I want to make a note of a recent experience where, once again, the power of extended reality (XR) completely floored me. I’m calling the experience “XR-vu,” and I liked it. A lot.
XR-vu is, yes, a play on the phrase “déjà vu,” that oh-so-fun feeling of foreboding or otherworldly prescience that hits you when you least expect it. It’s as though you’ve previously dreamed of a moment — or even lived through it — in a different state of consciousness, despite it never having happened.
Now, imagine experiencing déjà vu and tracing it back to a time when you actually did experience the moment, but in extended reality like virtual reality, augmented reality, or mixed reality.
That’s what I experienced a few weeks ago while visiting Ollantaytambo, Peru, a lovely Andean village about 2 hours outside of Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire. I’d been to the region about 30 years ago while backpacking for 18 months after college. However, I had never been to Ollantaytambo’s ruins, at least not in person.
I did visit Ollantaytambo in virtual reality, though. The site was featured in in a detailed and compelling experience built by Microsoft as an example of how tourism and travel might be conveyed using VR. It shipped in Microsoft HoloTour, a demonstration app that launched in 2017. You can read more about how the Microsoft team built the HoloTour experience of Ollantaytambo; the technical document describes an interesting mix of techniques to photographically capture and convey the site.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t dig up any images from HoloTour to illustrate the experience. Suffice it to say that in HoloTour, I was so convincingly immersed midst of the Ollantaytambo ruins that when I visited those ruins in April of 2019, I had a triple-take moment that flooded my brain with a sense of very strong déjà-vu-like cues. I asked myself: Have I been here before? Why does this place seem so familiar? Did I dream it?
Despite feeling like I’d already walked through these ruins, I had never visited them. But, as far as my brain could tell, I had visited them — I had an XR-vu memory, after all. Wow. Wow!
The experience packed the punch of deja-vu multiplied by 5, or maybe even 10. It really showed me the difference between seeing a picture or a movie and immersing yourself in the unique and compelling sense of presence in XR/VR. It’s that hallmark sense of presence which triggers activity in the human brain that forms actual spatial memories, which I later recollected as though they were real. It’s the same sort of phenomenon that allows you to develop muscle memory and create functional mental maps from XR experiences.
However, it was incredibly interesting, and I wanted to share an account of my experience. I look forward to writing about XR-vu more and discussing it with others as they have their own moments of XR-vu! Anyone else experience XR-vu or VR-vu?