October 1, 2017
The Basically Good Media Lab (BGML) has acquired a Hololens. This has been a long time coming, partially because I was waiting for the technology to come down in price. I have a loose rule that if I can’t buy at least two of something comfortably, I don’t think it’s social enough to have it. Being together in reality (*R?) is one of the tenets of the BGML.
I broke the rule because AR is seeping into the mainstream with ARKit and it seemed like experiencing what is currently the state of the art in AR would be a good thing. I want to have a feel for AR in the same way that I have a feel for VR.
Last weekend, I brought the Hololens home and spent some time with it, about an hour and a half. When I went back to my iPhone, it felt like ancient technology. More than ever I am convinced that AR is the future. Besides playing around with putting 3D models and animations in my kitchen (totally magical!), I experimented with the games that came pre-installed in the Hololens. There was a game that had silverfish-like robots coming out of the walls, which required artful dodging and shooting. I loved how much it induced movement and how I was not afraid to move since this was my own kitchen and I knew exactly where I was at any moment (unlike VR…where there’s always some mystery even with motion capture).
But then I tried a game called Fragments. When it starts, a man appears in my kitchen. This is not a man I would necessarily invite into my kitchen. I’m creeped out and take off the headset. A friend who is in the kitchen with me is curious about me being creeped out and puts the headset on. He continues the game. He then gets creeped out and takes it off. I get curious and put the headset back on. I turn and to my horror I see a young boy kneeling with a gun to his head. I immediately take the headset off. Now here’s the interesting thing. I now have a memory of this boy with a gun to his head in my kitchen. It’s a spatial memory and I can’t seem to shake it. There is something about an embedded virtual spatial narrative into my known physical space that caused a memory to be viscerally recorded in a way that a narrative on a 2D screen (or even VR) is not.
This brings up a lot of issues including ethics of representation in VR and AR, and informed consent in some cases. Jordon Wolfson’s “Real Violence” shocked me in a similar way at the Whitney Biennale. But even that piece didn’t stick in my memory in the same way. It may be that over time, I would become used to the idea of virtual characters and stories in my personal spaces and they would no longer impact me in that visceral way. But for now, I am pondering the role of spatial memory in emotional impact. I am used to being emotionally affected and sometimes shocked by screened movies but the memory of those narratives lives somewhere a lot more abstracted than this little boy with a gun to his head, in my kitchen.