Edward Euclide
 

Virtual Reality

Initiation Research

 

Exploratory research documenting and observing initial human encounters with VR.

 
 
 

Summary

Participants who have had little to no contact with VR technology were invited to my home VR parlour (aka my living room) for a one-hour long session wherein they experienced virtual environments/applications using an HTC Vive head-mounted-display (HMD).  Participants were introduced to the technology and space and then experienced 3 different VR applications.

  1. The Blu
    • immersive virtual environment
  2. Beat Saber
    • kinetic, embodied-interaction
  3. Google Tilt-Brush
    • controller-based interaction, creating in virtual space

Participants spoke out-loud conveying their experience during the sessions, with occasional prompting from researchers/facilitators.

 
 

The Goals

To Observe and Document

...initial human encounters with VR technology and virtual space.

To Gain Insights

...onto the human relationships to virtual space and VR tech.

To Establish

... VR research best practices and protocols.

 

Abstract

This is not a test.

It is not targeting a solution.

It is not in regards to a problem.

How can we interrogate/explore the embodied experience between boundaries of the real/irreal?  How do we explore VR technology through a lens outside of our previous (2-Dimensional) digital interactions?

When you look for something, you find the something.

When driving on the road, one is less likely to see a biker because they are looking for cars, not bicycles.
This becomes crucial to our research if we examine the way "looking for something" affects our visage as observers.
When you perform a usability test, you find usability opportunities/problems.
Our understanding of the VR experience is so underdeveloped that perhaps we don't even know what to target yet.  In fact, it is imperative that the ways in which we research VR be radically different than the ways we've researched digital interactions in the past, because these experiences are radically different.

Walking around in the dark.

All that said, I do have goals.  It is targeting something.  I mean to intentionally allow and build space for the research to inform itself as it grows.
Like walking around in the dark.

This is exploratory, observational, research.

 

 

The Protocol

 

Virtual Reality as an altered state of

ez gif coinscious only.gif

 

...a condition which is significantly different from a normal waking state.

 

Research Approach

Since the study of VR in its current state is young and continually developing... We must draw knowledge and expertise from other fields of thinking in order to keep up.

This protocol explores a few different frameworks as points of reference for both reading and administering this protocol: psychedelic drug-trip sitting, consensual touch, consensual fantasy.

I've come to consider my role in three ways and in this order:

  1. Observer
  2. Researcher
  3. Initiation Acolyte

acolyte - akólouthos (Greek): follower, attendant associated with journey
An acolyte does not lead the ceremony, the ceremony leads the acolyte, for the acolyte is the follower.  It is a reminder not to lead this research, but to follow it.

What is the role of the researcher in being this first point of contact between humans and this technology?  What is the role of the researcher in encouraging a positive relationship to this technology?  Throughout the protocol I encourage agency and understanding of the technology, giving the user control and confidence.

 

Where are you?

When asked a simple question such as, "where are you?" while wearing the headest, users sometimes appeared confused.  Other users stated they were within spaces they were not.  Their posture changed when they put the headset on.

This is not to suggest that users believe they are within an ocean when they respond "I'm at the bottom of the ocean" while in my living room.

Using deliberately naive questions like, "What are you doing?" or "Where are you?" allows us to observe which pieces of the experience each participant feels most relevant to communicate.

Within the short clip, you will also see a few moments where users expressed their considerations of the "real world": wondering what I can see, clarifying their real world orientation, turning to face me when speaking, reaching out to feel walls/barriers.

In the observation videos, it may seem strange to watch someone tell you they are somewhere that they are very much not.

But in real-time, that moment does not feel bizarre. 

It feels a lot like your friend peeking over the fence and telling you what's on the other side.

This question reveals what the participant believes to be relevant information for relaying to the other people in the room, for clarifying their experience in virtual reality versus our own experienced reality.  It is them telling the story of their experience not the suggestion that they are indeed somewhere they are not.

  The EyeTeleporter  a periscope headset

The EyeTeleporter a periscope headset

 

Putting on the Headset

Participants tended to express that the virtual space was "more real" than they seemed to expect.  The sensation of touching the controllers often caused surprise accompanied with a giggle. 

 

Virtualization Realization

Participants note moments of "mixed reality", such as seeing/touching their controllers for the first-time, as particularly meaningful.

There is often a moment of realization that can be seen on participants faces at these moments.

 

Explaining Reality

Talking about VR experiences is often difficult for participants.  Ephemeral, embodied experiences like VR are nuanced experiences that are difficult to transpose into words.

Words, words, words.

With a field like VR, there are even lexical gaps where there simply aren't words to describe distinctions between circumstances within VR. Needless to say, these first-timers tend to struggle finding their words, both while wearing the headset and while it is off. Users often trail off from questions while wearing the headset, becoming distracted by things around them and deciding there is something more pressing to communicate, like a huge whale swimming toward them!

 

An Attention to Reality

Sometimes after a question like, "Where are you?", users seemed to become more mindful of their relationship to reality.  For example, asking questions like,

"Can you see what I see?"

Oftentimes, this topic was brought up independently by the participants.

 

Safety Protocol

 

Drug-Trip Sitting

 Image from Disney's Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Image from Disney's Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Drug-trip sitting refers to a trusted, sober companion who "babysits" someone in a mind-altering state such as someone on a hallucinogenic trip from a psychedelic drug.

Establishing protocols for worst-case scenario.

Drug-trip sitting often involves establishing clear boundaries for when the trip-sitter should intervene.  For example, preventing the person from harming themselves or others.  This framework was recommended to me by an XR researcher, Hilary Dixon.

Before participants arrive I ask them a few short questions considering potential worst-case scenarios, namely:

"Do you consider yourself to have a fear of the ocean?"
"During the session, you will be encountering simulations of immersion through a headset and headphones.  With this in mind, please describe any sensory sensitives you'd like us to be aware of before our session."
"What is your sensitivity to motion sickness, nausea, vertigo or anything of the like?"
"What kind of sandwich would you like?"

 

Depending their responses to these questions, we also cover these with more depth in-person.

 

Play-Space as Safe-Space

Blindfolded,
earmuffed,
and un-oriented to real space.

It is imperative that as practitioners we always stay sensitive to the user's circumstance while within a headset.  There is a lot of trust and power involved in the administering of these experiences.  Many user's have mentioned a nervousness about the virtual world.

Facilitation of embodied experiences requires a deep consideration surrounding consensual touch and anti-oppressive practices.  Without examinations into these fields of practice/knowledge, research will create unrecognized power dynamics within its own production, creating inherently unreliable and distracted results.

Consensual Touch

While you are wearing the headset, no one will ever touch your body or even enter your play-space without your explicit permission.  This is to ensure both physical and psychological safety for both you (and myself) throughout the session.

 

 
 Image from Netflix's "Stranger Things", Eleven floating in sensory deprivation pool with goggles on while friends and family gather around for support and to ensure safety

Image from Netflix's "Stranger Things", Eleven floating in sensory deprivation pool with goggles on while friends and family gather around for support and to ensure safety

 

"At anytime, for any reason, you can remove the headset."

This often gets a chuckle from participants but its one of the most mandatory pieces of protocol for me.
When immersed in the headset, removing it isn't as obvious as it might seem.
This piece of the protocol gives agency to the users, it reminds them of the control they have over the technology, puts them in charge over their own experience.

 
ez gif best practices.gif
 
 

Safe

All particpants are knowledgeable about the techniques and safety concerns involved in what they are doing, and all act in accordance with that knowledge.

Sane

Knowing the difference between fantasy and reality, and acting in accordance with that knowledge.

Consensual

All participants understand the nature of the activity in which they will be engaged, and the limits imposed by each participant, and respect such limits at all times.

 

I use these guidelines as a metric to evaluate my protocol.

Anytime I add anything to the experience, I examine if/how it interacts with these three tenets.

 

I've been facilitating embodied, immersive experiences for over 8 years.  Within performance work you often have to have conversations about touch, consent, fantasy vs reality, establishing and then respecting boundaries.
During my initial sessions, I was using the original Vive headset, which required me to assist users in putting the headset on for the first time.  Which required us to touch, for me to touch their hair and to put their headphones on.  It is also sometimes necessary to reposition a participant's hands on the controllers, or to untangle their headset cable.  In these instances, we already have gone over and agreed to established protocol together.
You won't find a better resource surrounding facilitation involving touch than BDSM and sexual freedom writings/guidelines/practices.  These following guidelines are a direct cut and paste from www.ncsfreedom.org.

 

 

Summary

Observations from five user sessions conducted between 06/12/18 to 06/28/2018

 
 
 
 

The Context

 

Welcome

This is my living room.  This is where the research took place.  I was sat in the wooden chair, taking notes on my laptop able to view my monitor (displaying the application view) and the person in VR.

IMG_1528.jpg
IMG_1527.jpg
 

Iterative Protocol*

This protocol has been constantly shifting and growing.  After almost every test I realize a better question to ask, or a better tone to present.  On top of the tests shown here, I've conducted several protocol demo's with users more familiar with VR in order to refine protocol transitions and gain more informed, experienced insights on the protocol.
***Within the session in the video, one of the controllers went out and we ended up shifting down to just one controller and a free hand... which was incredibly interesting to say the least, especially when transitioning into the LeapMotion hand-tracking protocol.

 
 

Sharing a Sandwich

In exchange for my participants' time, I promise to make them a sandwich.  Not to give them a sandwich, to make them a sandwich.  I think its a nice offering.  I ask them a few days beforehand what kind of sandwich they'd like and make it fresh right before they arrive.

 
 

Key Definitions:

First-Time/Initial Contact

I quantified the "first-time" experience to mean, anyone who has had less than 20 minutes in a six point-of-motion VR headset with a room-scale play-space.
3 of my participants hadn't had any prior interaction with VR headsets, "other than throwing one away".  The rest of my users had very minimal contact with VR prior to the experience with most having tried a three point-of-movement system like Google Cardboard.
One participant had experienced a demo of "some VR thing" at the mall.
All users rated their experience level with VR as less than 3 out of 10.

 

In Process: Round 2.1

  • Most participants said they'd love to come back and participate again.  Creating a protocol for repeated participation, utilizing pen & pad journaling to track/assess changes over time.
  • Re-working protocol to leverage Leapmotion hand-tracking technology to gain further insights onto the corporeal relationship to virtual space.
  • Considering remote distribution of the protocol.

 

A Special Thank You:

Bailey Smith-Dewey (Researcher)

A UX Researcher, Bailey served as my research partner for a user session and is helping to tweak the protocol with her expertise!


Hilary Dixon

Providing direction and advice throughout this process, Hilary's subject matter expertise focused this research into its current form.

 

Kyle Decker

Served as my research partner for a user session and has helped clarify protocol.

 

 
 

Where
ya
going?

 All cats were banished from the living room during tests to avoid awkward, perhaps  haunted , encounters like this.

All cats were banished from the living room during tests to avoid awkward, perhaps haunted, encounters like this.