Presence and spatial awareness is by far the most important part of any kind of virtual reality (VR) experience, but one study made by Dr Matthew Coxon of York St John University took both presence and awareness and asked whether or not the two things were directly correlated. This in itself would have a profound increase in the quality of VR development, but whether or not there is a clear answer to this is what puts a massive question mark next to the whole issue.
The best way in which to look at this study and discussion is to look at the results of the experiment first. Of all the 50 participants that volunteered to be a part of the study “partial correlations were calculated between the outcome measures and measures of spatial ability controlling for both age and gaming frequency.” What this means is that, as pointed out in the discussion section of this study, the subjective and individual interpretations and ability to understand what we’re looking at and experiencing could account for some of the variation in spatial presence while being in VR.
Let’s take a step back and look at how Coxon came to this interestingly indecisive outcome. Before he came to putting the participants into VR, there was a test of how good their spatial awareness was with a couple of tests that required them to pick out the similar shape or picture to the main one featured. After going through this, the participants were then put into VR to analyse how well they reacted in certain scenarios that heavily depended on their spatial awareness in the digital world. “The purpose was to engage the participant with the attention-demanding task that required active navigation of the environment.” This included boarding and sitting on a train, as well as acting in a city environment.
However, the previous tests that led to this did seem to bear some indicative data, but only because it was personalized to each participant: “Thus far, the available evidence has only ever reported a relationship between spatial presence and self-reports of imagery and never with more objective tests.” What this means is that developers can’t pin point a particular formula for the best and most immersive experience. The experience is completely up to the user and how well versed they are in letting themselves get into the videogame.
So, what are the implications to take away from this study? As mentioned before, this knowledge could make a huge impact on the quality of gaming, but this seems to only be limited. With the bigger videogames that will attract the less casual gamers to it will inevitably enable players to feel more presence if we are to consider the ability to adjust to spatial awareness in VR according to Coxon. This may mean that for the simpler VR titles that presence won’t be as easily achieved, but this isn’t just down to the quality of the title – but the general experience level of the player.