Realism vs. abstraction
Author: Deborah Barreau
One of the goals of virtual reality is to create engaging, immersive
environments that provide a sense of being in another place.
Development efforts often tend toward establishing a sense of realism
in these environments by combining high-resolution, complex graphics
enhanced by head-mounted displays with stereoscopic vision, 3D sound,
and the capability to manipulate objects and to navigate within the
environment. However, the computer power required to create these
realistic worlds is enormous and the paraphenalia required to function
in such environments can be distracting and disorienting for users.
Some researchers suggest that abstraction can be as effective as
realism in modeling engaging, immersive worlds.
While much effort has focused on technologies to enhance the sense of
in virtual environments, many successful applications employ more
abstract techniques. An example of the latter is decreasing realism in flight simulators by generating checkerboard patterns over representations of the ocean to provide pilots with perspective
cues not otherwise present. In his research at Stanford University,
Mark Bolas discovered that while realistic environments help to engage
the user and create a sense of being there, greater abstraction
engages the user's senses and imagination to create a greater sense of
being elsewhere, "in" the world created.
Below are descriptions of some methods for creating realistic worlds
to engage the user as participant.
Projected reality conveys a sense of presence by projecting an
image of the individual onto a screen. The individual is unencumbered
by head-mounted displays, earphones, datagloves, or other paraphenalia
and interacts only with the projected image. This technique was
developed by Myron Krueger, and was realized in his VIDEOPLACE, where
individuals could interact with the environment, with objects such as
an imaginary "critter," or with each other. This projected, artificial
reality is engaging and playful, although the sense of realism may be
less than for virtual reality techniques.
| Insert Shneiderman video -- if we can locate and convert. |
Augmented reality makes it possible to project data, diagrams,
animation, or video onto transparent glasses to provide information to
people who need to work simultaneously in the real world and to access
additional data. Although this technology has been slow to develop,
future applications may include projection of diagrams of machine
parts or instruction manuals on goggles to assist mechanics while
making repairs on the actual machine.
Virtual reality and telepresence
Virtual reality is the immersive, interactive experience generated by
a computer that provides the user with the sensation of being totally
immersed in the environment. It usually includes technologies such
as video cameras, microphones, head-mounted displays, and other
technologies to engage all the senses. Telepresence is a form of
virtual reality which gives the participant a sense of being in
Human factors studies, including human-computer interaction,
psychology, and education can reveal much about the importance of
realism versus abstraction in virtual environments. It has been
demonstrated that abstraction can reduce and simplify information
presented to a pilot in flight training, allowing him or her to focus
on the most critical elements. Abstraction also allows us to perceive
ideas and processes for which there is no physical model or
representation. Brenda Laurel views virtual worlds as the "antithesis
of realism," as a place for imagination and play. Her background in
theater has led her to virtual reality as a place where people can
expand their capacities and skills.
Greater realism may be necessary for applications such as in medicine
or aviation which require precise rendering to simulate real,
life-threatening situations. However, while computer graphics can
render realistic images, little progress has been made toward
incorporating weight and mass for example in virtual environment
interactions. Because of these limitations, Frederick Brooks cautions
that there is an important distinction between realism and
truthfulness - that it is possible, in a world which appears so life-
like, to teach things that are not so [Rheingold, 1991] technical.
[Rheingold, 1991]. Howard Rheingold, Virtual Reality, 1991.
Human Interface Technology Laboratory