VR at Rencon

Say, I’m pleased to report I’ll be on a panel on VR and science fiction at Rencon tomorrow. The best part is I get to be on said panel with VR visionaries Eugene Capon and Eric Neuman. These gents are pushing this medium forward and I can’t wait to see what they reveal about their latest projects. The convention program is loaded with talks and … Continue reading VR at Rencon

Magic Leap in Georgetown

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along, please.

I walked past Magic Leap‘s new office in Georgetown the other day and got an immediate vibe that I was under surveillance. Georgetown has long been one of my favorite places because from an urban planning perspective it is one of Seattle’s most bizarre. On paper, nobody should really want to live, shop, or work in Georgetown. It’s noisy, abutting Boeing field, which means that several times a day 777s and other aircraft come down low enough that you can see their rivets. Interstate 5 and Airport Way are loud and full of trucks. Shops and restaurants hug Airport Way, creating a long, skinny strip of commerce. And yet somehow it works. Georgetown has excellent coffee, a well-stocked musical instrument shop, and antique stores that specialize in industrial byproducts transformed into art. Artistan-run startups specializing in offset printing and product design occupy the Rainier Cold Storage building. Fantagraphics Books operates their comics-filled flagship store in the same space as a vinyl record store. There’s even a charming little “mall” in the form of a trailer park. I tend to discover something magical and unexpected every time I visit Georgetown. Continue reading “Magic Leap in Georgetown”

Amplifying Empathy, by Christopher Robinson and Amanda Knox

Editor’s Note: Writers Christopher Robinson and Amanda Knox, a real-life couple, recently experienced Machine to Be Another. Following is their exclusive report for ryanboudinotisahack.com.

Robinson and Knox experiencing Machine to Be Another

Amplifying Empathy

By Amanda Knox and Christopher Robinson

The Machine to Be Another is an experiment, an experience, and an interactive art installation created by Barcelona’s BeAnotherLab that allows two people to embody each other through virtual reality. As presented at TWIST: Seattle Queer Film Festival, the experience includes three phases: 1) participants swap perspectives and adjust by slowly mirroring each other’s movements; 2) mirrors are introduced, allowing participants to see the body they are inhabiting; and 3) the partition is removed, allowing the participants to see their own bodies as viewed from the other’s perspective. As partners, we tried the Machine together. The following is a mimetic response to the experience, written in three parts corresponding to the three phases.

Continue reading “Amplifying Empathy, by Christopher Robinson and Amanda Knox”

The Moment Fallout 4 Became Art to Me

Your new guest columnist, Strong the Super Mutant. Just kidding.

A few months ago I took it upon myself to learn more about video games after a couple decades of literary fiction snobbery. I don’t think I’m unique in having considered video games a lower art form. I was open to the notion that games can be art, but I mostly avoided gaming and felt that most games were beneath my intelligence.

Games aren’t alone in the cultural margins. For most of the twentieth century, comic books were considered a low art form. Seattle publisher Fantagraphics played an instrumental role in changing perceptions about comics as a medium, helping to usher in the term “graphic novel” in the process. The title of their upcoming omnibus history of the company perfectly expresses their hard-earned cultural relevance: We Told You So: Comics as Art.

Author Tom Bissell has argued for years that video games are art. I respect and admire Tom’s writing, so I’ve allowed myself to be swayed by his arguments. To me, it boils down to my emotional response to a game. And last night while playing Fallout 4, I had an experience that I can only compare to experiences I’ve had while reading novels, watching films, or encountering visual art. Continue reading “The Moment Fallout 4 Became Art to Me”

Fighting Robots in the Mixed Reality Studio at CoMotion Labs

It’s not every day you come to work to find a mixed reality studio mere feet from your desk. This, it turns out, is one of the joys of working out of CoMotion Labs. As I write this, Elizabeth Scallon is showing off the new gear. I just spent a few minutes shooting droids. Then Scott Bennett jumped in and did some Keanu-level poses. Crazy … Continue reading Fighting Robots in the Mixed Reality Studio at CoMotion Labs

An Open Letter to all the VR Pioneers Who are Bootstrapping, Scraping by, and Operating in the Red at the Moment

Dear VR Pioneer, Remember that moment when you knew. Maybe it was when you put on a Vive headset the first time and experienced your first VR game. Maybe somebody showed you a 360 panoramic photo in a Google cardboard. Or maybe a hologram hovering in front of your face made you reach out your hand, as if you could actually touch it. You knew … Continue reading An Open Letter to all the VR Pioneers Who are Bootstrapping, Scraping by, and Operating in the Red at the Moment

Accounting from Squanchtendo

This weird fucking thing has a filthy mouth.

Yesterday, in  a conversation with my CoMotion Labs row-mate Jean-Pierre Chery, I said, “I really want there to be a Monty Python of VR.” JP raised his eyebrows and replied that he had just downloaded something off Steam that I had to see.

Accounting by a new studio called Squanchtendo is being described as a VR game but it really feels like a new kind of art. You start off in the sort of stylized environment that will be familiar to anyone who has played Job Simulator. Soon a couple voices come through a squawk box instructing you on how to find a VR headset, which you then place in front of your face to access the next setting. (This VR-in-VR meta trick is something I saw at the Seattle VR hackathon in an experience called Down the Rabbit Hole. Maybe this marks the emergence of a structural trope, a way to handle transitions from one mise-en-scène to another.)

After you’ve been cursed out by some creature who lives in a tree, you emerge into a dungeon-like environment where you meet the King of VR, a blob that looks like the unholy union of Casper the Friendly Ghost and Jabba the Hutt. It soon becomes apparent what you have to do–gut this humanoid with a nearby knife. And that’s when things start to get seriously and hilariously demented. Continue reading “Accounting from Squanchtendo”

Choose Your Own Virtual Reality, by Christopher Robinson

Ed note: Christopher Robinson is a Seattle-based poet and novelist, with co-author Gavin Kovite, of War of the Encyclopaedists. Following is an essay he wrote about VR for Bright Ideas magazine. While the essay is over nine months old (an eternity in VR time), I still found it timely and insightful, and asked to reprint it here. My thanks to Chris and Bright Ideas for permission.

Choose Your Own Virtual Reality
Agency, immersion, and narrative in Virtual Reality’s manifold future

Christopher Robinson

Under the shade of white United Nations plastic, you sit on a rug, talking with a 12-year old girl—one of 84,000 Syrian refugees in the Za’atari camp in Jordan. This tent is her home, and she has invited you inside. As she speaks to you, you notice the pillows on the floor, the small TV in the corner; as her family cooks dinner, you glance at the reverse UN logo on the wall of the tent; as you sit with her in her classroom, as you watch her older brothers play video games—they crane their heads back to acknowledge you—you have two distinct thoughts. The first: You are acutely aware that your body is sitting on a swiveling cushion inside the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, and that other visitors are watching you crane your own head this way and that like a circumspect bird. The second: You are experiencing a medium of entertainment more visually immersive than anything before it, participating in the first artistic gropings of a truly new kind of cinema.

As you remove the Oculus Rift headset and readjust to your non-virtual reality, you begin to reflect. Continue reading “Choose Your Own Virtual Reality, by Christopher Robinson”