Immersive Reading Experiences
For my in-class activity, I was able to explore USC Archaeology Research Center Extended Reality Lab's Manuscript Visualization. A key feature of this VR experience is the ability to actually turn the pages of the manuscript in VR similar to how one might turn a page in real life. This made me wonder if there were similar softwares available as well as how effective the visualization would be without the page-turning functionality.
What makes an immersive reading experience?
I asked the below two questions to those who tried out the experience in my in-class activity:
"How important was the surrounding virtual environment to the visualization? In other words, how much did the surrounding environment in the virtual environment contribute to the immersive experience?"
How important was the page-turning to the visualization? In other words, how much did the physical turning pages contribute to the immersive experience?
While most people agreed that the surroundings were quite important, the entire class unanimously agreed that the turning of the page was crucial to the immersive experience.
Environment + Easy page navigation
The results of the survey were rather unsurprising, but it made me wonder how the experience would feel if the interactive page-turning was removed and instead easier page navigation was introduced since many survey respondents mentioned that they wished they could easily skip to any page they wanted, similar to how one would on a kindle or tablet of sorts. To test this, I wanted to see if just reading the manuscript in the Oculus Browser with the home environment and audio changed to match the surrounding environment in the manuscript experience would garner an equally satisfying immersive experience, especially since this mimicked immersive readers like ImmersionVR Reader.
Custom Oculus Home + Browser
Although the experience Environment + Easy page navigation offered a rather immersive experience as well, I wasn't able to do user studies or tests to contrast this experience with the one in the manuscript visualization software, so this is just my opinion. This experience can offer the feeling of being part of the setting where a story takes place. While it certainly is easier to navigate around the pages of the manuscript, the manuscript visualization software still offered a much more immersive experience. However, this could be because experiences like ImmersionVR Reader are more suited for plot-driven novels rather than treasured manuscripts which are often enjoyed by appreciating their history and time of creation rather than the content of the manuscript.
Other Immersive Readers and Related Research
While researching related software to the manuscript visualization software, I found a couple of examples where VR or AR was used to create the world of the book as well as avatars of the characters in the book and the author.
I also found a research paper that compared the effects of three page-turning techniques on the reading experience in VR. (See Page-Turning Techniques for Reading Interfaces in Virtual Environments)
VR offers countless ways for developers to create an immersive reading experience that can't be experienced in the reality. From using audio and the surrounding environment to sculpting avatars and adjusting how the reader may turn the page, developers attempt engage the reader's senses in order to offer a truly immersive experience. While I currently can't conclude which technique is most successful in creating an immersive reading experience, this is certainly an interesting area to research more in the future.