Virtual Reality is ‘Finally Here’: A Qualitative Exploration of Formal Determinants of Player Experience in VR

Murphy Dooley J.
2017 DiGRA '17 - Proceedings of the 2017 DiGRA International Conference

It is already a truism that consumer virtual reality (VR) systems offer sensorially immersive first-person experiences that differ markedly from those begat by traditional screen displays. But what are the implications of this for player experience? It is well-documented that VR can induce illusions of non-mediation; of spatial presence; of embodiment in avatars. This paper asks—and reports on—what common features of digital games are liable to be experienced as stressors (that is, as beyond optimally affective or intense) when the player perceives her avatar–self egocentrically as a ‘life-sized’, spatially present, and potentially vulnerable entity within the gameworld. The present paper describes and discusses findings from a qualitative content analysis of immersive virtual environments (IVEs) experienced via head-mounted display-based VR systems akin to those now commercially available. A purposive sample comprising video, photographic, and written documentation of IVEs (n = 124) from historical clinical VR and telepresence research is interrogated through the lens of cognitive media theory. Effecting a novel approach inspired by systematic review, the present study's observations and inferences regarding players' subjective experience of IVEs are presented alongside relevant findings from the research literature sampled. This produces a preliminary formal framework for discussing VR player experience as significantly structured by patiency (cf. agency), with VR experiences eliciting self-directed affect, and thereby somewhat unintentionally engaging the player's body as a site for feedback.