Virtual reality (VR) is real-time interactive graphics with three-dimensional models, combined with display technologies that give the user immersion in the model world and allow direct manipulation. As the virtual reality landscape rapidly expands, the infrastructure, platforms, and content in development lack antecedents. The purpose of this master’s thesis is to examine how virtual reality interfaces can be designed to strengthen immersion, presence and the overall user experience inside a virtual environment.

Virtual reality expands the realm of traditional human-computer interaction because of a user’s perception of “presence.” Presence is a user’s subjective psychological state of “being there” when interacting in a virtual environment. Virtual reality headsets instill presence by manipulating some or all sensory channels. The more a medium is able to instill a sense of presence, the more immersive it can be said to be. Immersion is the necessary building block required to create presence. It is the objective level of sensory fidelity and plot. It is crucial to understand immersion and presence in virtual reality because the medium can cause simulator sickness. The sickness is the byproduct of both physiological and technological deficiencies.

To date, virtual reality research has largely focused on the hardware specs and limitations. There is very little published, scholarly work concerning the user experience inside a virtual environment, specifically how a user interface (UI) affects immersion and presence. Although, guidelines exist for designing VR interfaces, their recommendations do not evaluate if an interface is facilitating immersion and presence. In addition, taxonomies for developing pleasant interfaces in video games, cannot simply adhere to virtual reality because the experience of being in a virtual environment is fundamentally different than watching a actions take place on a flat screen.

This study will result in the development of a best-practices framework for all virtual reality user interfaces. This will be done through a study of user interfaces in virtual reality games, as well as a user-based study designed to measure immersion and presence. Three virtual reality video games, varying from intense to comfortable experiences, will be evaluated. Each game will have a set of 5-10 unique participants. Upon completion of a 15-minute demonstration, participants will complete an immersive tendency and presence questionnaire to evaluate if the games interface facilitates immersion and presence. The study will conclude with a semi-structured interview where additional data will be coded.

Virtual reality video games and future applications, must consider how to design effective user interfaces that balance displaying necessary information while preserving immersion and presence. This thesis will not only create a framework for future virtual reality development, but also create a dialogue for developers entering a new environment.

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