Studying immersion in virtual tourism

I am less enamoured of the next paper that my expert examiner recommended: Raptis, George E., Fidas, Christos & Avouris, Nikolaos. 2018. Effects of mixed-reality on players’ behaviour and immersion in a cultural tourism game: A cognitive processing perspective. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 114: 69-79. doi: 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2018.02.003.

This paper describes an attempt to measure attention in a “mixed reality” environment, and hypothesis the impact of such an environment on players of a cultural tourism game. I was hoping that it would be a useful attempt to do the sort of big-budget work I had originally intend to do in my studies – tracking user attention in a cultural-heritage environment with both persistent physical natoms (narrative atoms), and more ephemeral natoms (sound, light and other digital interventions). But although it uses the sort of technology to teach attention that I had hoped to find budget for (in this case Tobii Pro Glasses 2 gaze sampling system) I compares the users reactions to a game that is available PC (i.e. screen based) and also on Microsoft holo-lens. Now Hololens is market by Microsoft as a “mixed reality” system but I am not convinced it is. It is a reasonably sophisticated augmented reality system, but all it does is overlay the user’s environment with an image projected onto the goggle of the headset that they wear. Yes, it models the physical environment reasonably well, so that (when I had a chance to use it) I could “put” a virtual archeological model of a ship on a table then walk around the table to look at the ship from different angles. But I could not interact with the virtual by manipulating the physical. I have seen better “mixed reality” with an x-box and a sandpit.

The game used in this study is a case in point. Holotour, described as “a playful audiovisual three-dimensional virtual tourism application [that] transforms users to travellers, allowing them to see and explore virtual reality environments and experience physical places in space and time without physically travelling there” can be used on a screen or on hololens. It does not involve physical reality at all. It’s a very simple point and click adventure game with the object of collecting hidden objects and adding them to your inventory. The only difference between the on-screen version and the hololens one (as far as I can ascertain from this paper) is whether you use a mouse and cursor to point and click, or or your finger, held up in the field of vision of your goggles. So its not as useful as I had hoped, not tracking visitors’ attention around a physical site.

(This sin’t to say its not a useful paper to somebody – after all, virtual tourism might be all we can do in these covid times.)

I did learn something new (to me) in this paper however a model of cognitive style (or preference – see previous rants about learning styles) called Field Dependence-Independence (FD-I). “FD-I style is a single-
dimension model which measures the ability of an individual to extract information in visually complex scenes.” It may not be as new to me as I think – I recall reading a book, or chapter in a Conceptual Development book, during my first degree (thirty years ago) by (I think) Susan Greenfield about how some people (generally younger and games literate) were better able to follow the story in Hill Street Blues, because that drama was one of the first to feature multiple stories happening on the screen at the same time. I don’t recall her mentioning FD-I but it kind of sounds like the same thing. anyhow “FD individuals tend to prefer a holistic way when processing visual information and have difficulties in identifying details in complex visual scenes. On the other hand, FI individuals tend to prefer an analytical information processing approach, pay attention to details, and easily separate simple structures from the surrounding visual context.” I wonder which I am (from my failure to take in all the info on a game’s screen I am guessing FD.

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