Immersion versus Interactivity: Virtual Reality and Literary Theory

Critical Writing
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Virtual Reality has been defined as an "interactive, immersive experience generated by computer " (Pimentel and Texeira).This paper investigates the possibility of the literary implementation of these two dimensions. While immersion plays an important role in theories of fiction based on the concept of possible world and of game of make-believe, it presupposes a transparency of the medium that goes against the grain of postmodern aesthetics. Postmodern literature emulates the interactive aspect of VR in a metaphorical way through self-reflexivity, and in a more literal way through hypertext, but both of these attempts involve the sacrifice of the pleasure derived from immersion. In computer-generated VR, by contrast, immersion and interactivity do not stand in conflict but support each other. The difference in behavior between VR and literature is seen to reside in the participation of the body. While textual worlds are created through a purely mental semiotic activity which presupposes an external point of view, the worlds of VR are created from within through an activity both mental and physical. A mind may conceive a world from the outside, but a body always experiences it from the inside.

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Scott Rettberg