Performative Immersion in Virtual Reality Video Games

Authors: Tyler Blackman*, University of Victoria
Topics: Cultural Geography, Qualitative Research
Keywords: virtual reality, video games, performativity, immersive media
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Calvert Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Virtual reality (VR) video games that utilize head-mounted displays have grown in popularity in recent years. At their core, VR video games present different constructions of worlds that players can explore and interact within. Importantly, players do not leave behind or transcend their bodies in virtual reality. Instead, bodily movements are essential in engaging with the spatiality of virtual reality. Concepts like immersion or the feeling of “being there” have penetrated deeply into the discourse of VR video games. This paper asks: what is the performative scene of immersion or “being there” in VR video games? Or, in other words, what prior knowledges, habits, and social norms do players bring with them into virtual reality and how does this enable or constrain a sense of immersion? To answer these questions, I draw upon an experiential qualitative methodology. Participants with varied social backgrounds and levels of familiarity with virtual reality were provided the opportunity to play the VR video game Land’s End. These play sessions were followed by interviews to discuss the participants’ experiences. Drawing on these embodied situations of VR video game play and subsequent interviews, this study examines the performativity of immersion in virtual reality. I conclude that immersion or “being there” is more than a technological feat of virtual reality but is instead a performative entanglement of bodies and worlds that VR video games enact.

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