Emulsional Worlds in 8 (or more) dimensions


Once you start to dig deeper into emulsional worlds, you realize that determining where/when/why you are is much more complicated that in the physical (analog) space. As a human moving through the physical world, you’re really only worried about 4-dimensions – x, y, z (position) and then time (which is continuous). But now as you then delve into the digital, you invariably have various representations that have been created. Currently most are focused on the visual sense, but sound is present some of the time, haptics is starting to get traction, and taste/smell – well, those have been explored before and are problematic for a variety of reasons but inevitably will be sorted as well.

As I said before, each sense has an associated uncanny valley, and those chasms influence each other dynamically. So for an experience in an emulsional world, the designer needs to think about up to 8 dimensions relative to the user. As the user engages, they have their own physical position, their own virtual position (maybe – depends on the interaction), and then uncanny valleys for each sense stimulated by the content/experience. As a developer, you can’t ignore the human position and time – that is inherent to their analog being and while you can play perceptual tricks, it is part of being human.

Then you need to think about user agency (9th dimension?). In some cases, as a developer, you want to provide it. In other cases, you don’t. The rub here is that your user may demand it…or they might have no interest. How will you know which user you have, and how can you develop experiences that serve both? Or can you even do that?

Here’s a concrete example. Part of my problem with 360video is that it is great for providing a first-person visual experience. But when you try to tell a story, it begins to fall apart. The Mythbusters shark videos are a perfect example. I am a huge fan of Mythbusters (one of the greatest jobs on TV) and they are particularly good at blending science, narrative, and explosions to engage an audience. But in the 360 shark videos, the narrative continually has to lead the user by the nose, telling them where to look in order to advance the narrative. This conceit gets old fast and annoys the more adventurous user who wants more agency, and is similarly unsatisfying to the user who wants to sit and watch.

This is part of why I’m not crazy about 360video, but believe that we need to keep beating on it conceptually. It also is why I have a problem with most VR experiences that aren’t highly game-like. Game mechanics (good ones) can serve to direct a user to where you want them to go. You have to do that since you don’t have infinite game space to use. But narrative tools, at least as evolved for screens, are mostly thrown out the window in VR/360. Story on screen works for a number of reasons, and directors/cinematographers are a big part of that. Point of View is critical, and in VR/360 you (as a content creator) largely cede that to the end user. Danger Will Robinson…