Too close to be true: VR images bring the visible speaker into your face (literally)


Abstract

In Virtual Reality (VR), images of persons are displayed closer to the viewer than ever before. Therefore, images of strangers can come much closer into the experiences and private sphere then in accustomed socio- cultural interactions or in “conventional” moving images. Each micro movement of the face is visible in focus, allowing to read the face of a virtual person in greater detail than ever permitted in conventional distances in the real non-virtual reality.

The sensation of immersion in VR changes the way the images are depicted compared to regular moving images. The bodily representations of a virtual person differ depending on the distance of the image- framing. Thus distance affects how vision and sensorimotor interaction are anchored into somatic, mental and neural processes – into an embodied perception. Accordingly, images not only affect the visual and kinesthetic imagery but also influence the way of thinking, analyzing and understanding something or someone, and VR adds a new dimension to all those cognitive processes by enabling extreme close-ups impossible on a common screen. An unconventional immersive close-up of a person can intimidate through the unfamiliar, extremely short interpersonal distance, as the speaker is just too close to be true.

 

Introduction

Moving images are getting closer to our bodies in many ways. Especially the recent developments in Virtual Reality (VR) technology increases the immersion by tightly binding the perceived images to bodily actions, in particular head turning.

In VR, subjects and objects appearing close to the viewer evoke a strong bodily reaction, such as arousal (fear, delight, eroticism, anger). The immediate reaction is often a physical step aside or a turning of the gaze away from the scenery. VR images bring this sphere of closeness and distance between the body in the image and living body to a new level of possibilities. Hence, this article discusses the changes of interpersonal distances and aesthetics regarding the representations of virtual persons1 due to the use of close-ups in VR.

How do close-up images of virtual persons in VR affect the interpersonal distance-closeness experience? Further, which new aesthetical perspectives does VR offer on representations of virtual persons in close-ups?

At this point, the scope of this work only includes the appearances of filmed virtual persons and not animated characters, for whom different considerations may come into play. Further, when I refer to VR I mean virtual reality experienced with head-mounted displays which are just about to be released at the time of writing in Q1, 2016, the first users’ versions of e.g. Oculus Rift, Morpheus, HTC Vive and so on. Further, I am discussing the use in 360-degree VR video, not fully interactive virtual worlds. 360-degree video differs from fully interactive virtual worlds as those allow the actor to move the “camera” position and thus adjust the distance by taking a step away. In 360-degree VR video, all you can do is turn your head away, but the distance towards the image cannot be increased by a step backwards. The recent developments in VR promises a new disruptive way of immersive experiences using 360-degree VR video as „it promises to bring audiences closer to a story than any previous platform“ (Pitt 2015). But what are the consequences of bringing it closer than ever before?

 

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