Autoethnographic Close Reading of Self-transcendent VR Experiences


Sipping the Virtual Elixir: An autoethno­graphic close read­ing of Ayahuasca Kosmik Journey a self-transcendent vir­tual experience.

Recently self-transcendent expe­ri­ences are gain­ing inter­est in the research com­mu­nity because of their abil­ity to sup­port well­be­ing. Experiences of self-transcendence can be trans­for­ma­tive, lead­ing to a dimin­ish­ment of self/ego and the feel­ing of unity with nature, the uni­verse, God or human­ity. However, study­ing tran­scen­dent expe­ri­ences is chal­leng­ing, because they are rare, pri­vate and deeply per­sonal. Virtual Reality (VR) can be used to invite self-transcendent expe­ri­ences, making them more acces­si­ble for public and research. However, in the search for design guide­lines for self-transcendent VR, researchers strug­gle to derive gen­er­al­iz­able insights. The chal­lenge stems from tran­scen­dent expe­ri­ences in VR still being very per­sonal: they are expe­ri­enced inti­mately and par­tic­i­pants may not want to or know how to artic­u­late them. Moreover, these expe­ri­ences are con­tin­gent on indi­vid­u­als’ back­grounds. In this project, we explore how we can develop a rich and authen­tic under­stand­ing of tran­scen­dent VR, its expe­ri­en­tial qual­i­ties, and fac­tors affect­ing it, by using an autoethno­graphic method­ol­ogy that can allow access to a cul­tur­ally and auto­bi­o­graph­i­cally sit­u­ated con­text of individual’s expe­ri­ence as well as embod­ied affec­tive dimen­sions of their phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal expe­ri­ences. We extend the autoethno­graphic approach by com­bin­ing it with close-reading to ana­lyze the cul­tural text of VR design. The close-reading shifts focus to the design arti­fact, allow­ing us to gain insights into the con­nec­tions between design and expe­ri­ence and engage in autoethno­graphic crit­i­cal reflec­tion of VR as a cul­tural artifact.

In this project, we look at exist­ing VR expe­ri­ences, posi­tioned to deliver some type of self-transcendent emo­tions such as awe, flow, com­pas­sion, decen­ter­ing,  unity, etc. We have looked at theBlu, Remembering, SoundSelf, Ayahuasca Cosmik Journey, Spheres, Isness. We then pro­vide an in-depth analy­sis of our expe­ri­ences and the design ele­ments that may have sup­ported these phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal expe­ri­ences. The results inform how we can better design with immer­sive tech­nol­ogy to elicit qual­i­ties of self-transcendent experiences.

Presentation at Extended Senses Symposium in Greenwich, Sept, 2022


Miller, Noah, John Desnoyers-Stewart, Ekaterina R. Stepanova, Alexandra Kitson, Jim Bizzocchi, and Bernhard E. Riecke. 2022. “Sipping the Virtual Elixir: An Autoethnographic Close Reading of Ayahuasca Kosmik Journey a Self-Transcendent Virtual Experience.” In Extended Senses (Full Paper), 1–8. London, UK: University of Greenwich. (Download)