Matt Vetter (Department of English) and co-authors Brent Lucia (University of Connecticut, English PhD alumnus) and David Solberg (English MA TESOL alumnus) recently published an article in the journal Technical Communication Quarterly.‘I Feel Like I’m in a Box’: Contrasting Virtual Reality “Imaginaries” in the Context of Academic Innovation Labs” compares the marketing rhetoric of VR software and hardware with interviews of actual users to uncover disparities in how immersion is described and experienced.

As immersive technology grows in popularity, universities are developing academic innovation labs (AIL) that often introduce students to virtual reality and other emerging cross-reality applications. Although these labs help educate students on emerging technology, a more critical eye is needed to examine user experience (UX).

This article reports on a qualitative, multimethod study that employed a talk-aloud UX protocol to gather data on VR users’ experience at the University of Connecticut’s OPIM Research Lab. To fully define and contrast this data, this article juxtaposes these individual narratives with rhetorical analysis of marketing discourse, as presented by VR platform HTC Vive, Google’s VR application Tilt Brush, and the Research Lab’s promotional material.

Findings reveal that sociotechnical imaginaries as constructed by promotional material often reduce the complexities of immersion in user experience. Such marketing rhetoric creates “top-down” imaginaries that contrast with “bottom-up” imaginaries generated in user experience, reinforcing the complex and fluid definitions of immersion. The resulting study has practical implications for stakeholders across higher education, especially in the context of innovation labs, as well as for technical and professional communication educators and practitioners.