This week we experienced The Martian as a phone application, virtual reality (VR) game, and a blog. The different media had different affordances and constraints. For the sake of this blog post, I will focus on VR. VR is still so new and still has much to improve on. In class we used Google Cardboard to “go to Mars.” This is one of the greatest affordances of VR: visual immersion in the environment and the story. With the help of the VR, the user is able to experience the story first-hand and see the Martian landscape which we cannot experience in real life. However, affordances are not without constraints.
One constraint is that the user cannot fully interact with the environment. For example, in order to fix the MDV, I simply looked at it. Because the user is only there visually, they cannot use their body to actually replace screws or cut wires. To be fair, the Oculus, a more advanced VR, can be connected to a game system such as the Xbox so the user can interact with the controller, but with the Google Cardboard, all the user can do is stare. It would be interesting if VR advanced further in the future so the user could “import” his conscience into the character of Mark Watney and do certain actions as if they were moving their own body.
Another constraint of VR is the world is limited. The world is digitally constructed and by no means infinite. At some point, if the user keeps walking long enough, they will reach an invisible wall where they can walk no further. In addition to the world itself being limited, there are restrictions on the actions the user can take. For example. In the Mars exploration with Google Cardboard, I walked up to the rover because I wanted to ride it, but because of the limited possible actions, I could not.
The VR storyline was also very linear. The user must complete a certain action before they can move on to the next part of the story because the game tries to follow the chronological order of the book’s story. On the contrary, Andy Weir’s original blog story of The Martian is nonlinear and is separated into groups of a few sols which can be read in any order the reader desires. Overall, I believe that VR has the potential to become a great medium for storytelling, but with the technology that is available now, there are too many constraints compared to affordances.