We presented at the California Academy of Sciences as part of Mediate Art Group’s SoundWave Festival in July, 2016.
“Architecture of Ideas” is an experience of symbolic information in Virtual Reality. The source content is quotes from the book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The quotes gain a new double meaning: his ideas about a psychological subjective mental experience take on a new perspective when seen applied to a technological immersive experience. We see ideas floating around and through us visually and sonically using both Virtual Reality headsets and computer screens linked together in this short multi-user experience.
The multi-user experience included three Samsung GearVR headsets, synced with a server so that each user could see the avatars of two other users. The three users needed to work together to gaze in the same direction in order to proceed with each scene of the experience.
The Hall of Africa, right next to live penguins, was a great space for the event, and plenty of room for the unfortunately long line. We ran approximately one hundred users, mostly first-time VR users, through the experience.
As users gazed at panels, the sea of letters would animate in sync with a narration track. Since the goal was to engage deeply with the concepts, the narration wasn’t a single voice, but a multiple takes artistically timed and mixed, so phrases were repeated and mixed on top of each other, in tone from serious to silly. This unusual technique was surprising at first, but users quickly understood that it was by design and helped to enhance the meaning of the content by repetition with variation.
At the end, the letters swirl around the user and a giant “FLOW” fades in, larger than can fit in the field of view, so users can only read by turning to see the letters two at a time.
I probably spoke to about 20 people coming out of the experience. Comments included:
“At first, the multiple voices were distracting, even sounded like a bug, but then I got used to it and liked it.”
“I liked the repetition in the voice so you could really think about the words.”
“I was really engaged with the words and towards the end I realized how I was taking it in so much that I wondered if this was what it would feel like to be brainwashed.”
A life coach/corporate motivational consultant had a lot to say about intrinsic motivation and has contacted me afterward.
“The big ‘FLOW’ at the end felt mind-expanding.”
“Enjoyed the flowing letters at the end.” Most positive comments were about this.
Some users were “amazed, unlike anything” they’d ever seen.
My ideas for future events:
Throughput. This is and will continue to be a huge challenge in live events. The lines are just going to be long, which might in itself serve as an attractor on a trade-show floor. Perhaps we can develop media so that all that time waiting in line could be used to familiarize users with a product or service. Some good conversations could/should be had at that point.
I would like to think more about how to build expectations but not necessarily show the whole presentation on the preview monitors. Something to be said for having people experience the unexpected in VR.
Interaction with the presentation for VR virgins should be kept to an absolute minimum. Guided experiences are going to be most effective. But ways that users can pause and ask questions of the guide would be very valuable. It will be challenging to balance the competing interests of “the message is the medium” and “the message is the message.”
User testing follow-up. Get emails and phone numbers to conduct follow-up interviews. I want to see if people remember the content the next day.