Future Perspectives, Modified Animals, Critical Machines (2017-18) is an experimental research project by Jasper Meiners and Isabel Paehr. To question the technological and ideological defaults embedded into virtual reality (VR) technologies, Meiners and Paehr developed ten experiments. The aim of the experiments was to reconfigure VR and open it up to queer, posthuman, multi-species imaginaries.
Our initial interest in modified visions was triggered through the advertisements of virtual reality (VR) companies which stated that ‚everything is possible‘ (Oculus, 2013) with and in VR. Oculus’ commercials show how ostriches, flightless birds, learn to fly by watching a flight simulation in a VR headset. While Oculus capitalises on the dream of overcoming bodily limitations, games researcher Derek A. Burrill warns of the defaults embedded in VR games and systems. Burrill argues that technology like the Oculus Rift erases ‚the tactile and screened interface‘, and thus makes the human body ‚operate as interface‘ while favouring a ‚universal body that fits all systems‘ (Burrill 2017: 28-29). As critical game developers and -researchers, we couldn’t help but imagine VR differently than executed by Oculus and critiqued by Burrill: We wondered if virtual reality itself could be technologically and ideologically reconfigured.
Most virtual reality technology is very expensive, not open source, and only very few scientific studies exist that research the effects of VR on the human body. Because of this gap in publicly available research and code, we decided to perform 10 experiments / experiences. Through hacking, tinkering, sewing, exhibiting and performing we hoped to generate knowledge about VR.
Each exp_ started off with specific research questions and an idea for a gaze modification or different way of seeing. We documented the research, design, implementation, and iterations we faced during the project’s realization. In a phase we called try or catch, we confronted test persons with our experiment. Try or catch is a programming keyword allowing the safe execution of a piece of code (try) that may cause errors, which can then be reacted to accordingly (catch). Finally, we drew a conclusion – a post-experiment reflection in which we analyzed our findings.
Key to our approach was to play forward: Whenever we got stuck, we tried a different approach.
As part of the research process, we have presented some of the experiments in the form of talks, performances, experimental apps and installations: