4 min read

VR: Quest and challenges on the road to immersion

Immersion is key to virtual reality. This article discusses a research about the controls for an intuitive interaction with menus in VR.

The gaming industry gradually embraces the VR-movement. While it may not yet be some truly revolutionizing technology at first glance, a firm step in the direction of immersion is taken. There’s a lot to be excited about. But please, let’s not make that mistake again. Which one? Believing that the hype alone will be enough to steal the hearts of people across the world. In the 1990's VR got a real boost and got many people excited for the new technology. Unfortunately it did not live up to its earlier promises and as result people lost interest.

Creating a fluid and believable world in VR is all about immersion. The graphical capabilities to achieve this are fully present with this technology, but it’s foolish to think that this alone is enough. This article underlines the necessity of intuitive menu navigation in VR, and introduces an upcoming experiment with different navigating technologies.

The old model

The current challenge in VR - and probably why this medium failed earlier - really boils down to smooth, easily used, and fluid controls. It’s perfectly clear that intelligent and intuitive menu navigation promotes the desired effect of immersion, but that traditional means fall short in respect to this. One can imagine, that the transition into VR feels half done when only a simple D-Pad controller is used. While the older models of navigating might seem intuitive, they at times can be alienating and odd to use in VR. Why? they take you back to real world and therefore break the immersion. The old model misses a certain depth that more recent technologies really provide, like motion controls for example.

While we all might love our traditional controllers, their initial purpose served a very different, structured playground of interaction. In other words they were never development  with a VR-environment in mind. With this (re)introduction of VR, game-developers have to reinvent  core-components like these to truly make an impact. Luckily though, the technology that might achieve this is widely available these days.

Two systems

A good way how to measure intuitivity is to look how the brain functions. A well-received brain psychology book ‘Thinking, fast and slow’ proposes a very good model for defining the desired effect of immersion in VR. Our brains are comprised of two operating modes, one that thinks fast, System 1, and one that thinks slow, System 2. System 1 operates automatically, intuitively, involuntary, and effortlessly. System 2 requires slowing down, deliberating, solving problems, reasoning, focusing, concentrating, considering other data etc. System 2-tasks cost a lot of attention and often are perceived as tiring.  

For immersion to take place, one might want to consider an optimal state for the brain to operate in. System 1 can be defined in terms like fluidity, ease of use, and a lessened amount of negative and strenuous stimuli involved. I believe that making the transition to VR truly calls for a inherently different approach in navigating and makes use of system 1. The goal of my research is to find the most intuitive control method for use in a VR-environment with menus. The focus is not analysing hardware devices, but rather the various functions they provide. instead of just sticking to the standard methods. That are not really fit for the increased field of vision and depth, as well as the shift in experience.

The experiment

“In what way can virtual reality achieve a more intuitive way of interacting with menus?"

This is the main question in my search for an intuitive way of interacting in virtual reality with menus. In the upcoming month, participants will experiment with different devices such as Leap Motion, Razer Hydra, and the Oculus to interact in various ways with different types of menus.

Here are some key-aspects of the experiment:

  • Unity game engine serves as the in-game testing environment.
  • No prior experience with the mentioned devices.
  • The independent variable of ‘technical background’ measured through a questionnaire beforehand.
  • Tested are performed in a closed environment with no distractions.
  • All technologies will be tested at a single session of about 30 minutes.
  • Two different menu constructions tested for each technology.
  • Participants will perform numerous operations that exist out of multiple tasks.
  • Participants will be asked to think out loud during the experiment.
  • After the experiment is a follow up interview with the participant.

Curious what type of menu and technology feels most intuitive to interact with in virtual reality...? Hope to provide you with more information when I got the results of the experiment. Stay tuned!  

You can also drop a comment below, or contact me to share and discuss your ideas and findings.


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