Put It On Your Face

I remember using a View-Master toy as a child. I can recall being in kindergarten and holding the red plastic viewer to my face, and looking at a forest. My memory is decidedly not of the illusionistic sense of depth achieved via stereoscopy. In fact my first association with these toys is their object-ness, not the promise or experience of immersive/virtual space. Today’s kindergarteners, who may already own iPhones, can use the View-Master Virtual Reality Viewer for an updated experience. The UI remains largely the same (though the slides have been replaced with QR codes and AR menus):

1) hold the object

2) put it on your face

It seems an open question if this stereoscopic shell is more enticing to a young child than the screen of a phone itself. I’ve seen too many tablet-toting toddlers to imagine they’d want a mediating object between them and the screen. And that seems to be the primary difference between these two toys. One enlarges a miniature slide that is otherwise difficult to see, and the other splits apart an image you can see with your naked eye.

View-Master Model G (1959) & View-Master Virtual Reality Viewer (2015)

Historical echoes abound in consumer-grade VR. The Homido mini Virtual Reality glasses (available on Amazon) bear a striking resemblance to antique mirror stereoscopes that did not block peripheral vision. Other 19th century designs used blinders to cut off vision of the outside world in an attempt to more fully immerse the viewer. This immersion-through-loss reduces the amount of sensory input we receive, and tenuously relies on a notion of acceptance associated with such loss (see: a horse’s blinders or a birdcage cover inducing animal calm). In contrast, donning an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headset, one anxiously considers where to take each step. By promising virtual locomotion, but with a leash and a blindfold, the VR of 2017 is almost a trickster figure from myth. But rather than such a folkloric character, these tricks are played by Facebook and HTC. And one could surmise they do so because direct competition between VR content and our peripheral vision of the physical world would end unfavorably for these companies.

Mirror Stereoscope (1859) & Homido mini Virtural Reality glasses (2015)


Consumer-friendly Holmes stereoscope (ca. 1860s) & Oculus Rift (2016)

There can be a more intentional approach. Franz West’s Adaptives work against ergonomics and UI-design motives to foreground negotiation and improvisation. The promise of the virtual is necessarily unattainable, so the terrain that is left must be acknowledged as falling short, then negotiated as such. This falling short need not be a disappointment or tacit admission, but can rather be a locus of exploration, delineation, and new vocabularies. My research focus here will be developing a both ludic and critical approach to virtual and augmented reality. I will attempt to separate the play from the trick.

Adaptive, Franz West