Monday Musings: My Brain, on VR

Blog Posts ,Random Musings ,Virtual Reality
November 16, 2015

Welcome to Monday Musings! These are are shorter-form, note-like blog posts that I share that may or may not be related to VR/AR, but that I want to share some quick thoughts on, get some extra insight on, or share out quickly.

This week, I’m going to share a weird, yet oddly entertaining and educational experience that I had in VR the other day. I had brought my GearVR into the office to play Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (best way to end the week!) and spent a little bit of time just playing around with the Oculus app. I discovered the camera pass through feature, and decided to see what it would feel like to go about my day.

I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t a traditional virtual or mixed reality type of experience, but I was absolutely fascinated by how quickly my brain managed to adapt to the different way of seeing the world. Even at almost 25, it seems the elasticity of my brain allows me to swap between two mildly different frames of reference in viewing the world with minimal overhead.

Virtual Reality for Physical and Motor Rehabilitation, in Virtual Reality Technologies for Health and Clinical Applications (Cheung, Tunik, Adomovich 2014) [PDF Download]  investigated how virtual reality technologies can be used for motor rehabilitation in patients, which got me thinking about what’s going on in my brain as I use these technologies. Fully immersive VR definitely gives my brain a little dose of “hmm, something’s off right now,” but as I mentioned earlier – I was really impressed how after just a couple of minutes using the camera pass through I was completely functional in the world as if I wasn’t having my depth perception distorted at all.

In the video above, I’m reviewing one of The Napping Kat’s blog posts through the eyes of my Samsung Galaxy S6. Before I worked on that, though, I was walking around the office, practicing opening doors and giving high fives. Within a few minutes, my brain had adjusted to the constant refocusing and lack of peripheral vision, and made the minor adjustments required to be able to use my fine motor skills even though my “eyes” were seeing the world offset by several inches.

I’m not going to lie and say that I didn’t feel any motion sickness, but it was quite startling to me how little it was – almost as though my brain was hesitant to declare anything totally wrong. It was certainly manageable. I’ve written about my experiences with VR motion sickness in a previous Monday Musing post, and this was the first time I was able to shut down MR-induced motion sickness the way I can adapt to real-world sickness: another sign that my brain seems to be moving on the path of losing too much of a distinction between digital and real-world triggers.

Overall, the experience was definitely interesting – though I’ve tried using camera pass through in other devices before, this was the first time I stayed in it for a significant amount of time (I’d estimate about half an hour, consecutive) and tried a relatively strenuous task (reading on a computer screen) – the results were oddly positive.

I’m really curious about how this might be changing my brain over a longer period of time, and I’m really looking forward to seeing these analyses come as more research is done. After taking off the headset, I felt an odd detachment from my quieter mixed reality world – my eyes took a second to readjust to the expansion of my peripheral vision, but I appreciated the higher resolution and lack of lag that natural vision allowed. Still, a part of me did enjoy the filter between the physical world and the digital one, which allowed me to focus only on smaller tasks at a time – I am incredibly excited to see what sort of mixed reality experiences begin to emerge that take full advantage of the technology to give our brains a chance to play.

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