Continued from part 11.
Virtual Subjectiveness: is a model of the "whole user experience" of being in virtual space.
The Visual Subjectiveness (VS) is the mediation element composed of the physical interfaces, the mappings, the logical interface, and the behaviors [of the above, with respect to the Virtual Environment (VE)]. The VS not only mediates the user's experience at a cognitive level, defining for her a specific understanding of the VE, but also... what potentiality she has and how she can apply it in her activity and reactions within the experience. Hence, the user does not directly interact with a VE to obtain an experience; rather, the experience of the user is actually mediated by an intermediary entity that we call the VS (Parés and Parés "Towards a Model for a Virtual Reality Experience: The Virtual Subjectiveness" Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments 2006 vol. 15 no. 5 pp. 532-33).
VS is the relationship between the user and the VE based on the transmission of semantic information to the user through the VS. A VR experience is under control of the user, but VR application creator maintains control over that experience by changing the properties of how the user will "unfold" their participation (how their affordances will be moderated or change throughout the virtual experience (2006 pg. 532)), thus designing the user's VS.
As a digital game level designer, I am intimately familiar with the need to shape and control the user's experience. We create an illusion of a full, rich, vibrant world, but limit the experience to the amount of the world that can be loaded into computer memory at one time. The virtual world only exists around the player's extent of perception, with sections of the world being loaded as they come into view and deleted from memory as they recede into the distance. We use tricks adapted from stagecraft, like facades and forced perspective, to create Potemkin villages of detail that are just beyond the player's reach. We limit the player's freedom of perception to prevent them from seeing "the man behind the curtain," breaking the illusion of their virtual world by seeing that behind apparent solid, brick walls of virtual reality, there exists only void. Players are subjected to the designer's will in order to maintain the illusion of a cohesive world.
N. Katherine Hayles notes that our embodied, cybernetic connection to computers changes our perception and makes us virtual subjects.
We do not need to have software sockets inserted into our heads (as William Gibson envisions in Neuromancer) to become cyborgs. We already are cyborgs in the sense that we experience, through the integration of our bodily perceptions and motions with computer architectures and topologies, a changed sense of subjectivity (Hayles "The Condition of Virtuality" The Digital Dialectic 1999 pg. 91).
Hayles' early look at of virtual subjectivity sees its construction in the adaption of the physical and virtual interfaces into the body schema.
Although the shape of virtual subjectivity is only beginning to emerge and is therefore difficult to envision clearly, certain features are coming into focus. Proprioceptive coherence in interplay with electronic prostheses* plays an important role in reconfiguring body boundaries, especially when it gives the user the impression that her subjectivity is flowing into the space of the screen. When the interface is configured as keyboard and screen, the user will perceive that space belongs to the computer, and flow to the user... whatever the symbiosis is taken to mean, it seems clear that the virtual subject will in some sense be a cyborg (Ibid. pg. 92).
* I prefer to refer to these embodied technological extensions as augmentations rather than prostheses. A prosthesis implies a replacement for a lost body part while the computerized apparatuses I write about are created to extend a human's abilities beyond normal capacity. The metaphor of the cyborg prosthesis is common with digital media academics yet, as Elizabeth Petrick points out, their writings rarely take people with disabilities into account (Petrick "The Computer as Prosthesis?" Abstractions and Embodiments: New Histories of Computing and Society 2022 pg. 401).
Daniel Vella and Stefano Gualeni declare that virtual subjectivity arises, not from affordances and limits, but from the explicit or implicit goals the player pursues in the game world. To many, goals are a defining characteristic of games and few examples of games do not feature set objectives (they cite Proteus (Key and Kanaga 2013) and Second Life (Linden Labs 2003) as exceptions). However, achieving the goal doesn't matter. "On the contrary, its status as an existential project lies in the fact that... the goal is only a pretext that serves to shape the player's comportment in the virtual world into a particular form and, as such, to constitute a particular project of being in the virtual world" (Vella and Gualeni "Virtual Subjectivity: Existence and Projectuality in Virtual Worlds" Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology 2019 vol. 23 no. 2 pg. 122). The virtual world exists in order to enact such goals.
Note that digital games have a distinct difference from other forms of computer applications with regard to goals. With productivity software, for example, the user brings their goals to the application (I use accounting software in order to keep track of my business expenses for tax purposes). With games, the application assigns goals to the user (many games give a checklist of mission objectives the user must accomplish in order to advance) (Marc LeBlanc "Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics: A Formal Approach to Game Design" Lecture at Northwestern University 2004).
Of course, a player often has the freedom not to pursue the explicit proscribed goals that the game assigns. They have agency to pursue their own goals and wander the virtual world aimlessly, attack their own allies, or simply hop up and down in one place. In fact, pursuing a game's proscribed goals when they do not align with the player's personal goals might be seen as acting in bad faith, as Sartre would put it: being what one is not. Marta Kania sees this concept of "bad faith" as characterizing the self-avatar's (Kania's term that aligns with virtual subject) condition -- a player must assume the role of the avatar, to be what one is not, in order to realize the self-avatar's condition. "This way, the point of view of the self-avatar participating in the gameplay situation; i.e. her situatedness within the gameworld; constitutes a basis for meaning-making in a game" (Kania Perspectives of the Avatar 2017 pg. 100).
But, argues Kania, the self-avatar/virtual subject is only acting in bad faith when observed from a perspective external to the gameworld. Within the gameworld, the player's situation has the characteristics of an actor. What is otherwise seen as bad faith provides a perceptual frame for the player acting as a self-avatar, and allows the player to perceive meaning and fulfillment in the gameworld (Ibid. pg. 107).