Reality and its rela..

Reality and its relationship to
Presence, identification, realism
What is reality?
• Though the nature of reality seems obvious, it
is actually a matter of great debate
– Is it physical, solid, external, unaffected by human
– Or is it dependent upon human consciousness,
malleable, partial, changeable?
• Stephen Heath remarks: “The realism of
cinema, as that of the novel, is to be understood
not in terms of some immediate mirroring of
some reality . . . But in relation to the
representation of ‘reality’ a particular society
proposes and assumes.”
• Realism in electronic media is the portrayal of
a narrative in a way that encourages the
audience to experience it as though they were
observing ‘real-world’ events.
– Even if the world portrayed is ‘fantastic’
Realist presentations
• Representation is supposed to ‘stand in’ for the actual
events and objects
• The work of representation is hidden from view.
• That is, you should not be aware of all the
technology, decision-making, etc. that went into
telling the story—it should seem as though you are a
fly on the wall actually watching real events unfold.
• A number of techniques have been developed
that contribute to creation of the illusion of
reality being played out before the eyes of the
– The techniques include cinematography, plot and
characterization, continuity editing, ‘film
language’ and a number of other factors
Practically speaking
• From a cognitive information processing
standpoint, we have two things interacting that
produce reality:
– Sensory input, which is actually digital
information flowing from our receptors to our
brains, and
– Theories about what the data represent, stored in
memory, based on prior experiences and thoughts
Peggy Vaughan
Dependence upon our senses
• Because our senses are our connection to some
supposed physical world, and their reaction to
stimuli from that world define our
understanding of ‘reality’ manipulation of
stimuli can influence our experience or reality
– The more like stimuli we have learned to recognize
as ‘reality’ our portrayals are, the more naturally
inclined we are to interpret them as ‘real’
Realism in art
• The experience of mediation—that is, the
perception that the content is not the same as it
would be if we were ‘really there’ is a
variable—and it varies widely
– An internalized set of rules for interpreting new
stimuli develops over the life span
• Rules for determining ‘reality’ reflect tremendous
amounts of experience for adults, much less so for
• . . . studies of immersion in computer games
argue that children use existing schemas of
reality to understand and read meaning into the
hypertexts of computer games
“Film language”
• Film scholars have argued that experience with
film teaches us a new set of rules for
interpreting stimuli that makes film depictions
appear ‘real’
– Genre rules
• Each new narrative dips into the rules for
‘natural reality’ as well as ‘electronic text
language’ when the audience member
interprets it
• In addition, each text provides exposition,
action, visual cues, etc. that relate to the
interpretation of the narrative presented
– New or unusual presentational styles will gradually
come to seem normal to the mind
• Especially in a pitch black theater
–e.g. Sin City
• Shapiro and Chock (1998) concluded that
audience members compared the content they
observed to a prototype for that class of
– Genre
Why worry about it?
• A realistic portrayal is thought to:
– Increase audience enjoyment of the
– Enhance audience involvement
• Emotional connection with characters
– Increase learning
Features of realist presentation
Third-person narration
Narrator/audience omniscience
Camera work edited to be unobtrusive
Actors, etc. never directly address audience
• “Fourth wall”
• Treatment of actions as displaying certainty—
no discussion of likelihood, probability, etc.
Schema of mediation
• Mediation schema can be said to be based on
two somewhat independent features of the
experience of exposure to mediated content—
– Physical features of the exposure
• Sensory content
• Exposure situation
– Content features
• Narrative fidelity
• Fantastic themes, features
Physical features
• Image complexity/fidelity with experience
– The more an image seems like visual stimuli
experienced in real life, the greater the realism of
the experience
• 3D v. 2D
• Perspective
• Complexity
– Shading/light
– Color
– Character movement
Roderick Munday
Sensory richness
• Haptics
– Touch, vibration, etc.
Physical features that enhance realism
• Field of vision
– The less the peripheral vision, ambient sound
intrudes, the more ‘real’ the experience seems
to be
• VR helmet
• Sound
– Quiet in physical surroundings during exposure
– Inclusion or exclusion of music
– Background noise within the video, etc.
Point of view
• Single v. multiple
• Spectator
– Omniscient
– Observer
• Actor
– First person shooter
Physical features
• Interactivity
– Does the medium/content adjust to the audience
member’s physical action?
– Propriocentrism
Content features
• What indicators do audience members use to
determine whether the content is ‘real’?
Busselle’s dimensions of realism
• Magic window: The extent to which television
allows one to observe ongoing life in another
place or inside the set itself
• Social realism: The extent to which television
content, whether real or fictional, is similar to
life in the real world
• Plausibility: The extent to which something
observed on TV could exist in the real world
• Probability: The likelihood of something
observed on TV existing in the real world or
the frequency with which it occurs
• Identity: The extent to which viewers
incorporate content into their real lives or
involve themselves with content elements
• Utility: How much information or events
observed on television are useful to the viewer
in real life
Magic Window
Social Realism
Narrative consistency
Perceptual persuasiveness
Magic Window
• Very young children treat TV as a ‘magic
window’ that allows them to see real
people/animals/creatures in other places. That
is, they think the characters are real rather than
actors playing roles, that life goes on on
Sesame Street while we are not watching, etc.
Plausibility v. probability
• As kids grow up, the tendency to judge the
realism of programs shifts from their
plausibility—whether or not they could
happen—to their probability—how likely that
the things portrayed would happen or would be
encountered in real life by the audience
member. Probability and social realism
(whether the depiction is like real life) are the
most common sources of reality judgments
among college students.
• Audience members interact with characters
and people onscreen in a number of ways.
Audience members may treat on-screen people
or characters as real when they are only
fictional characters, may fantasize that they are
the characters, or may perceive a real-world
relationship with either the character or the
actor. These varied responses tend to enhance
the realism of the experience of media
Identification or involvement
• If audience members are emotionally taken
with a presentation they experience it as more
– This can happen even though they realize that the
context/narrative is fantastic
• Involvement with at least one character has the
impact of increasing the feeling of realism
Emotional involvement
• Recent scientific discoveries about human
brain mechanics indicate that we automatically
share experiences with people we observe
– Emotional experience is one of the most
– Media content is created specifically to bring out
such reactions among audience members
• Reaction to facial representations of emotion
Nature of
Positioning of
Positioning of
Emotional and
cognitive, alters
state of
and empathy
Perception of
character and
As character
As self
As self
As learner (self
as other)
Absorption in
text, emotional
Attachment to
character and
text, keeping
As character
As self
As self
As learner (self
as other)
Cohen, 2006
Narrative fidelity
• Are actions, events, and characters presented in
ways that the audience member accepts as logical
or at least plausible?
– This will vary with a range of expectations brought to
the experience by the audience member.
• This can be a feature of even fantastic narratives
– For example, the behavior of characters in apocalyptic
sci-fi stories may be judged as ‘realistic’ if it conforms
to the physical rules and behavioral expectations of
that world.
Though obviously far from the only contributing factor (plot,
dialogue, acting, and other factors come instantly to mind)
the importance of visually realized perceptual reality and
the truth that lies in details should be obviously apparent.
Imagine if a dramatic moment was supposedly taking
place on a luxury ocean liner, but the ship shown onscreen
was clearly just a tugboat; context influences the action,
and that moment would be read significantly differently
by the audience. Or more importantly for this argument,
what if the ship shown was an ocean liner, but was
missing the details that the audience has come to expect
that mark it as such—deck chairs, shuffleboard, a largely
white color scheme, or Cruise Director Julie McCoy—and
instead looked like a military destroyer.
• Hyperreality refers to a situation where a
depiction is perceived as more real than
‘reality’ itself
• This has been found where, for example, the dialogue
between two characters is artificially enhanced so the
audience can hear it—and come away perceiving the
scene as more realistic than those exposed to the
original recording
Content features
• The ‘realism’ of a particular character, or
story, is part of the craft of storytelling,
production, etc. Sometimes the director,
author, etc. do not want to generate a high
level of realism
– Fantasy narratives
– Disturbing narratives
The textbook example of this is Jurassic Park, which drew upon
both visual references and plot elements the audience would be
familiar with. The dinosaurs weren’t just the same size and
color as the viewers might have expected from their childhood
trips to museums, but had their computer-generated skin
(designed after everyday lizards’) carefully mapped to interact
with their computer-generated muscles and bones. To breed
further familiarity with the audience’s experience with actual
animals, the dinosaurs ran and moved in patterns carefully
copied from real-life quadrupeds. The visuals were not the
only element to benefit from perceived reality cues: Spielberg
said, ‘The credibility of the premise—that dinosaurs could
come back to life through cloning of the DNA of fossil
mosquitos trapped in amber—is what allowed the movie to be
made’ [4].
The reelization of reality
• The drive behind the need to create a strong
perceptual reality, particularly in referentially unreal
productions, is difficult to pin down. Charles and
Mirella Affron discuss what they term the ‘Reality
Effect’—a notion of perceptual reality which asserts
that sets must look real enough that people who have
been to the actual location they replicate might think
the films were shot on location.
• Most films seek to produce a strong reality effect
Jim Cameron
• In T2 and Jurassic Park, computer animation was being used
to solve a real-world photographic problem, and so the
audience didn’t question the reality of the images. Film is
inherently kind of not real, and the films that succeed best are
the ones that start by creating a world or characters or
whatever that say: this is real, this is real, this is real--and they
keep coming at you every moment the actors are working, and
every bit of production design is trying to underline in red that
it’s real. The moment you start playing with virtual reality, the
audience knows that what they’re seeing is not real, so you’ve
sort of violated one of the most powerful things about film-the ability to create an alternate reality.
Realism is not always prized
• On occasion, the attempt is made to present a
story as fantasy
– You may want a sort of magical feeling
• Harry Potter
– You may want the audience to experience the
narrative as pure escape
– You might want the natural and mundane world to
be seen as fantastic
Audience members vary in their willing
suspension of disbelief
• An example: Jurassic Park