A Framework for Enhancing the Sense of Presence in Virtual Reality
The vision of virtual reality has always been to create worlds that look, sound, act, and feel real. However, virtual reality researchers and developers have largely favored visual perception over other senses. This over-valuation of the visual may be traced back to a partial interpretation of the seminal work on visual perception by psychologist JJ Gibson. Oculocentrism in virtual reality (VR) design overlooks the fact that Gibson's theory of perception encompasses the entire range of perceptual processes integrated with action, including kinesthesia and affordances of the environment. Starting with Gibson's ecological approach to the reality of experience, I develop a four-dimensional framework for creating a synergy between the extrinsic elements of a VR experience, meaning elements related to the user's real world context, and its intrinsic elements, i.e., those related to the device, application and content, with the goal of creating more "realistic'' virtual experiences. I present a series of novel virtual reality systems and technologies that demonstrate how adding real world elements to virtual experiences can enhance the sense of presence, while also arguing for a shift from oculocentrism to sensorimotor processes, and to the experiential modalities of touch, proprioception, and kinesthesia. My work contrasts with the currently dominant VR design approach premised on the notion that the richness of sensory perception can be recreated with vision alone. The synergistic systems described in this thesis present novel methods for integrating space, kinesthesia, touch and other sensations, social interaction, and a user's traits and state into the virtual experience.