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  • Writer's pictureBhuvanesh Tekavade

Simulacra, Ethnography & Virtual Reality

During our readings this week, we were submerged in the world of philosophy, yet again! We were instructed to read three books (curated sections of books);

  1. Simulacra & Simulation [by Jean Baudrillard. Transl. by Sheila Faria Glaser.. Simulacra and simulation, 1981]

  2. Virtual Art: Illusion to Immersion (Chapter 6: Spaces of Knowledge; Pg 212 - 269 ) [by Oliver Grau, MIT Press, 2002]

  3. Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method (Chapter 2; Pg 13 - 28) [Boellstorff, Tom, Princeton University Press, 2012]

Simulacra & Simulation

Let's begin with the above image, for the Fans that recognizes this scene; "Yes, the book is a big inspiration for the movie." For those who don't know or cannot remember, this is a scene from Matrix (1999), a movie that I have already reviewed on the blog and holds a big significance to the movie if taken from a critical point of you. Here is the link to the Matrix blog: The Matrix (

So, What is Simulacra:

And Simulation:

So as I started reading this humongous bubble of confusing terms; as expected, I was lost. This lead me to research about the book and here is a short summary of what Mr. Jean Baudrillard wants to talk in this book in an overly complicated language.

According to Baudrillard, what has happened in postmodern culture is that our society has become so reliant on models and maps that we have lost all contact with the real world that preceded the map. Reality itself has begun merely to imitate the model, which now precedes and determines the real world...

Baudrillard is not merely suggesting that postmodern culture is artificial, because the concept of artificiality still requires some sense of reality against which to recognize the artifice. His point, rather, is that we have lost all ability to make sense of the distinction between nature and artifice.


The first chapter to read was Hologram; and what can I say, I had to think about it for the next three days to understand what the f*ck he exactly meant. To my understanding; Baudrillard talks about immersion via the perspective of holograms and how that technology is destined for humanity. An example he takes is of a Painting and how the depth in a painting leads to a vanishing point. But when you look at the painting and are lost in it, you become the vanishing point; which is a direct analogy to immersion. He also discusses how Hologram was supposed to be the next 3D cinema; similar to how cinema was destined to take over theater and photography were destined to take over painting. But this future never came to pass or to be optimistic has not yet come to a pass. but who knows what the future might be, probably Mr. Baudrillard does!

There is another analogy of how technological development can mean the death of immersion. Stereophonia which basically means completely submerged in 3-Dimentional sound can be the end of the beauty of Music. My understanding of this is; It might be true, because if I am in the middle of a band and all sounds are coming from multiple direction, my brain might not be able to decode the music as it does when I am an audience member and listening to the band from a certain distance. But at the same time, this might not be true if we consider today's technology of producing 7D audio at the rate of 300 Ohms on simple headphones. So who knows what will happen or what might happen!

Then Baudrillard talks about the possibility of multi-layered Dimensions and how we do not know what dimension might exist above us or might be below us. This to me looks like the base of The Matrix forming inception of realities; so how do we know what is real and what is virtual, raising the further question of; is everything a Simulation to a higher Reality, if yes, then for us, what exactly is Reality? Is reality something that is real or is it something that is more than just real?

[Example of a possible Multi-Layered Dimensional world]

As you can see, this book lead to more questions than answers but gave me a perspective of thought that I had never looked at.


This leads to the most bizarre thing that I have read in a long time; "CRASH" (by David Cronenberg, Telefilm Canada, 1996). It's a movie adapted from a book that possibly talks about a futuristic Cyberpunk world. I will not talk about this chapter as it talks about one thing simple, "Necrophilia". There is a cult that has a fetish for creating accidents and let's say having a "good time" with the dead bodies that now have multiple holes in them. I might be extremely wrong about the movie, but that is what I got from the book, which was just extremely disturbing to me and would not recommend it to my readers.

S I M U L A C R A & S C I E N C E F I C T I O N

In the third section, I read about "The Three Orders of Simulacra".

  1. The first order talks about a Utopian World; a world that is an ideal image in the eyes of Baudrillard. A world that is not controlled or driven by technology.

  2. The second-order talks about Science Fiction; a world that is productive, and proactively founded on Energy. This is per me our current world. A world that follows the ideals of exactions, experimentation, and technological advancements. In the eyes of Baudrillard this is a science fiction world.

  3. The third talks about the Future; a fused world of the first two orders. A world fused with technology and nature, a true utopia in my eyes. As per Baudrillard humans here would be cybernetic beings that would be living in a hyper-real reality. The world is similar to that of Cyberpunk 2077 [Game].

Visual depiction of Baudrillard’s thesis

Baudrillard makes a very good observation back in 1981 which is still real in my opinion. We as humans are stuck in the pre-registered models that drive our daily life. In Baudrillard eyes, there are no imagination but as per me, Imagination is a scarce tool that only a given few utilize to its maximum extent. Due to this, we are just stuck in the cycle of trying to simulate reality when we did even know what exactly is real, as per Baudrillard.

Our urge to constantly expand and conquer will one day stop as there will be no infinity to imagine. The map would be built, the map would be complete, and nothing more to do. This fully build map would lead to the death of Imagination, leading to the death of Science Fiction, which in Baudrillard opinion would begin the Era of Hyper Real.

"Science fiction would no longer be a romantic expansion with all the freedom and naivete that the charm of discovery gave it, but, quite the contrary, it would evolve implosively, in the very image of our current conception of the universe, attempting to revitalize, reactualize, requotidianize fragments of simulation, fragments of this universal simulation that have become for us the so-called real world." [by Jean Baudrillard. Transl. by Sheila Faria Glaser.. Simulacra and simulation]

This book exhausted me mentally and made me question a lot. It was fun and irritating at the same time.

Spaces of Knowledge


It begins with Knowbotic South, Knowbotic South's Strategy for Changing the View of Nature; A dynamic map of a data landscape that provides a form of interaction with multi-local and multi-presence information fields. Based on the Mannerist representation of the continent as art and the Cabinet of Curiosities by the Ant warp painter Jan van Kessel (1626-1679), Knowbotic Research (KR + cF) designed a computer-assisted Antarctic model as a public space for knowledge. The unit that imposes the structure of this fictitious area is the knowledge bot. These elements include the reference topics encountered in scientific research and their underlying reference nature, in this case, the current Antarctic research dataset, which symbolizes a direct real-time connection to natural events in Antarctica. To highlight the evolutionary potential of this fiction that interacts with the information landscape, KR + cF creates a simple visual metaphor sketched on the DWTKS digital landscape. Spatial interactivity allows users to "dive" into each knowbot. The data representations of survey objects, datasets, models, and simulations that form Knowbot's fictitious mutable objects are only visible within the building structure.

(Knowbotic Research)


The virtual reality "House of Brain" not only reflects the new environment but also represents the media discourse itself as a philosophical debate. The virtual environment has philosophers presented as a building. They are dedicated to Joseph Waisenbaum, Marvin Minsk, Paul Virilio, and Vimma Flyouv's ideas. The opposite location of digital culture is visible and listened to the word battle of heated discussions. Applications, suggestions, and words make interactive landscapes in real-time. With the help of the information glove, the visitor explores this virtual discourse and is literally immersed in their own thoughts. The audience watches this audiovisual scenario on a large projection screen.

(A networked VR installation as a virtual exhibition of philosophers’ thoughts. Golden Nica of Prix Ars Electronica 1992.)

The navigator becomes a storyteller and the audience acts as a chorus, commenting like an ancient theater. The theoretical discourse about new media, which is usually done in books, is virtually shifted. You can hear fragments of the text, like Vilém Flusser's quote. "People are getting worse, but technology is advancing." Minsky's view that there is no difference between you and your digital clone is virtual space. The "Brain House" is very talkative, allowing for complex placements and factual combinations, even with few text sources (4 x 4 text fragments). The navigator manipulates the proportion of objects in a texture map consisting of light, shadow, and sound examples. He acts weightlessly in the new Global Brain, which consists of networked computers in "the home of the brain."


Memory Theater VR is an example of a virtual museum that implements an initial architecture, an interface, and a visualization strategy that makes up the experience of real and virtual entities. The installation itself is installed within a cylindrical space built in a wooden panel similar to a theater set. The user interface, which is a three-dimensional space device for tracing, can be moved inside the transparent replica of the flexible housing of this cylindrical housing, and the image is projected on a large curve screen installed on the circular wall opposite the interface. If you move the interface device, the viewer chooses four other virtual spaces that point to the potential compass, north, east, south, and west, and is also a virtual replica of the common cylindrical installation architecture. Each of these presented space is a specific scenario of images and objects located inside this common architecture medium, and the projection screen of the virtual space is the surface that displays the film clips. The content of this installation is the cultural and technological history of personal inventions in virtual reality.

It is a fairly interesting way to present data, in the form of memory to the user. It also might be a good platform to collect historically accurate data and showcase it to the user piece by piece by letting them control it. In terms of the immersion, in my opinion, it's subjective as it heavily relies on the data being presented. To me, if the data itself is not interesting, after the initial use, I would get bored, but if it's something that an individual is interested in then it might add good levels of immersion via intractability.

(Agnes Hegedues, Memory Theater VR)


In a drama or novel, we face moments of major conflict, dilemma, contradiction, and ambivalence that focus on the characters who create irresistible tension until the conflict is resolved.

At Ultima Ratio, visitors stand under a disc-shaped projection screen. Interacts with "for" and "against" options in the form of abstract diagrams. Visitors can expand the database with new assertions. The conflict results in a modified decision support system for the study of logical structures and AI.

This structure is very similar to that of a Visual Novel or primitive Game Books or in modern-day terms, an interactive movie (Eg. - Her Story). As per my understanding, Ultima Ratio is based on conflict! Users must make active and creative choices to deal with the dual situation. For example, should Hamlet kill Claudius he is praying? Hamlet wants revenge for the murder of his father, but modern beliefs say that if someone is killed while praying, he will go straight to heaven. Both options are displayed and it's up to the player to make the choice which would further create consequences that we must deal with.

It basically dials down and talks about our fundamental nature; Choice. Anything and everything we do is affected by it, including the act of me writing this article. But again, the level of immersion here also depends on the content provided.

Ultima Ratio’s database stores conflict from life literature and input given from visitors. Plewe's objective was or is an attempt to generate a visual language for argumentation as demanded through various situations, which shows the logic and internal arguments of the protagonists on which future action will rest. The visual language transforms options into images of arguments, creating logical meanings that go beyond traditional notions of rationality.


In a panoramic display-based set-up, the user is kept at the center and is completely surrounded by the widescreen display.

Here we talk about an installation called "War Skin, 1997" by the artist Maurice Benayoun. World Skin highlights how technology and media influence our perception of the world, suggesting how our mediated depictions of human fear are neutralized and on the same level. It highlights the contrast between the importance of printed photos that "military safari tourists" can take with them and the virtual environment in which they appear.

(War Skin, 1997, Maurice Benayoun)

When the audience enters a dark space, they become virtual tourists facing a three-dimensional military landscape. The camera acts as an interface. The act of "shooting" as part of the scene causes the framing area to disappear from the projected image as if the layers of skin were torn from the world.

Another such example is "Place - Ruhr" by Australian artist Jeffrey Shaw. PLACE Ruhr is a virtual landscape containing 11 cinematic panoramas that have been selected and brought to life in urgent places in the Ruhr region. The audience moves interactively in this three-dimensional space, and as they enter each of these panoramas, they encounter the cinematic contingency of their surroundings. This artistic intervention reveals the narrative, psycho-geographical separation hidden in the collective memory of each place.

(Place - Ruhr, Jeffery Shaw)

In my opinion, Panoramic displays add more immersion to the content being consumed. But for it to be successful, anything made needs to be made from the idea of having it on a panoramic display and not just port anything onto a panoramic display. A panoramic display provides more screen space which leads to more information provided on the screen which can lead to a very immersive visual.


As the chapter comes to an end, we start discussing things more relevant to the current world; Mixed Reality. The concept of mixed reality is quite broad. It includes many technologies that allow users to experience both "virtual" and "real" at the same time. The concept itself has many important applications in modern society and can be used to make significant advances in many academic fields.

Mixed Reality as a technology is very fascinating to me as it bridges the gap between the Virtual World and the Real World. It might be something that ends the debate of reality and virtuality by creating something completely new that is yet to be seen. It is still a technology that is in development and might be in development for a longer period of time, but the only thing that scares me with Mixed Reality is the possibility of breaking the Magic Circle in terms of video games.

Games have always been a digital medium that provides the user with a safe space to experience something different without being scared of physical problems. It lets them experience something that they might have thought to exist but is dangerous to reality. With Mixed Reality that gap can be bridged and might break the magic circle.

In the end, everything is big "if", it's a big "might" or "should" that we don't yet know about.

This takes us into the final topic of Computers being a thinking tool or a hand tool. As per the book, to which I agree, computer till date and in my eyes always should be a hand took. To potential future of it becoming a thinking tool is scary. To provide context; Hand Tool is something that we operate and have control over and a Think Tool is us, now imagine Computer becoming a Think Tool, there are many things that it can lead to;

  1. Computers start reproducing code creating newer beings.

  2. Humans gain the ability to digitize and live in cyber-spaces.

  3. An all-out cyber apocalypse.

Yes, these are all just hypotheses but who is to say what may come to pass in the near or further future.

Ethnography and Virtual Worlds : A Handbook of Method

Ethnography basically means to keep a record of things, objects & history. Now you might wonder, "Isn't Encyclopedia also doing the same thing?" Yes, you are correct it does the same things, but, Ethnography is much more detailed.

Example - You might find the record of the first plastic bag in an encyclopedia, an entomophagy of a plastic bag would be a complete survey of it's use, understanding it's impact on culture, constituents of its makings and details of it's effects.

Ethnography is a type of qualitative research that involves immersing yourself in a particular community or organization to observe their behavior and interactions up close.

Now, let's move into the Ethnography of the Virtual World, what exactly are Virtual Worlds, I say, they are imaginative pieces of realistic or altered events. The book takes an example from how in Cave-man days, the cavemen used to draw on walls from their unknown conscience of imagination, this also is a virtual world but for the caveman. Hence, that's where it all started, Virtual is not something new or relatively new, in philosophical terms, it can be dated to the first humans themselves.

These cave paintings became normal paintings, which in time converted into pieces of literature. Think about the early days of fictional novels, or take an example of Myth, we don't know if they existed or occurred, but here are records. These records could have been someone's imagination, making them a Virtual World. Then from the days of Literature, man discovered way to let the user drive the story, option-based games. These fictional worlds then started fusing with board games like Chess, giving birth to the early concepts of DnD's which as the technology developed were made digitally and gave birth to the medium of Video Games. Even if we talk of Video Games from the early 2000s, it has changed drastically, giving birth to Experiences and as we proceed currently into Virtual Reality and soon to Mixed Reality.

This is the Ethnography of the Virtual World. What we thought came due to the advancements of technology can actually be seen in mankind from its inception. This leads me to think, where are we headed now, is it the cyber-space that experts have been talking about? Does this event stop? Or let's take back to Simulacra, this is the way we create till the infinity is in our grasp. Is this the multi-layered dimension that Jean Baudrillard has talked about?

This week's reading has just led to down a spiral of questions that I have no answers to and I don't think I will ever have an answer to, it's just a matter of patience as the world events unfold.

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