CW and the Rhetoricity of Virtual Reality

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in an outstanding academic conference, Computers and Writing. I was selected as the winner of the Hawisher Selfe Caring for the Future Award – a scholarship engineered to empower marginalized scholars. I can say confidently that my experience at CW was empowering, and I would like to take time to extend my immense gratitude towards Kristin Arola, Cheryl Ball, Erika Spaby, Angela Haas, and Michael Day. Each of these individuals played a vital role in getting me to the conference and introducing me to other exceptional scholars in the field.

Now that I’ve had a week to reflect on my experiences at CW, I want to write a retrospective of my experience and how it correlates to my current independent research project – exploring the rhetoricity of virtual reality through Tilt Brush and other creative platforms available for VR head mounted displays (HMDs). One of the difficulties researching virtual and augmented realities is conveying the experience of the technology to someone who has not step inside a HMD. I can evoke a sense of it, for example, by using prepositional phrases that trigger notions of space and movement (e.g. “step inside a HMD”), but it won’t capture the “reality” of VR experience. I can also show a video demonstrating the technology in use (which I had done here, although I want to note it was hastily put together and not reflective of my best remix work), but, again, it won’t capture the embodiment of VR users experience as they create with environments with the software. Honing the description of VR technology use is key to articulating its capacity for rhetorical expression. I suppose I hadn’t realized that the key to my work resided in that description until I was attempting to describe it to a completely inexperienced (in terms of VR usage) audience at my GRN (graduate research network) table. The rhetoricity of VR is rhizomatically linked to posthuman theory, immersion theory, telepresence/presence theory, identification rhetoric, ambient rhetoric, notions of dwelling and liminal space, worlding, cyberpunk culture, and visual/audio rhetorical theories. At the nexus of this framework is a concept that I can see but can’t yet describe – hence the purpose of this research.

In closing this entry, I wish to offer a brief description of VR that I wrote in preparation of CW’s GRN seminar:

Present VR HMD technology allows for six degrees of freedom, meaning that when a user wears an HMD, cameras/sensors track head orientation and position as well as the physical position of your body and hands in space. Another key aspect of contemporary VR HMDs is binaural audio – a method of recording that situates sound spatially to further immerse the user in the virtual environment. What this ultimately means is that users dwell in a virtual space (in the instance of VR games, creative tools, chats, interactive experiences, etc.), or can become situated (become the ambiance) within virtual cinematic and animated films. The sensation of “being present” in these environments can be tremendous.  Robert Redford reportedly stumble at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival when experiencing Spheres: Song of Spacetime. Psychologists are experimenting with VR as alternate psychological treatments for phobias and anxieties.   

Given the impact VR (and AR) may have as a technology capable of such profound expression, it is evident that it warrants in-depth research, particularly as it emerges as a potential giant in the consumer market in years to come.

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