Feng Shui of Virtual Reality

The Feng Shui of Virtual Reality

Michael Heim
Art Center College of Design
Pasadena, California

Abstract. Flow is a subtle but important feature of virtual worlds design. Flow or blockage of flow belongs to the aesthetic dimension of online virtual worlds. The study of flow goes beyond the usual dichotomies of user/tool, subject/object. Examples from the CyberForum@ArtCenter series of online events hosted in virtual settings highlight four different aspects of flow in 3-D avatar worlds currently deployed for online learning and conferencing. Discussed are: atmospheric flow, the flow of words with visual images, the flow of group dynamics and the flow between virtual and physical architecture. The implications of flow suggest strategies for enhancing immersion in virtual worlds.


Flow is a smooth, unimpeded movement through space-time. It is an aesthetic quality of spatial movement and occurs throughout the physical world. As conceived in the Chinese art of arrangement, feng shui (literally water and wind), everything in the universe consists of subtle patterns of moving, flowing energy. feng shui sees the universe alive with yin-yang pulsations. Polarities create pulsations, which in turn create flow. Without flow, the universe would be dead. On micro and macro levels, energy currents continually balance and counter-balance one another, creating a dynamic system. The Taoist tradition from which feng shui derives considers the universe to be as fluid and shifting as smoke and wind. In this emphasis, Taoist thinking parallels the process philosophies that broke away from the Artistotelian legacy of western metaphysics where substance and substantial definition became the primary focus of science [15].

Feng shui is the art of arrangement, of placing things in such a way as to enhance the flow of energies and minimize dissipation [3; 23]. Optimal flow for living organisms means that the atmosphere feels like a spring breeze – neither fast and vehement, nor sluggish and stagnant. The quality of flow causes living beings either to flourish or deteriorate. This paper argues that the art of placement applies, mutatis mutandis, to the design of virtual environments as well as to the arrangement of the physical world. Because space-time differs from the physical to the virtual, the art of placement is not identical in both realms, but the two branches of feng shui share much in common since both deal with the felt experience of flow. This paper explores four specific ways in which flow applies to the aesthetic of virtual environments: atmospheric flow, the flow of words with visual images, the flow of group dynamics and the flow between virtual and physical architecture.

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The Feng Shui of Virtual Reality

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