XR is Dead
Long Live Immersive Whatever?
With my laptop dangling on the corner of a small fold-out table, here some quick notes from the last weeks.
As Catherine Allen and others have pointed out, the term XR has run its course in terms of representing the Extended Realities. With the Extinction Rebellion claiming that same acronym, and obviously needing it more, we should find another way to describe what we do. I dislike the fact that this is a constant and on-going search. Immersive as a general theme still works. Using Mixed Realities as a catch-all term is absolutely fine for me, even when including VR because I always found the VR/AR/MR separation a bit silly but those differences are fading as wearable devices take on multiple features, a trend that will expand. But finally, I am actually a big fan of the term ‘New Realities’ (NR), such as in use by a few people in recent years, and more officially adopted by places such as the w+k Department of New Realities, based here in Amsterdam where I am sitting having a coffee in Cafe FUKU in the warm spring sunshine.
I had some great discussions with Kiira Benzing about how an increase in VR use could save the pressure on our environment in terms of travel and tourism. How can we satisfy at least some of that hunger for adventure with virtual journeys that - at least in terms of flights - lower our carbon footprint? Imagine if 5% of all travel world-wide is replaced with virtual journeys. It would be significant. And as virtual worlds turn social, you’ll be travelling with others, or meeting strangers along your way.
That to me is a really interesting promise of the new Realities. Future visions of virtual travel have obvious dystopian implications - and I am not going to go there this time. it is up to us to decide how that plays out, lets leave it at that. Equally, human contact and exposure to other cultures is absolutely crucial for us as humans to understand both nature and each other. And I can never imagine a scenario where I personally would forgo real travel entirely.
But imagine a No Mans Sky or the future of procedural worlds such as from Improbable. And imagine if after a decade, rather than the pure and sterile mathematical nature of these generative worlds, or the inunhabited spaces you explore alone, imagine if humans have settled by then, have built and added and created a human culture within them. Second Life comes to mind. VRChat, Altspace VR and Sansar are more recent versions of this.
I wrote a few years ago about how Playing Games Is Like Travelling. Throughout my life, journeys through game environment have often felt like a unique type of adventure. Different, but similar to travelling. Except the world is reset every time you plays. Networked collective spaces will create permanent virtual human cultural settlements, a valuable commodity in the coming decades. The Marshmallow gig in Fortnite showed us a small vision of that recently.
On the flipside, I wonder about the carbon footprint that the VR industry itself generates through headset production, server energy consumption and shipping/packaging, etc. If this industry grows like we all hope it will, I’d be very interested to work out how much the footprint grows along with it. If you know any links please send. Because the drive for new headsets and technology add-ons also means we discard the old very quickly.
Most of the discussions on sustainability and VR/AR are more broadly about how VR will educate us about the beauty of our natural world and connects us to it better than traditional forms of storytelling, or of how pollution and climate change are happening. Not so much about the pollution the immersive scene itself is generating.
Finally, I was honored to be invited by Peter Decherney to speak at the University of Pennsylvania, alongside some amazing people from the immersive scene, at the Wolf Conference on Immersive Storytelling, at the Cinema Studies department.
We shared a lot of insights and debated issues around AR, VR and extended technologies like volumetric capture and AI, but also discussed the challenges around accessibility and representation in the immersive storytelling space, which are equally important to help the medium grow in my opinion. And we heard from the incredibly talented students at Penn-U, who are the next generation of creators, already hacking the tools they have access to, and approaching things in completely new ways. Inspiring days.
Nonny de la Peña’s work was a highlight; she gave a demo of a new web-based volumetric platform Emblematic are building. Reach is described as the first web platform for creating, remixing, and sharing volumetric VR using real people and places.
”Created by the pioneers at Emblematic Group, REACH makes the immersive power of volumetric VR available to anyone. A simple drag-and-drop interface lets users place real people into high-res 3D environments, and then share the results via a simple web link. Sign up now to become part of our growing community!”
Reach aims to help journalists create cost effective VR content. Check it out for yourself: http://beta.reach.love, it’s really fun to play with and works on laptops and even tablets.
I am hanging out in Amsterdam and London for the coming weeks, shout if you’re around and fancy a coffee.
As always, thanks for reading.