Long-term presence: This guy just spent 48 hours in virtual reality

[We usually study individual, brief presence experiences, but the ‘performance’ in this story looks ahead to when VR and presence is a way of life. It’s from The Creators Project, where you’ll find four more images and two videos. –Matthew]

Thorston Wiedemann in Disconnected

This Guy Just Spent 48 Hours in Virtual Reality

By DJ Pangburn — Jan 14 2016

After decades of broken dreams, virtual reality appears to be fulfilling its promise. It’s not just that the hardware and software are finally arriving with Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear headsets (motion sickness not excluded); it’s that artists, game designers, filmmakers, and other creatives are finally building substantial worlds for it. Along with this, certain individuals like Mark Farid want to see how long a human can live in virtual reality—as much for a feat of endurance as a performative act.

Predictably, given Farid’s ambition, he still hasn’t lived 24 hours a day for 28 days inside virtual reality. But Thorsten Wiedemann, founder and artistic director of A MAZE Festival, recently lived for 48 hours inside various VR worlds at the Game Science Center in Berlin from January 8-10. Titled Disconnected, Wiedemann and Lucid Trips co-designer Sara Lisa Vogl‘s performance took place on a HTC Vive, and involved a number of VR worlds, environments, and programming routines.

Wiedemann tells The Creators Project that Disconnected was not about endurance. Instead, Wiedemann and Vogl predict that in the future—2026, to be exact—many people will spend a great deal of time inside virtual reality. For these future VR users, it won’t be one mass act of endurance, but the freedom to dip into other, as-yet-undiscovered worlds, as well as experience new art, education methods, and the like.

“[In 2026], it is normal that you jump into VR to meet your international friends in Social VR Rooms and go on crazy adventures together,” Wiedemann says. “But a long trip will be still special and could be understood as a controlled drug experience.”

The idea of VR as a controlled drug experience is why Wiedemann, the “VR Naut,” brought in Vogl as his “VR Shaman”: to understand, as he says, the state of the art technology, and “see the missing parts of doing mind-blowing customized trips in the future.”

Vogl programmed Wiedemann’s time so that he played tennis against himself, went hand-walking through the world of Lucid Trips, and created burning snowmen in Tiltbrush (a VR program similar to Microsoft Paint and MacPaint). Wiedemann also enjoyed tickling a cat while solving puzzles in Fantastic Contraption; tried to break the world record in ski jumping in VRLympix; chased and killed people in Hover Junkers; hung out with friends in AltspaceVR; travelled to magic places with his new friends in VRChat; posed with his pink suit as the American president in the White House; disappeared many times in the waiting room of SteamVR; relaxed for several hours in the VR diorama Blocked In, and more.

All of this without any breaks in sound and vision. And these worlds, many of them demos, were supplied to Vogl and Wiedemann in real-time.

“The people following the event contacted me through the chat and wanted him to play their games,” Vogl says. “They sent demos they or their friends had made to my Facebook or email and I downloaded them and played them on the Vive. When I planned Thorsten’s daily routines, I contacted a lot of developers but I was overwhelmed by how many more got in touch during the event. This widened up the range of content a lot and gave Thorsten the chance to, for example, play VR Minigolf together with the developer in a multiplayer beta version.”

As VR Shaman, Vogl says that she wanted to support Wiedemann mentally by putting him through this challenging program—one that would [keep] him busy so that time passed more quickly. “I built him a cozy cave with a view of the stars in Lucid Trips to get some rest, peace and sleep,” Vogl says. So even when Wiedemann slept for two-and-a-half hours each morning, he did so with the Vive headset on in order to experience what it was like to awaken inside a virtual reality.

“I was surprised how unusual it felt,” Wiedemann says. “I’ve got special liquid food, lots of water, tea, a cup of coffee for breakfast, lots of chocolate and bananas, medication to stop me from going to shit during the performance. Some visitors brought chips, wiener wurste, and pizza when I was asking for salty stuff. For the next trip I’ll look deeper into which nutritious infusions would be best for body and mind.”

Vogl also helped coordinate the Disconnected “Lifestream,” a 48-hour live stream of the pair’s performance. A highlight for Vogl and Wiedemann was the “48 hours Vive Marathon Guy” (as he came to be called) avatar and room in VR Chat.

“The guys there rebuilt Thorsten and our playspace, streaming us live on a board in this virtual room,” Vogl explains. “So people could watch us being in VR while they are in VR Chat with us in the same room. We arranged meetings and got in contact with them through the stream chat. It was a great support for Thorsten and I in that so many people encouraged us and took part socially and emotionally.”

After staging Disconnected, Wiedemann is convinced that “long period VR trips” are possible, and that current technology is sufficient for such purposes. The only problem was when he had a panic attack after the 25th hour, when he was pretty close to giving up.

“I had no physical problems, no burning eyes, killing headaches or nausea,” Wiedemann says. “The path to the future is now prepared—we only need specially-designed content to get a full immersive experience, and this will take probably until 2026. But what is time? [So] I will experiment more in this direction.”


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