Week 9: Rethinking Virtual “Reality”

According to Favro, the interpretation of history “informs subsequent development.” This means that the perspectives and knowledge that one takes away from an experience affect what happens from there on, either as it is later taught or how one understands it and how it shapes their beliefs. This could also be applied to the virtual simulation experiences that are talked about in this week’s articles. These simulations are made by “researchers experimenting with new technologies” (Favro), and the knowledge that the experience produces are affected by the researchers’ initial understanding of what they are portraying, but also how the information  and experience comes across to the user. This reminds me of previous weeks’ readings about data visualizations, and how there is much room for error in how the user interprets what they are seeing, especially if they have room to assume. This miscommunication between visualization and user is a recurring issue in digital humanities work. Favro, when discussing his Roman historical site modeling project, mentions some ways to prevent it, such as “expansive metadata” explaining the context as well as including “surrounding environmental context” to give users reference. There are still problems, however. Favro says that users get too focused on the “knowledge representations” that are the visualization and lose the content. I think this is because there is too much focus on the visualization being an accurate “simulation”. The users assume and want a “hyper-realistic simulacra,” and then lose interest when the reality of the program’s technical incapabilities gets in the way. This could be avoided by the researchers shifting focus about what the experience’s goals are. The solution to sub-par “reality” visuals is to approach it in a different way, focusing on the experience and content rather than the visuals. A slightly unrealistic visualization that claims to be “virtual reality” is misleading to users. They either get a false understanding or what is reality, or get frustrated because it can’t compare to reality. Instead, digital humanities researchers should think of new ways to use the programs, and make the execution a personalized project just like the step of choosing a technology to work with in the first place. For example, there are more and more applications of augmented-reality coming out. Augmented-reality is a way to combine real with virtual, but still, many companies think of the virtual as trying to simulate the real as much as possible. There is a reason it is virtual, and this new medium should come with new ways to approach it, instead of “simulating” something that it is not. There are so many possibilities that can expand the content of the experience because it uses a virtual environment, if only the concept of “reality” is rethought. Instead of trying to be realistic, take advantage of being unrealistic and make it work to the program. Looking “unrealistic” can be an advantage just as well, and can work better for users, because it can get them to focus on the content instead of how “realistic” the experience looks.

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