Experiencing virtual reality (VR) was previously limited to reading books, watching television or movies, and experiencing one’s own imagination. Whether it was through the “OASIS” from Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One or directly embedded in your subconscious like Christopher Nolan’s Inception, people have been fascinated by the concept of alternate realities where anything is rendered possible.
A common trope among all examples of such environments is that these realities are generally accessed through some form of game platform. I’m willing to bet there’s a whole generation of architecture students who, when asked why they chose this their field, would respond “Minecraft.” Not only is Minecraft the world’s best-selling, with more than 176 million copies sold, it is also widely considered to be the perfect sandbox game.
“Sandbox” is synonymous with the genre “Open World”, which according to Wikipedia can be defined as “a level or game designed as nonlinear” i.e. “open areas with many ways to reach an objective.” For years Minecraft existed without any storyline or objectives, but as a virtual universe where players created their own narrative. This poses the question: How does a low-resolution world of cubes with no objective or narrative keep people of all ages immersed for years? For me, the answer is an emotional connection. Experiences with other humans in real-time that harness multiple senses are the key to compelling immersion.
the past year, a group of friends and I have organized three “virtual
festivals” in Minecraft. Our group grew up playing hours upon hours of the game
during our formative years, while concurrently pursuing careers in electronic
music. As we became more established artists in the electronic scene, we
realized there was a clear gap in our community: it’s financially impossible
for a community of international, independent musicians and fans to meet up in
the same place at the same time and perform.
Using our knowledge of Minecraft, we collectively “hacked” a version of the game that would allow us to create a music festival. We built a virtual world that involved not only stages, but an entire environment to explore. This included various sculptural works, houses, carnivals, city streets, and even an art gallery featuring visual artists from our community. We asked artists to record sets and stand on the stage, “DJ’ing” in front of the crowd of virtual characters, who listened to the audio “in real life” streamed through an external website. All our marketing material was parallel to that of real-world music festivals, the exception being that the entire event took place in a virtual world.
Most people can relate to the feeling of getting goosebumps when they witness their favourite artist live, surrounded by hundreds of people experiencing the same feeling. We successfully recreated this phenomenon within a virtual reality for the over 100,000 people who attended our events. This has many implications for the future of performance art and the integrations of architecture.
VR and Architecture
There have already been multiple derivative events, but now there is now proof that virtual experiences don’t belong strictly in art galleries. As virtual reality becomes more accessible, will architects be able to immediately integrate international communities into their work? Why couldn’t millions of people attend the largest sermon in the world, all from their own home? How would one go about designing a cathedral, a temple or a mosque, for millions of people to experience? Without the limitations of physics or budget, how would the formation of spaces change? When speculative architecture has a feasible platform to exist, will it?
Applications of virtual reality in the field of architecture are still far from their full potential. Walkthroughs with VR headsets can engage with our visual senses, but truly experiencing architecture is more than that. How can we as occupants engage emotionally with the virtual representations of the built environment? How can we as architects simulate or encourage human interaction while in a virtual world? These are questions that will push the field and the technology further, as the possibilities remain infinite within virtual space.