The Advent of Massively Distributed Virtual Reality and Its Impact on Bodily Experiences and Identity Management

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 16:15
Location: Dachgeschoss (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Jonathan HARTH, Universitat Witten/Herdecke, Germany
At least since Queer Studies one must assume that the potential abilities of the body always exceed what is permitted by culture. Currently, this limitation appears to be negotiated in terms of technical advancements. In the upcoming year of 2016 major companies will be presenting their first generation of Virtual Reality (VR) devices. It is highly anticipated that the social impact of these products and their technically induced immersion-experiences will be gigantic.

Therefore, I dedicate this lecture to the status quo of the technical standards of VR and its upcoming possibilities and uses. I would like to contextualize this technical point of view by the following theoretical aspects:

  1. From a sociological perspective body is always considered as (culturally) observed body. Therefore body has is no longer static but poly-contextural. The possibilities of VR are able to make this observable.
  2. Computers in general but especially computer-games offer elaborate »spaces of possibilities«, which are mainly characterized by the possibility of taking the role of someone else. The possibilities of VR are putting this to an even higher level by creating an immersive »space of presence«.
  3. Each action in virtual environments must be seen as a hybridization of real-physical and virtual-software-based rooms. The so called »real world« and the worlds of virtual reality are fully intertwined. Therefore every involvement in VR must inevitably lead to new forms of habits, skills and cultural structures.

For the discussion I can rely on an empirical study (Harth 2014) with players of computer-games that focused on hybridization between these players and their digital avatars. This basis will be complemented by a still ongoing study that aims at spatial presence and bodily experiences in VR.