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Brand New World

Words:

Edd Norval
February 18, 2019

The way we see the future usually works like this: We predict some things and they don't come true. Then the seemingly futuristic creations that actually happen are things that we couldn't have predicted. Everyone thought we'd have flying cars, but we don't. Nobody thought we'd have self-lacing shoes, but we do. Virtual reality is something we've always kind of understood. Now it's coming to art.

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Artists of all varieties, from animators to writers, aim to build worlds. Very rarely, if ever, are the greatest works of art not thought of as immersive. For you to feel the full power of something, you must be enveloped within it. When we create art, we are limited by a great many things. Usually it's by the materials on offer (besides the obvious point of an artist's own talent).


There's one that often goes amiss though and that's the facts of the physical world and its constituent parts, predominantly the capabilities of a person mechanically and phenomena like gravity, in what can be reached. Things like how paint clings to things or actually just finding the available space to create something in.


Virtual reality made its headway into our lives as part of computer games. Computer games are often on the frontier of immersion. It is for them, more than maybe any other art form, what it lives and dies by. If you can't get into a game, it's a dud. Artistic merit counts for very little if you're not having fun in a game you've just bought.

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Video game studios are undoubtedly on the frontier of experiences between creator and audience. They don't just use the tech, but a plethora of artistic skills like scriptwriting and photography to make their worlds come to life. Still though, when it all boils down to it, they are limited by the technology available.


So it's at this junction that art has been since time immemorial. Their limit was, as mentioned, the physical world. Now artists are beginning to take heed from the computer game studios by seeking to expand their horizons by challenging these physical constraints. To do this, artists are increasingly turning towards virtual reality programmes to create art to be viewed by audiences through augmented reality apps on phones, or headsets.


Goldman Sachs estimates that the global virtual reality market will grow to $95bn by 2025. That's a lot of new ideas. VR is noted for being all-encompassing. The last thing that limited people was the physical world and now, as if by magic, simply donning a headset or looking through a certain screen can erase all of the ideas that scientists and philosophers have contributed to our understanding of the world. It erases boundaries and doesn't replace them with others (or not really).

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It's not simply painters or sculptors that will benefit from being able to build worlds though, but theatre and stage performances too. These art forms will have the opportunity to push their boundaries and aim to challenge the stalwart of cinema and home entertainment. Whilst theatre was once a dominating way to view performance, it has fallen by the wayside over the last few decades.


Although things like 3D hasn't added too much to cinema, it's partly the fact that theatre has such as archaic reputation that keeps it from exploring new channels. By adopting virtual reality technology, theatre can remain as theatre, or opera as opera, but set designers or VFX teams can add elements that would have previously been unimaginable.


We are in the honeymoon period for virtual reality. When everything seems possible, people tend to be blinded by the options and miss the mark by casting too wide a net. It's fair enough. It's an exciting addition to our lives. But as we grow more accustomed to the technology, so too will the way we want to use it. Realistically, it probably won't be about 'the bigger the better', but rather how it can be used as a subtle enhancement.


We've all seen the horrific predictions of what this could mean for our future. Dystopian realities where we rate each interpersonal interaction seem nearer than ever before. Processes whereby we can live our most engaged life without looking up from a screen are pretty much already here. But I believe that has a limit. We're not going to keep going down the rabbit hole forever. Look at our past inventions.


An accumulation of human wonder has got us to the point we are at now and that won't stop because we have some fancy new goggles. The future will be written by the same innate curiosity and longing for exploration that we've always shared. Only now, we don't have to worry about the constraints of the physical world. Anything, truly, is possible.

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