Museum of Other Realities: A Brief Introduction

The Museum of Other Realities (MOR for short) is a new social virtual reality platform I first heard about in a presentation by Dr. Joshua McVeigh-Schultz, which launched in the Early Access program on Steam yesterday for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Windows MR headset users.

In an official blogpost, the company describes the purpose of MOR:

The MOR is a virtual art museum filled with mind-bending VR art. As an immersive multiplayer art showcase in VR, the MOR encourages visitors to view and interact with art in new ways , whether that means diving into a painting or touching the art, causing it to change shape. VR, as a creative tool, is still pretty young and yet artists are already breaking new ground and creating amazing work with it.

We realized that the same ‘newness’ that gives artists the opportunity to experiment, however, also means that it can be difficult for them to get their work seen by a wider audience as intended, so we set out to address this with the MOR.

Art by Danny Bittman in the MOR

The product has been in development over the past couple of years, holding invite-only exhibitions about once a month. UploadVR reported:

“I began building the MOR because people started making all these strange but very compelling VR experiences,” [MOR developer Colin] Northway wrote. “I found myself even more drawn to these weird art projects than I am to games. I started working on a few strange experiences myself but it’s so hard to get people into them, you’ll see it on twitter but if it’s a small experience people won’t take the effort to download it and try it. So I decided to start working on a way for people to experience all these wonderful things creators are making in VR and that’s the MOR.”

There are some talented artists exploring what they can do creatively with a game engine like Unity — and the immersive quality of VR — while others are producing increasingly complex works with VR-based art tools like Tilt Brush, Medium and Quill. Among the creators bringing their work to the MOR are artists like Liz Edwards, Danny Bittman and Isaac Cohen. What was once artwork experienced in the solitary confines of a universe built for one, at the MOR becomes a social phenomenon commented upon and shared by an entire community.

Unlike other social VR apps, MOR is not free; there is a one-time cost of US$19.99 (CDN$22.79). In their blogpost, the company explains why:

In addition to providing a space for artists to share their work, one of our main goals has always been to support the artists we feature. To this end, exposure, on its own, isn’t sufficient crypto-currency. We charge for the MOR because promoting the artists is equally as important as paying them for their work. We intend to continue supporting artists and the team responsible for making this museum a ‘reality’. This is especially significant because the MOR is an ongoing experience with amazing new art being added on a regular basis.

The current state of the Early Access version is described as:

The Early Access version is a smaller, streamlined edition of the Museum, usually for demoing at festivals and conferences. Even though it doesn’t have all the artwork and features we’d like to showcase (yet), the mechanics are in place for an immersive experience featuring amazing art. Over the next few months, we’ll build upon the experience, expanding not only the Museum’s architecture but also the variety of artwork we feature and the ways in which players can interact with them. 

Here are a couple of snaphots I took of a few of the exhibits. There’s not a lot to see yet, but what is there is already quite compelling. Many of the artworks are animated, and in one case, your avatar’s presence and movement within a dark gallery generates fractal art.

There’s a brief promotional video of the project up on YouTube:

The company has ambitious future plans to expand the features and content of MOR. You can follow the progress of the Museum of Other Realities project via Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook,or you can join their Discord server. And I have added MOR to my comprehensive list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds.

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Taking a Look at the Current Academic Research on Social Virtual Reality (Part I of a Series)

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

One of the things I most enjoy about being an academic librarian is having access to all the research databases to which my university subscribes—and the know-how to search them effectively and efficiently! Every so often I like to do a deep-dive into the research to see what’s new in the world of virtual worlds and virtual reality.

In this blogpost, I wish to highlight some recent academic work which looks at the rapidly evolving world of commercial social VR. This is the first of what I expect will be a series on social VR research.

A trio of researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz (Dr. Katherine Isbister, Professor in Computational Media at the Jack Baskin School of Engineering; her Ph.D. student Anya Kolesnichenko; and post-doc Joshua McVeigh-Schultz, who recently left UCSC and accepted a professorship at San Francisco State University) have been publishing a number of research papers at various computer conferences on social virtual reality. Here are citations to three of their papers, which you can obtain from your local academic or public library:

McVeigh-Schultz, J., Márquez Segura, E., Merrill, N., & Isbister, K. (2018). What’s It Mean to “Be Social” in VR?: Mapping the Social VR Design Ecology. In DIS ’18 Companion: Proceedings of the 2018 ACM Conference Companion Publication on Designing Interactive Systems (pp. 289–294). https://doi.org/10.1145/3197391.3205451

McVeigh-Schultz, J., Kolesnichenko, A., & Isbister, K. (2019). Shaping Pro-Social Interaction in VR: An Emerging Design Framework. In CHI ’19: Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. https://doi.org/10.1145/3290605.3300794

Kolesnichenko, A., Mcveigh-Schultz, J., & Isbister, K. (2019). Understanding Emerging Design Practices for Avatar Systems in the Commercial Social VR Ecology. In DIS ’19 Proceedings of the 2019 on Designing Interactive Systems Conference (pp. 241–252). https://doi.org/10.1145/3322276.3322352

In addition to these papers, which I strongly urge platform developers, as well as anybody who is interested in social VR, to obtain and read, Dr. Isbister and Dr. McVeigh-Schultz have given presentations which you can access on YouTube. The following is a presentation made this past March by Joshua McVeigh-Schultz at the 2019 Virtual Reality Developers Conference (part of the Game Developers Conference):

And the second is a presentation by both Dr. Isbister and Dr. McVeigh-Schultz given at the Mozilla Emerging Technology Speaker Series (the Mozilla Foundation supported some of their research with a grant).

Using a method of design-oriented autobiographical landscape research to examine existing commercial social VR platforms, the researchers attempted to identify key issues and concerns for future social VR design, and areas for possible future research. In-depth interviews were conducted with designers, developers, and other experts involved in the creation of social VR applications such as Rec Room, AltspaceVR, Facebook Spaces, VRChat, Mozilla Hubs, Anyland, and High Fidelity.

One interesting finding: the researchers discovered a clear design distinction between large open platforms where one was likely to encounter strangers (Rec Room, VRChat, High Fidelity, etc.) and non-open platforms where you connected mostly with people you already knew (Mozilla Hubs, Facebook Spaces):

Especially among the large open platforms where a user is likely to encounter strangers, we found convergence around broad design themes involving the role of place and space, community engagement, moderation, social catalysts and activity structures, social mechanics of friending/muting/blocking etc., and other embodied affordances including a range of communication modalities. However, we also observed fairly substantial divergence in terms of particular mechanics underlying these broad design areas. Furthermore, for non-open-world platforms such as Facebook Spaces and Mozilla Hubs, we noted less focus on supporting safety and security, and more investment in design goals associated with: supporting device interoperability, empowering a range of participation modalities, and bridging social encounters in VR with the outside world.

—McVeigh-Schultz, J. Shaping Pro-Social Interaction in VR

What’s exciting to me is that these people are conducting research in the exact same area where my own interests lie! (I’ve found my kind of people!!!) And since I have decided to suspend my previous VR research project for being much too broad and overambitious, discovering this published work gives me some much-needed food for thought on possible future research projects which I could decide to pursue at my university.

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: SL16B Shopping Event

As part of the 16th anniversary celebrations in Second Life, there is a five-sim shopping event with discounts. Every participating store has put out a free gift for visitors.

Here’s a pro tip: rather than brave the lag and the crowds just to pick up every gift, only to take it all home and have to unpack the whole lot, watch Naria Panthar’s one-hour YouTube video where she methodically unpacks and shows you the gifts on each of the five shopping sims. Trust me, it will probably take you a lot longer than one hour to do it yourself, so just watch this video, take notes on which stores you want to hit on which sims, and save yourself time and frustration! Thank you, Naria!

Here are a few of the gifts I especially liked. All links provide SLURLs which should take you directly to the item at the event.

First up is the Willow Spirit dress by Silvan Moon Designs, paired with the moonstone and pearl Ferris earrings and necklace from EarthStones:

This is the Youthquake 1960s-era minidress with a Peter Pan collar by Fashionably Dead. This retro dress comes in black, ivory, navy, pink, and red, both in a floral pattern as shown, or in plain colours.

Here is the Pride tank top, a free gift from Blueberry (which comes in dry, half wet, and full wet versions), with the fun and funky Candy Rainbow June pumps by Garbaggio (one of my favourite shoe designers):

Don’t forget that at the Blueberry booth at the SL16B shopping event you can also pick up L$250 worth of free in-store credits to spend at the Blueberry store! Also, Addams is giving away L$300 in in-store credit if you go to their mainstore and click on the sign near the entrance. Both Blueberry and Addams require you to join their groups (for free) in order to pick up these credits, and both stores also offer numerous free group gifts, so it’s really a no-brainer to join these two groups.

Happy shopping! The event runs until July 8th, so you still have plenty of time to scoop up the bargains.

Drax Interviews Science Fiction and Fantasy Author Tad Williams in Sansar Tomorrow

Brenhard Drax (better known in both Second Life and Sansar as Draxtor Despres) has got to be one of the hardest-working people in the metaverse! He is constantly churning out quality content for both platforms, and he also hosts numerous events, including the popular Atlas Hopping on Saturdays, soon to reach 100 episodes!

Tomorrow, as part of his popular Drax Files Radio Hour series, he will be interviewing the American fantasy and science fiction writer Tad Williams. He is the author of the multivolume Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, the Otherland series, and the Shadowmarch series, as well as the standalone novels Tailchaser’s Song and The War of the Flowers. Cumulatively, over 17 million copies of Williams’s works have been sold. His most recent novel is called Empire of Grass.

Here’s the event listing from the Sansar Events guide. This event will be live streamed at http://bit.ly/tadwilliams_live_inVR.