When will there be a backlash to “immersion”?

You cannot talk about VR and AR these days without someone talking about immersion, or presence. The point of it is to “feel like you are there.”

This has been a recurring theme in the intersection of aesthetics and tech. Gaming is constantly striving for realism. 3D television, 4k and 8k, HDR — all of it is meant to make the digital both more lifelike, but also more like life.

Fine. But “immersion” — or at least something like it — has also become a dominant strain of auteur film as well. Think of every small, mumblecore indie movie you’ve seen: has the conceit not been that they are painfully, almost excruciatingly realistic? The cringe, the squalor, the immediacy, even the nudity — it is all meant to shed artifice in a kind of auto-erasure of the camera.

I am not suggesting that, even when it is the explicit purpose, art “recreates reality.” That is not exactly how mimesis functions. Rather, realism is an aesthetic mode with a particular sort of desired affective outcome: you weren’t meant to really feel like you were there, but it was meant to be realistic enough that you could fool yourself into believing you could be, and that those characters continued to exist after the credits ran.

So the question: as technology becomes more and more immersive, when does art circle back around to some sort of deliberate artifice? I suppose I mean less a Brechtian mirror than a move away from realism — not in the sense of Marvel movies' very obvious and still realist fantasizing, but instead art that refuses realism as its primary assumption. When does VR and AR prompt a desire for film that is decidedly “not believable”?

Navneet Alang @navalang