Can Virtual Reality Show Us What Love Feels Like?

Images courtesy the artists

As I traveled through a dark landscape towards numerous colorful forms and rushing triangular arrangements, objects that symbolized signals sent by the brain through the nervous system, complemented by textual descriptions and narrations of people's personal experiences with love, I forgot I was sitting on a stool with a headset strapped to my cranium.

Presented by Immersive, a London-based multidisciplinary design firm, the virtual reality experience known as LoVR was showcased at South By Southwest Interactive 2015. "Our NSC Creative designer [Aaron Bradbury] said he fell in love with his wife within four seconds of seeing her," CEO John Munro explained to The Creators Project at SXSW. "He wanted to expand these four seconds into four minutes."

By immersing viewers within LoVR's increasingly representative visuals of bloodstreams and neurons, they can be made to identify with the ways in which the bodily systems carry the endorphins that accompany the experience of falling in love. It's true that we can do this with a film, but there's something more to it with VR. By being completely surrounded by these visuals, viewers can even understand and relate to the overwhelming rush of stimulation, something akin to what falling in love feels like.

But simply shutting out external distractions with the headset isn't enough—rather, VR artists must rely on the way we process visual stimuli when comprehending a visual narrative in order to trick the brain. "To make the brain believe it's really there and its surroundings are real, [you] need to take the viewer in carefully and smoothly," Munro explained.

Munro often returns to the metaphor of "a journey" when describing the creation of storylines for the narrative's visuals. Viewers start at a simple scene, but this eventually leads somewhere more grand. "We expand their virtual environment bit by bit until they're relaxed enough for us to completely transform them into an out-of-body experience." A few minutes after the visuals expand, that's when the virtual reality becomes reality.

In addition to adding a new dimension of understanding to film narratives, virtual reality will provide artists and viewers the ability to experience "feelings" not possible through more familiar mediums such as painting or film. "[With VR] it can be like, 'Well I am feeling a bit more blue than yellow now because I am slowly floating down the colour spectrum, like a James Turrell installation,'" Munro explains. "Creators have the opportunity to do some more abstract stories with more impact." The reasoning behind these new capabilities lies in the differences between VR and our more accustomed visual mediums. Where the framing for a typical 16:9 flatscreen film is dependent on a flat mise-en-scene, VR completely surrounds viewers within a story's scenic visuals. As a result, viewers cannot look away to disrupt the experience.

It's true that we now have the technology to create immersive and surrealistic out-of-body experiences whereby we can better understand the artists' intentions, but it could very well be awhile before such intimate projects become the standard. Still, people are optimistic that we will soon be able to push boundaries. "It's best that we create these new things in this new world [of VR]," Munro explained via email. "This exercise in imagination is what will accelerate human innovation."

LoVR is available to download directly from www.immersive.eu

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