Future of Entertainment: from Virtual Reality to Embodied experience

Future of Entertainment: from Virtual Reality to Embodied experience
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Future of Entertainment: from Virtual Reality to Embodied experience

14 May 2020, 10 mins read – Aleksandra Sadovnikova – Fabrizio Gramuglio

One of the aspects of human life is entertainment. That keeps us curious, physically and emotionally healthy, happy and satisfied. In fact, entertainment is defined as “a form of activity that holds the attention and interest of an audience or gives pleasure and delight” (Wikipedia). 

What can entertainment in our life be? Of course, our hobby, for example. Jogging or yoga, painting or knitting, puzzle-making or cooking – activities that develop our skills and give us satisfaction during the process.

Such types of entertainment as performance, cinema and theatre, exhibitions provide us aesthetic sense of beauty and let us be in touch with the world of feelings.

Since the invention of the very first video game in October 1958, this type of entertainment – video games on PC and various consoles – became popular among people of every age. Technology allowed game developers realize every single dream. Action games, role-playing and strategy, adventure and simulation games – there are a lot of them, for every taste and request, in Virtual or Augmented Realities.

Not all people know that so popular nowadays technology, Virtual Reality, was introduced in 1950s by Morton Heilig in “Experience Theatre”. His multimedia device, the Sensorama, is considered one of the earliest VR systems. But the term “virtual reality” was described only in 1987 by researcher Jaron Lanier.

The Sensorama Simulator patented by M. L. Heilig in 1962, patent #3050870

You can find many video games that allow you to experience VR and be “integrated” in game with virtual reality headset. And that is so-called Avatar Embodiment, when participants take on a first-person perspective of an avatar body, usually wearing VR head-mounted displays (or in more professional environment, even motion capture bodysuits).

The idea of Augmented Reality, however, was first expressed in 1901, when L. Frank Baum mentioned the idea of electronic spectacles that overlay data onto real life and named it a “Character Marker”.

In 2015 Microsoft announces Windows Holographic and the HoloLens augmented reality headset. The headset utilizes various sensors and a processing unit to blend high definition “holograms” with the real world.

After its launch in July 2016, Pokémon Go (Niantic) for iOS and Android quickly became one of the most popular smartphone applications and in turn spikes the popularity of augmented reality games.

But what if we reimagine the entertainment way to extend number of options it can offer for fulfill experience?

Here begins our story.

In 1935, science fiction author Stanley Weinbaum wrote Pygmalion’s Spectacles. In this fictional short story, the main character meets a professor who invents a pair of goggles that allowed him to view a movie with stimuli – sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch. [3] Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

People have always dreamed about reaching their dreams and technology development that would bring humanity to the shining future. In all these years we have seen many futuristic ideas and characters in movies, starting from the Maria’s robot double (Metropolis, 1927), HAL9000 (2001: Space Odyssey, 1968) to R-2 D-2 and C3PO (Star Wars, 1977), Skynet (The Terminator, 1984) and Jarvis (Iron Man, 2008), and then replicants (Blade Runner, 1982) and Mother (I am Mother, 2019), and many others.

Maria’s Robor Double (Metropolis, 1927) & Ava (Ex Machine, 2015)

What’s next? Entertainment sector grows up and becomes more interacted, and it offers to people a new possibility – to be the “real” protagonist in a game thanks to VR or to make decisions and influence on the movie plot (Netflix).

But there is no surprise in audio and video experience in VR/AR, it became a part of our life. However, audio and video experience can be not only extended by adding smell (with an odor transmitter), feeling of heartbeat or touch, it can also become embodied in real life.

What is an embodied experience? Basically, it means that you can “own”, control a body, to be inside it and even experience different stimuli (e.g., touch or smell).

One of the examples of this experience is the Gamer movie (2009) which is based on the embodied concept of controlling human beings-players by other humans-participants in an online game.

The embodied experiences can also be pre-recorded, which means you can enjoy some moments of any person that were recorded before you could use them (in simple words, you find yourself as an avatar of another person).

Have you ever seen the “Strange days” (1995), a story about pre-recorded experience tapes that allow a user to experience the recorder’s memories and physical sensations? Characters felt immerged into other person’s experience, feeling and seeing everything.

As it mentioned in researches, Virtual Reality can induce embodiment by creating multi-sensory stimuli combining first-person perspective with synchronous visual and tactile stimuli, as well as visual and motor synchrony.

There should be introduced such setups as The Machine to Be Another (Classic Setup and Body Swap) and Paint With Me. The Machine to Be Another (TMBA) is an Embodiment Virtual Reality System that allows individuals to experience the world through the eyes and body of another, inspired by neuroscience protocols for bodily and perceptual illusions designed to trick the brain’s perception of one’s own body.

TMBA classic setup is designed with a “performer” wearing a front-facing (either head-mounted) camera recording video that is livestreamed into the virtual reality headset of a “user”. This allows two people share a first- person perspective simultaneously.

The Machine to Be Another setup @BeAnother Lab

TMBA Body Swap, however, is a setup in which two individuals wear an Oculus Rift Developer Kit 2 VR head-mounted display (HMD) with a camera mounted on front to see from one another’s embodied point-of-view in a live video stream. Two facilitators perform coordinated movements so that the users receive synchronous visual and touch stimulation on the hands, arms, and feet to induce a Body Ownership Illusion (BOI) in the body of another.

TMBA Paint With Me is a virtual environment where users see a video from a painter’s embodied point of view with a tracked rendering of their own hand, using Leap Motion, while they listen to the painter describe her creative process and follow the painter’s movements on their own physical canvas.

What do these possibilities mean for entertainment?

First of all, a new type of entertainment, more engaging and breath-catching for public. You are no more just a “watcher”, but an active participant, even if you can be remote. Technologies allow you to dive in new experience as if you were presented in any place at any time. Whether you are a football fan who wants to be in the stadium watching his favourite team, or an explorer of new places in different countries – technologies can perfectly work for any type of business and request.

Second, an opportunity to overcome limits – physical or psychological – for everyone and especially for individuals with diverse limitations to participate in activities they can’t do in real life. Such people can be able to enjoy an immersive experience of running along the Thames or surfing in the Pacific Ocean, climbing in the Alps or skydiving from the Empire State Building.

Third, it is a chance to provide participants not only usual stimuli like audio and video, but also heartbeat and touch, smell and taste. These stimuli extend the experience making it real for one who receives them (even if the experience is lived on the sofa at home). In this way, you can feel wind, excitement and even fear while skydiving, or touch of sand and sun heat while bringing your surf to the open water. Or maybe you will know the taste of a fried scorpion – it depends only you.

The last, but not least – online one-to-one or pool streaming with stimuli is a good opportunity not only for private usage, but for public one, for example, for museums and various sites of world heritage (especially during periods of pandemics and natural limitations). In this case entertainment is seen as an educational tool.

Let’s discover in the next part how the new entertainment technologies practically work for touristic sector.

All images used in this article are in free access in the Internet

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