The Phenomenology of Virtual Places (observations)

Just submitted a draft of the above edited book of 14 proposed chapters to Routledge, to their Research in Phenomenology series.

The Phenomenology of Virtual Places is an edited book on the history, implications and usefulness of phenomenology for real places and virtual places, with chapters by philosophers, cultural geographers, architects and archaeologists.

I won’t summarize the chapters right now as the series editors have the right to ask for major subtractions, additions and revisions but I am very happy about the range of disciplines, perspectives and topics.

I do have some observations

  1. One thing very much under-represented is the unconventional, the alternative and the non-Western or not so obviously Western (and I don’t like the term “Western” but what are better options here)?
  2. Also, the connections and distinctions between phenomenology and ethnography are perhaps still to be explored, especially for game and VR evaluation.
  3. Phenomenology deserves even more criticism. It is either obvious, or difficult and subtle, available to all or best practiced by trained phenomenologists (or is that, people trained to detect or extract or train phenomenological accounts).
  4. Writing introductions to edited books can be very difficult.
  5. How HMDs will challenge our notions of embodiment and social presence in VR will be a very big thing.
  6. Locative media raise very interesting research avenues for embodiment and the concept of place.
  7. And on a workflow-related note, if the publisher doesn’t give you a complete, formal template at the start, stick to your own and demand it be used by all authors even if the final template changes. Saves a world of pain.
  8. Also, game and VR companies would save us all trouble by clearly saying which screenshots can be used in academic books or provide a pathway for a quicker permissions/rejections process. If your images are in a book, it is free PR!

Visiting fellowships in digital humanities/heritage/serious games

I may have the chance to take a short break from Perth and apply for a visiting fellowship or scholarship, preferably in digital humanities, digital heritage (3D), or serious games (history and heritage).

I asked on twitter if there were links, URLs and did not hear back so I had a little search of my one, hope these may help others. I do not necessarily need a salary etc but some of these might include a stipend:



UK and Eire



Early career or postdoc

More general



Experiencing the Experience of the Past

Experiencing the Experience of the Past and

Experiencing Exhibition Portals of the Future from the Past.

[Notes on a potential future article of speculative/manifesto-oriented content, but where it fits with journals or conferences, I do not know].

Keywords: Experience, heritage, 3D models, experience of experience, Heidegger

In creating virtual heritage models and sites there is a typically recurring problem seldom discussed. In the midst of so many technical, conceptual and social problems I wish to highlight one of the most difficult, the experiencing of experiences.

Charters into digital heritage usually relate back to UNESCO’s concepts of cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible. And UNESCO’s concepts are predicated on the notion of communicating (local, past) cultural significance of the site: what was valuable and significant about it and how do we communicates its values?

Conversely, exhibition architecture celebrates the new, the inspiring, they act as gateway to a visionary future. How do we preserve communicate or re-establish their function and impact, as portals between past and future? They are generally forgotten and dismantled. But the experience of encountering them is never fully recorded, transmitted or preserved.

For Heidegger, the work of art (say, a Greek temple), does not just sit there, it provides a perceptual threshold through which the perceiver can suddenly encounter the shadow-furrowed outline of their past silhouetted against the blinding light of their future.

The power of the sudden vista is such that the very material of the temple (be it marble or some other shiny material) “causes it to come forth for the very first time” [PLT 46]. That is, on the edge of the bringing-forth of the work of art, one is carried away by the impression that the moment is unique: that the work is appearing before one in a way that will never quite be “caught” again.

Such an opening is not an object that is unrelated to the perceiver’s self-guided interests (as one might view the situation in terms of a Kantian disinterestedness), it is the revealing of those very same to all past theories of art and aesthetics. And in the very act of creating this realm, Heidegger claims that it might be significantly more tempting and worthwhile to the perceiver than even the phenomenal world that actually (tangibly) lies before them:

“Towering up within itself, the work opens up a world and keeps it abidingly in force…The world worlds, and is more fully in being than the tangible and perceptual realm in which we believe ourselves to be at home.” [PLT 44-45]

Can we recapture this? The problem, in other words, is how to communicate the experience, historically situated, in how people then experienced what was then fresh, new, revolutionary.

There are paintings, news clippings, sometimes audio interviews. But nothing together in an experiential gestalt that helps communicate what was new to them. Presence research does not help, it aims for a universal not situated measure of presence and immersivity. My concept of cultural presence also does not go very far, it may only apply to certain sites, and…

Do 3D models help? No, they are limited in terms of backstory, paradata (context), not experientially rich, lacking in interactivity and agency (not the same thing), no multimodality or gestalt framework (for reasons I will elaborate), and seldom have feedback. Here I will explain why the most basic elements of games, theme (fantasy, imagination), challenge (engaging difficulty), optional strategies that help develop intrinsic game-related growth and change…

But museums? Museums don’t have the time to enable the above! Well, they don’t have the freedom to allow users to develop the above (references to follow). Growth, deep understanding, all take time and reflection. The monumental, forgotten impact of old museums is disappearing…

There are examples in architecture (embodiment: Kathadaw Pagoda, caryatids; expression: Colosseum; innovation: Duomo of Florence, Hagia Sophia, Pantheon; sensory overload and uniqueness: Crystal Palace).

SO how can we relay and transmit the above?

  1. Biofeedback
  2. Paradata trails
  3. Backstory (incorporate witness and expert interviews)
  4. Historical mementos from different eras recapturing the apparent newness of the event
  5. Shareable experience indicators


Charitos, D. (1996). “Definining Existential Space in Virtual Environments”, Proc. Virtual Reality World 96, (Stuttgart: IDG Publications).

Heidegger, Martin, (translated by Albert Hofstadter), Poetry, Language, Thought, Harper and Row, New York 1975 [PLT]

ICOMOS, (1999).‘The Burra Charter: The Australia ICOMOS charter for the conservation of places of cultural significance’,

Nitsche, Michael. 2008, Video Game Spaces Image, Play, and Structure in 3D Game Worlds, MIT Press, USA.


Researching Digital Cultural Heritage

My presentation Inside Out: Avatars, Agents, Cultural Agents for Researching Digital Cultural Heritage, in Manchester, is available at:


For 2018 Curtin Students

Hello Curtin students, if you can do a masters course project (or you are final year undergraduate) you might also be able to build on one of these ideas:




Kinect & HMD collaborative engagement

Corbin is my summer intern, looking at
1. Kinect-Minecraft v2: a software framework for non-programmers to create their own gestures for Minecraft interaction:

See also:

2 Kinect-Unity pointer software:Kinect-Unity-3Dpointer

3. Point clouds with a Head Mounted Display (HMD) /Unreal. Status: exploratory.


See also CAA2017 slides from Damien Vurpillot:

4. Corbin will narrow down the above into one main investigation. Evaluate: sharing virtual experiences across different displays (cylindrical versus HMD): to uncover similar papers with a collaborative learning focus. Ideally there will be a comparison of Unity versus Unreal.





AR/MR case studies and zombies on a dig

Why do we use augmented reality for heritage? To show what is not there, navigate and orient people, to reveal what is created intangibly by our indirect actions, or to reveal our impact on material remains..

But AR/MR/games can reveal archaeological methods along with intrinsic reasons to play games, zombies!

Zombies are slow and can be animated or rendered clumsily; they provide a protagonist on limited AI resources; they are associated with death, decay and the past. We have some experience with zombies and biofeedback or skeletons and archaeology..

  • Example: Library Skills, Archival and archaeology methods
  • Goal: The goal can be serious exploration; but with imaginative constraints and settings.
  • Game mechanic: For example: dig up zombie, match to correct time using dating methods
  • Feedback: If correctly matched to time period, zombies are animated and run amok.
  • Setting: archaeological dig, a mortuary or a library.
  • Affordance: Find artefacts that placate zombies; mortuaries require following correct rituals to rebury zombies; library archives inform player of artefacts of value to zombies-find books of power to protect against zombies.
  • Reward: Videos or machinima augmented glimpses of potential past/individual narratives.
  • Game platform: does it have to be 3D? Could it be designed in minecraft (open source or otherwise), minetest, or terrania? Augmented reality: how could it be involved? Oh I have some ideas but that would be telling and I’d have to charge..