2016 VR Experience, Blade Runner 9732, Recreates Deckard's Apartment: WWHT? (What Would Heidegger Think?)
Blade Runner 9732, is Quentin Lengelé’s recreation of Rick Deckard's apartment for VR systems.
The meticulous VR world-building of Quentin Lengelé, and his fascination with Blade Runner, the 1982 Ridley Scott film, set in a dystopian Los Angeles of 2019, has got me thinking.
In the film, the Tyrell Corporation manufactures replicants, who come complete with manufactured memories. Rick Deckard (a former cop, played by Harrison Ford) hunts down these beings and "retires" them.
Here's the question on my mind today:
Are virtual reality developers, like Quentin Lengelé, creating "false memories" for owners of VR HMDs (virtual reality head mounted displays), just as Dr. Eldon Tyrell created "emotional cushion" memories for his replicants?
The tension between what is real and what is artificial - and the role we play in mediating these experiences - is a big part of what makes Blade Runner a classic. And it's also what makes VR so intellectually satisfying for me right now.
No one really knows how VR will evolve as a storytelling tool.
But the goal of achieving a sustainable VR illusion - what the Germans might call "einwohnen" (in English? "indwelling"?) - seems to be getting closer.
Projects like Blade Runner 9732 are demos that, for some of us, promise a powerful new type of experience.
But there are also VR skeptics. And I get that Blade Runner 9732 for them might seem like a technological trick. Obsessive fan art on a shiny-new platform. A high-tech riff on a great film - but still just a copy, a spin-off, lacking originality or permission from the true authors.
I choose to see more.
I see "einwohnen."
At the exact moment that movie studios and sound and color film technologies were changing motion picture storytelling in paradigm-shattering ways, German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) was writing about how human technology could distance us from nature but how technology could also create opportunities for experiencing the natural world in ways that could make us more profoundly aware.
One image that comes to mind when thinking about Heidegger's (motion picture inspired?) thinking of the 1930s and 1940s is the UK's Beetham Tower - a piece of modern technology which can protect (isolate?) humans from nature - but that also has caused the wind to moan and hum, making nature more eerily apparent than ever.
Thinking about VR and artificiality and nature, today I found myself wondering what Martin Heidegger (who wrote "wohnen wir einheimisch in der Nähe, so dass wir anfänglich in das Geviert von Himmel und Erde gehören" asking us to "dwell closely, as natives, in the realm of heavens and earth") might say about Beetham Tower.
How might Heidegger reconcile the paradox of VR?
Is VR a new human tower made of plastic, silicon chips and wire - a place to dwell apart from nature? Or is VR a new way to experience the supplication from the cosmos that we pay attention to our lives - a way to indwell with nature?
Is VR an isolating technology, or a new way for the physical world and artifice to clash and wail, reminding us to experience our lives through rituals that reattach us to what it means to be alive (e.g., frightened, delighted and emotionally moved) in original ways?
Heidegger lived in the golden age of theatrical motion pictures and he understood how that technology - immersing oneself inside the world of a favorite film - could add meaning and pleasure.
Even though movies and TV (and before them, music, dance, paintings, sculptures and books) are human technologies that enable and allow us to relive fantasies, they can also help us to experience the "question of being."
Perhaps VR is yet another technological breakthrough that can help us to indwell and experience being alive?
It's not done yet - but already I see the potential for Blade Runner 9732 to provide a different experience than film. Different from text. Different from 2D fan art. (Am I alone in noticing how some people moving around a room while wearing the HTC Vive HMD seem to be enacting a ritual dance? Perhaps, when music and sound really become part of the experience, attaining a trancelike state in a parallel universe?) Nature is all around us. And that's already part of the novel experiential thrill of VR. Once a user puts on a HMD and starts Blade Runner 9732, the technology will offer up choices about what to explore. In any direction. That 360 experience, the jolt of being inside a story in a new way, is probably a big part of what keeps Quentin Lengelé going. And it's also a big part of what keeps me thinking about VR.
If you want to explore how the illusion of Blade Runner 9732 is being created - the step-by-step work (being done in Quentin Lengelé's spare time) - here's a link: