Contemplative Walking in Virtual Reality Spaces


For all of our previous walking history, we have walked on the physical earth, among real tress and stones. There have been symbolic practices, like visualizations, where we cultivate an imagined world, like the Buddhist Pure Land and we have used symbolic journeys like the labyrinth or Stations of the Cross. Only recently, as part of our electronic revolution has it become possible to view and experience, in a rich and compelling way, a simulated walk in hundreds of world and otherworldly locations.

Using various kinds of head-mounted “virtual reality” (VR) devices we can “walk” on the Appalachian Trail, in the Italian Dolomites and more.

Two Main Types:

2D Photosphere and 3D Modelling

  • 2D Photosphere: Passive, constructed from on real location, good for simple demos, (like a tourist destination), not good for objects
    • video 360 ; This is what is used for Google’s Street View. Special cameras capture views which the viewer can scan later in a full, somewhat warped 360 degree perspective. Check out: 
    • POV video; This is Point-of-view capture where you can travel through a space and view as if you were the traveller. These are becoming more popular as treadmill/ cycle/ elliptical machine use. What you see resembles what a traveller would see. It lacks 360 capacity. have a look at:
  • 3D modelling: High user agency, can be interactive, not reliant on real locations, good for objects, can create imagined sites (like fantasy worlds)
    • VR- Simulated: These are computer graphics (CGI) constructed representations of real sites, like the Vatican, that you can visit and explore. It is possible, as in most games, that you can use objects in the field and interact with an artificial intelligence figure. You can even adopt an avatar, like an ancient monk, going to that site. Check out a making-of vid for the VR experience of walking between the NY Twin Towers in the film The Walk (great book by the way)

    • VR – fantasy: This began with PAC man and Super Mario, where fantasy figures travel and act in a imagined world. This can be as sophisticated as your technology allows. These can even be hyper-realistic version of our world, as with this:
    • VR – augmented; This is like the above two with added sensory elements. Not only can you walk across a canyon bridge, with special “haptic” wearables, you can feel the sway and smell the air. A good example is Merrell TrailScape which is a 4D, motion-tracked, multi-sensory experience .

The question we can begin with is whether we can practice any contemplative walking in any of these artificial environments. Would they actually represent the experience we have in a real trail or city environment. Might the experience be similar enough? Might it even be better? We’ll come back to this in later posts.

For an initial commentary, check out this Sierra Club commentary:

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