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– The conference takes place in «Concert Hall 3». –

What are the potential future scenarios enabled by Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR) and Virtual Reality (VR)? What fundamentally feeds our expectations and vocabulary in the discursive debate about VR? In what ways will the triad of body, consciousness and technology be linked in future? Which challenges does VR pose in terms of design and ethics?

VR has become a fashionable buzz word within a very short space of time. Yet despite the much publicised market introduction of VR technology for consumers just a year ago and the excitement this has generated, sales figures for the available systems are still rather modest. The blind euphoria which accompanied the birth of the new medium has been replaced by a more muted reception. It is slowly becoming evident that the experiment needs to evolve in terms of content and be followed by market-ready products which meet expectations. Some projects which were presented at international festivals, such as «Birdly» (Somniacs), «Notes on Blindness» (AGAT Films & Cie), «In the Eyes of the Animal» (Marshmallow Laser Feast) or «6X9» (The Guardian), give a flavour of what is achievable and what can be experienced in VR. Many others, however, do not do justice to the magic associated with the data glasses, and leave behind nothing more than teary, red eyes, and a queasy feeling.

What is sold, at first glance, as a liberating release from the foundations of the real world, often reveals itself as a disappointment in its practical execution – either because the glasses and technologies used are still in their infancy, or because the developers of these so-called «immersive experiences» follow the hype around technology but do not seem to have the kind of ideas needed to transform these sterile, mathematically perfectly designed digital space matrixes and fill them with content. Critics all seem to agree on certain aspects of AR, MR and VR: there is a shortage of genuine content and possibilities for interaction, and a lack of captivating stories and convincing renderings of the virtual space as an «immersive space».

Our expectations of the medium have been shaped in particular by Science Fiction films and literature. Films such as «World on a Wire» (1973) by Rainer Werner Fassbinder or «Matrix» (1999) by the Wachowski siblings, or the books «The Futurological Congress» (1971) by Stanislaw Lem and «Neuromancer» (1984) by William Gibson, fuel our imagination of what might await us when we delve into virtual spaces. Although the filmic and literary representations of the subject tend to focus on dystopic scenarios, we still seem to have an unabated interest in ways of immersing ourselves in a parallel world – albeit with more positive connotations.

This year’s annual conference on «Expanding Immersive Design» addresses the hype around Virtual Reality and takes a critical look at the related vocabulary. The discussion of the term «immersion» is a useful starting point. It is then possible, as a first step, to create some critical distance towards the phenomenon, before we can finally approach it again from a more aware, and differentiated point of view.

The talks focus on genuine interactions, stories and content which have been specifically developed for the new medium, and the creation of social experiences in VR. To arrive at a more aware point of view – in the sense of defining a position – when looking at VR, it is necessary to talk to the developers in the field. Successful start-ups and projects are carefully examined, their innovative design strategies are revealed in making-of talks and moderated conversations, and explored in workshops and exhibitions. All speakers share an unwavering enthusiasm and fascination for technology and the possibilities it opens up to create new immersive worlds. The mimetic representation of experiences and events, attempts which all too often aim for hyperrealism, are obviously not the only possible way to meet our culturally and historically informed expectations of VR. The conference formulates an appeal for new, specifically devised formats for the medium and proposes a departure from «simple» transfers of existing media formats to VR.

The team (Maike Thies und Jonas Christen) leading the conference ventures further and takes an interdisciplinary look at VR and immersive technologies. This involves, as a focal point, a search for strategies of design, space, narrative and interaction both multi-modal and multi-sensory, which challenge and move us, which enable us to have common experiences, and which make us think and stir a hunger in us to see our real world with critical eyes.

Recordings of the first conference can be seen here.

© 2199. Fragment, 2017.
© 2199. Fragment, 2017.