Agency without responsibility: ideal interaction in VR / by Natacha Merritt

I’ve been spending months and months living and breathing VR. I’ve developed for DK2, GearVR and Cardboard, from 360 immersive to stereoscopic VR to first person shooters (not the sexy kind). I've also tried nearly a hundred demos. And every now and then something really works, and it's magical and mysterious. Why?

Although 360 immersive videos are nice, interactive content is where all this is going. Everyone who tries VR starts to reach around expecting interactivity. Videos are OK, but we want some sort of control. But what kind of interactivity do we want?

I’ve stumbled upon the answer to this while making love. Let me explain, i'm not about to lay out "best practices of how to make VR porn". I just figured out how to create the best kind of interactivity in VR experiences while I was having sex. This should come as no surprise since the biggest attraction of VR is its intimacy. You feel in ways that screen-bound content can’t touch you. My biggest revelation came during foreplay. The interaction was something like “how’s this?” or maybe it was “how do you want me to touch you” or maybe it was “is this too much…” in all of these moments i didn’t want the choice. I didn’t want the responsibility.The responsibility took me away from the present. It’s not that i wanted to be a completely passive sex doll. No, I wanted some agency, but not responsibility. I wanted to have some choices but ultimately to be part of a dramatic luscious ride. That sense of mystery and adventure was key to my arousal. Making me talk about it killed the magic. It’s the same for VR. UI/UX designers beware:  never do anything to take anyone out of the dream. There is a fine line between a choice and a burden. In this new form of entertainment that is VR - this distinction will become more and more important. Ultimately what will define interactions in storytelling is the dose of control that you give your viewers. The right dose - like a spice- will enhance the magic and the intensity of the flavors, of the moment. The wrong dose of control will make the experience dull.

As a VR content creator I struggle with how to tell stories. I actually am thriving in this struggle because discovery is omnipresent. BDSM has given me a lot of insight into this. The power dynamics between the content creator and viewer in VR are unique. You can create a moment in 360 with options based on movement, but if you lay out an actual choice it breaks the immersion. You arn't actually in a different reality anymore. You want to feel like things change based on what you do, but at the same time you don't want an interface to harass you and steal you out of the virtual, by asking you a direct question. If your logic is triggered the magic dies: presence vanishes. Just like you don’t want someone to ask you in the heat of the moment “does this feel ok”. Choices in VR need to be painted into experiences with a very subtle and deliberate touch.