Immersive Entertainment. Cinema and Virtual Reality

In recent years, virtual reality (VR) is emerging as a new frontier of innovation and experimentation in many fields and activities – medicine, enginering, military, marketing and also within so-called “immersive entertainment” – gaming, art, museum exhibition, and cinema. New headsets are placed on the market (from expensive Oculus Rift to the popular Google Cardbox); VR cinemas are spreading around the world and international festivals now host VR productions (Sundance, Tribeca, Cannes, Venice). VR is no longer just a fascinating 1990s-wave literary or cinematic subject (from Torn to the Matrix trilogy, to Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One), but also a new way of planning and creating an experience in which the spectator’s is more directly, immeditely and effectively involved and entertained through immersionand a strong sense of presence, that is the unperceived illusionto be part of an alternative world. VR has an effective capability to enter-tain the user, that is to tain the user intothe virtual world. 

Although we are at the very inception of this adventure, significant steps in theoretical reflection has already been made in relation to psychological and philosophical concepts such as presence, transportation, embodiment and empathy or to physiological issues such as motion sickness and other adverse responses to VR experience. And very much has been written on technical aspects of VR systems in cybernetics and artificial intelligence. We also know much on the history of VR as a audiovisual media, the timeline goes from Sensorama to the Oculus Rift. On the contrary, to the present, very few has been said on the linguistic, stylistic, formal and narrative dimensions of VR cinema. I want to spend some words on this today.

This is what I discuss in a paper presented on May 21 at the MediaMutations 10 international conference The “-tainment” Effect. Cultures and Logics of Entertainment Across Audiovisual and Digital Media, held at the University of Bologna.