art, where artworks turn into calculative experience machines, geared to provide mind-blowing yet superficial "lived experiences" (Erlebnisse) rather than transformative experiences of truth (Erfahrungen). On the other hand, I argue that Heidegger’s thought also lends itself to a more positive assessment, where immersive art undermines machination from within and provides experiences of wonder, which are irreducible to and uncontrollable by calculative thinking.