In Conversation with: Sara Lisa Vogl

INTERNATIONAL NOTICE chatted to Sara Lisa Vogl, the co-founder of VRNerds, an online news source about Virtual Reality (VR), which is the biggest of its kind in the German language. They created Lucid Trips, a gorgeous VR game, and are developing a product called “Nearby VR” which is a shared space for VR online. Sara teaches creative computing and organises a monthly community event in Hamburg called VR Stammtisch where people come together to share, test, and get feedback about their VR projects.

IN: Are you coming to Performersion as Sara Lisa Vogl, as VRNerds, as a teacher, or as something else?

SLVl: I call everything I do a VRNerds project because I’m one of the main people behind it. I’m wearing my logo right now actually! I’m pretty excited because last semester was my first semester teaching creative computing and I’ll be bringing my students to the workshop as helpers. They’re motivated and really cool so we’ll check out what they’ve learned and if they can handle everything. For last year’s semester project they built a VR hoverboard out of foam and a real skate board deck.

IN: So one of the ways you are interacting in the virtual world is on this hoverboard?

SLV: That was the locomotion method, yeah. It’s good to transfer some stuff from the real world – like the board beneath your feet – to the virtual world because it improves your feeling of presence and gives you a more immediate experience. We even built a wind feedback machine at one point to improve the immersion. We try out a lot of stuff like that and it definitely helps. In Lucid Trips you use your arms to move around – we call it handwalking – so it’s out of that need for movement in the real world that you get more immersed in the VR world and you don’t get motion sickness. If you use a game-pad it’s different because you press a button and in the picture you are lifting a hand. It doesn’t feel natural. It’s definitely not intuitive or direct. VR is more direct. When you delete something, you don’t have to click through several steps, you just put it in the trash.

IN: In dance so much attention is given to sensation and the physical experience of being in a certain situation or what structures allow us to feel this or that. So this VR stuff is obviously super interesting for us. Can you speak about the creation process and why you made certain design choices?

SLV: The thing with VR these days is that when you see something, it’s so convincing that you get a physical response. I watched a movie called Henry. He’s a little hedgehog and he can’t have friends because of his spikes and it was super cute and super sad. He was hurting all his friends! When I came out of there I had this weight on my breast. He found a friend in the end – a little turtle that he couldn’t hurt – but it was still incredible.

IN: So it was a physical experience that was triggering the emotion?

SVL: Completely physical. I once did a Mount Everest demo and we had a ladder in between two cliffs and you had to cross the ladder to get to the other side. It was really steep below me and since it was on Mount Everest it was snowing and I was really cold …

IN: You were actually cold?

SLV: Yeah I was cold, but it wasn’t cold in the room. I was supposed to walk over the ladder and if I fell, I’d fall 5,000 metres … I was so shaky! I was totally in the situation. It takes me two minutes and I’m in it. Some people are like that, but for others, it takes longer.

IN: Can you die in VR?

SLV: In Lucid Trips you can die. I’ve played a lot of other games where you can die too. The first time I died in VR, it was really bad. I couldn’t believe it! I was screaming to the other players, “I died! I died!” And they were like, “WTF, you’re still here. Calm down.” We were all on hoverboats and we were supposed to shoot the other players. When you got hit, you blew up and saw blood everywhere. It was horrible! I was really sensitive to that, but some people just didn’t care. I have another funny story with physical experiences. I was in a virtual theatre, they call it a 4D Theater because as it’s VR, it adds a 4th dimension to the 3D movie. When it rains in the movie it also rains in the theatre, so you’re like, „Oh shit, it’s raining!”

IN: What?! You actually feel like it’s raining?

SLV: So, you’re watching a 3D movie in a virtual 4D theatre. When it starts to rain in the movie, the VR makes it rain in the whole virtual theatre. It totally feels like it’s really raining in real life – maybe it’s because of the many steps you have already taken into the virtual world. That virtual world has become ‘real’ – it convinces you.

IN: I saw a couple of intriguing sentences on the Lucid Trips website: “There is something sinister about technology,“ and „VR is the brother of our dreams and nightmares.“ Can you talk about that?

SLV: Lucid Trips was inspired by our attempts to train lucid dreaming experiences. The thing with lucid dreaming is that you’re asleep, but you know you are in your body and so you can experience what you want – like flying for example. You can do a similar thing in Lucid Trips because you are still awake and in your body. You put the headset on and in that environment you can do what you want. You can go everywhere, you can do anything, you can fly, jump, and you can somehow slip into “our” lucid dream.

You can take part in VRNerds’ TILT BRUSH Lab, and hear Sara speak as part of the panel discussion Layers of Time and Relations in Virtual and Analogue Spaces at Performersion.

  1. APR 2016