the agency conundrum

One of the main challenges with creating for immersive is the question of user agency. Traditional “film” (any screen really) is typically a zero agency situation – you sit in a theater or at home and watch what someone else created. Computers created the possibility for some agency with the ability to click (hyperlinks) to change the narrative – assuming there is a narrative.

If you consider casual VR (like Cardboard), a 360 still image provides an interaction for the user where they have full agency, at least with regards to motion and where to look (the environment has been determined by the person who took the photo). 360 video on the other hand creates a bit of a conundrum for both the creator and the end user. For the creator, there is the whole problem of narrative (assuming one is desired) – that will be a topic for another piece. For the end user, going from still to video moves from full to partial agency. And that partial agency can be highly problematic. Introducing time into the interaction complicates things on various levels. The user still gets to choose where to look, but the luxury of time has been removed.

Partial agency is somewhat is not well modeled at this point, and may never quite work. Or maybe users can be “trained” into accepting incomplete control. A Buddhist would argue there is no control anyway, at least not real control, but we’re talking digital where all philosophical bets may be off.