A First Experience Of 'Presence' In VR

A First Experience Of 'Presence' In VR
December 22, 2016

Butterflies fill my stomach as I watch the trees drift by below me. I am, for the first time, inside virtual reality.

Image Source: SightLine: The Chair


I was lucky enough to stumble upon an Oculus DK2 through a friend. His old roommate had purchased it and become disenchanted. When I mentioned an interest in virtual reality, my friend was happy to hand the DK2 over to me. We share a belief that if you’re not going to use something you own, give it to someone who will.


The initial setup for an Oculus DK2 is a fairly straight forward process.


Unless of course you’re running bootcamped windows on an iMac with a mobile ATi graphics card and eerily unstable hard drive partition. After many hours of software versions and questionable registry edits, I was in! Able to walk around a demo scene of a house, yard, and trees. Leaning over the railings of a balcony and into the branches of a tree was a surreal experience.


As amazed as I was with the initial Oculus demo scene, I was not yet experiencing presence.


The low resolution of the display kept me from becoming fully immersed in the virtual experience. With the “screen door effect” , it took a minute or two each time I stepped into virtual reality for my mind to adjust and accept the lower resolution images.


Resolution is easy to overlook, as I was soon to find out.


I discovered this in a little demo called Flying Aces. A short game that puts you as a pilot of a WWI biplane. The graphics of this game are straight out of 2002, but it is easy to look past this once you experience the first minute of flight.


As I increase the throttle and pull back on the joystick, the plane lifts into the air, climbing towards the sky. After a few moments of staring at a blue skybox, I make the fateful decision of looking over the edge of my seat to the ground. In this moment I realized the immense power of virtual reality. The ground is no longer near my feet, I am in a small cockpit high in the sky. Butterflies fill my stomach as I watch the trees drift by below me. I am, for the first time, inside virtual reality.


The experience of virtual reality changed my gaming habits.


I have always considered VR the next logical step in gaming. Now I no longer feet the need to play games on a 2D monitor. Waiting for virtual reality technologies to flesh themselves out is well worth it. I spend my free time reading, writing, and learning about VR and other topics. Preparing myself for a world filled with virtual experiences and opportunities.


My second experience of presence was an exciting few minutes of sitting.


This experience took place in a little demo known as Sight Line: The Chair. A tech demo displaying events triggered by where the player is looking, or not looking. The entire experience consists of sitting in a chair and looking around.


As you turn your head to view the world around you, things outside of your sightline are changing.


Sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes obviously. A small adventure unfolds as you look around the virtual world to take in all the details.


When looking down, you see your avatar’s hands laying on your lap. I found myself placing my hands into the exact position of the virtual ones, and almost feeling “stuck” in that position. I was in the virtual world, I felt presence.


The Chair is a lovely demo for showing off the possibilities of virtual reality.


Simple experiences like that of The Chair and Flying Ace show us the power of even low resolution, low poly, and low interaction virtual reality can have on a person. The rapid development of room scale and touch controls adds an entire new level of interaction. Being able to move around freely within VR intensifies the feeling of presence.


It is the power of presence that has lead me on a path of discovery.


Putting my lifelong gaming habit on the backburner in order to learn and discover the power of virtual reality, and where it might take us, has been an easy transition from a life of gaming. Like most of us poking around in virtual reality, my journey has only just begun.

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