What is that?
Interreality is a space wherein non-screen mediated interactions between people in virtual reality (VR) and people in conventional reality (CR) occur.
VR is often positioned as being at odds with CR. Interreality lies where these two realities overlap. As the industry continues to speculate about the potential of VR, its CR surroundings are typically ignored, or even considered a technological constraint. A traditional (and the most conventional) interpretation of an interreal interaction would include watching others engage in a VR experience. However, there are experiences more engaging than "watching" that can exist in this liminal space. How can we use this space to change the VR experience from an individual one to a collective one?
By inverting the ways we traditionally think about perspective, presence, and control in virtual environments, we can use the conventional space within which VR is bound to create an interreal space where both VR and CR parties are equally engaged.
Over the course of 2 months, I immersed myself in social investigations of already-existing VR games and social VR platforms, created some interreal experiences of my own, and hosted a co-creative workshop that involved finding ways to use the hardware "wrong" in attempts to uncover some fundamentals of interreality.
Out of all these investigations five core themes emerged: physicality, collaboration, asymmetry, control, and space. Here are my thoughts about them.
Five design principles of interreality and the observations from which they came
1: Be physical
Be it physical contact, or elements of performance, interreality presents a multitude of opportunities to engage our entire bodies. Touch for example, can function as both input and feedback. In some scenarios, physical cues may be the only information CR parties can have about the virtual world. To a VR party, touch may reveal an invisible CR obstacle. Alternatively, physical objects can be used to solve problems in virtual space (standing on a chair to reach a virtual item, for example). For the participants, and perhaps for the benefit of the audience, interreality provides the opportunity to exaggerate movement to the fullest degree - in attempts to convey, communicate, or simply entertain.
Physical contact is the new body language.
A new way to communicate.
Humans are haptic too.
They supply feedback about the conventional world and the things within it.
Exaggerated movement is memorable.
Bigger is better.
Think about theater.
Performativity keeps the audience engaged.
Use real-world items to achieve virtual goals.
Use a chair to grab hard-to-reach items.
Movement within close contact affects gameplay decisions.
Awareness of the other player: helpful or hurtful?
2. It feels good to work together
And it feels good to be together. Interreality makes fertile ground for exploring new types of socialization and alternative modes of communication. As compared to increasingly popular social VR platforms (which are ironically difficult to use in tandem with conventional company), interreality allows for more opportunities to leverage shared space to enhance the shared experience. Most interreality interactions involve some form of collaboration. Working together increases the willingness of people to try again and keep playing until their goal is reached; "Failing" or "losing" just turns into motivation to practice and adapt together. This togetherness often ends up being more important than any scorekeeping alone. After all, it still feels good to be together.
Social VR requires isolation.
Ignorance of CR company creates proximal reality dissonance.
VR is already social.
Similar to other digital media and epitomized by twitch, a popular social VR activity is simply watching.
The more you work together, the easier it gets.
Duh. But important that you are practicing and adapting together.
It feels good to fail together.
Which is fun, and fun makes you want to keep trying.
Interreality games are not about the outcome.
You can play just to be playing.
VR is goal-oriented.
It's something you set time to do.
Collaboration is crucial.
in order to accomplish a task (waiting for this to be disproven).
Interreality is a good space to explore non-verbal, non-visual communication.
What other actions can you use?
3. Create imbalances
Imbalanced interactions create the necessity of working together in interreality. VR can be used as a tool that provides more information than CR alone. But it can also be used in order to take away information and control. Consider all the things you can't see while wearing a headset, as well as what you can. Awareness of these asymmetrical points of access to each reality is crucial when designing interactions across them. Gaps in knowledge between parties turn the unknown into something to be discovered. Imbalanced sensory abilities also frequently allow for the incorporation of a mediator into the interaction. The imbalances however, must be balanced to engage both realities equally, avoiding effects like visual VR FOMO on the part of the CR party. A nice trick to avoid this is to have a motion trace or some other artifact generated by the performance for the participants to look at afterwards.
VR can be an extra sense.
A tool that provides more information than CR alone.
VR can be sensory deprivation.
A tool that takes away some of the information CR provides.
One person's missing information is another person's tool.
Another incentive to work together.
Interreality requires a sensitive balance of sensory input.
This balance can be surprising.
Embrace the unknown.
Mediation is important.
Three out of four workshop games had someone facilitating the interaction.
Asymmetrical roles to achieve symmetrical goals.
Different responsibilities make for a satisfying way to work together.
Leave a reminder.
To ease virtual FOMO.
4. Adjust the controls
Controllers aren't just worse hands. they are new tools that have their own properties which are being ignored - both as a virtual and conventional objects. Distributing controls across realities is a handy way to start exploring this. Pay attention to what the virtual representations of the controllers can tell you about the bodies behind them. Would you be able to guess who is holding one from the movement alone? What is a minimum recognizable avatar? It is also important not to forget what roles an observer can play - and to remember you don't need digital control to control a digital experience. The Swayze effect is typically believed to cause frustrating tension in VR. But taking away or inverting controls can deepen an interaction by creating imbalances for participants to reconcile.
Controllers don't need to control objects.
Sometimes they control people.
Two people controlling one avatar does not make them feel like one person.
Why duck if you don't have to?
When controllers are controlled by someone else, they do not feel like your own.
Despite the first-person view.
Control assumes personality.
What your movements say about you.
Control is not necessary to engage.
Figure out how to communicate it.
No headset required.
Detect virtual objects in conventional space.
No agency required.
"Fall when I tell you to."
Limitations are affordances.
When is a headset not a headset?
5. Consider space
Virtual spaces have no rules. Virtual objects, environments, and physics can mimic CR, but shouldn't be expected to do so. The properties of space - conventional and virtual alike - provide unique opportunities for interreality. There are ways use physical space to store virtual items, so could you store physical objects virtually? Play with the roles people play in the space they occupy. To establish a shared spatial understanding between CR and VR parties, it is helpful to limit the virtual space to the physical space it inhabits. Have fun with the dissonance you can create between what people expect from virtual vs. conventional space. Are all objects in the same dimension? Will the feedback be helpful or hurtful? Will the spaces lead, mislead, or just simply be?
Space can be filled.
With virtual stuff.
Space has edges.
Even the virtual ones.
Fixed space is required for a shared spatial understanding.
You can create spatial memory in the wrong space.
Expansive virtual space not required.
Just a small amount will do.
People behave differently in simulations of real spaces.
An empty crowd at VRChat open mic night.
2D items signify different things in virtual space.
Than they do in conventional space.
Interreality engages the audience too.
Observers implicitly understand the space.
Here come the concessions
Oops, I lied
About how many themes emerged. There are many many more factors involved in creating an interreality and this list of principles is by no means exhaustive.
For example, I have neglected to include any principle concerning audio in my list. It obviously is a huge component of interreality, which I believe merits much deeper investigation. I hope to continue to expand the outer limits of reality and uncover some of the other themes and patterns and behaviors that emerge.
Some things on my mind these days are co-embodiment, the interreal potential of augmented reality, the limits (or lack thereof) of cross-reality interactions with objects, and new modes of communication, to list a few.
If this sounds cool to you and you are interested in exploring more stuff, hanging out, or just shooting the shit, say hi to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.