CONNECTED WORLDS – An Immersive Interactive Installation

By: Jedy Chen

Imagine a virtual reality world, instead of being constrained within a tiny headset, is projected onto a real physical space. You can walk around inside this giant living space and interact with all the digital elements with your bare hands and naked eyes. Connected Worlds is such an immersive interactive installation. In this September, I was invited as a maker to attend Maker Faire 2015 in the New York Hall of Science, where I witnessed the magic of Connected Worlds.

There are six ecosystems spreading out across massive screens, connected by a 3,000-square-foot interactive floor. A 45 foot high virtual waterfall sits between two walls, which is water source for the entire virtual world. Audience can relocate positions of the logs on the ground, diverting or routing the stream to flow into different ecosystems. With fixed amount of water resource, visitors have to manage the water, preventing the situation where one habitat is too dry while another is booming.

Exhibits at the Hall of Science. Photo by David Handschuh

Exhibits at the Hall of Science. Photo by David Handschuh

What Connected Worlds impressed me most is its power of echoing our deepest desire. I would like to touch on with my friend’s experience of playing Connected Worlds. When my friend approached the wall and held his arm out in the screen, a digital seed began materialized above his palm, twirling inside a translucent bubble and changing colors. When his hand dropped down, the seed also float into the ground and a plant sprinted and thrived within seconds. Watching this, my friends could not help exclaiming: My childhood fantasy finally come true! This experience vividly illustrates the concept from objective thinking, “cause efficacy”, which “emerges from the past, as the bonds that direct us in experiencing the present”. Pulling something out of thin air is a prevalent dream influenced by fairy tales and fantasy novels. We can hardly realize it in real life. However, instead of vanishing, it is buried deep in our consciousness. Because of its scarcity and unattainability, such childhood memories are constantly strengthened, bonding to us and affecting our behavior at present. That explained our great joy when such desire is met.

This experience is also a good example of the game theory from our recent reading. A successful game like this, instead of defining audience’s behavior by rules, responses to player’s “preferred outcome” in “particular situation”. The primary interaction in Connected Worlds, holding out hands, is intuitive for players, which endows them with completely freedom and seamless experience.

Exhibits at the Hall of Science. Photo by David Handschuh

Exhibits at the Hall of Science. Photo by David Handschuh

Apart from that, Connected Worlds is an installation possessing all the merits of panorama. Utilizing the power of panorama, audience can fully engaged in an immersive theater-like installation. With a school of perspectives to choose, they can “decide the parts to which it is going to pay the greatest attention”. Each part of the wall tells a different story of the water cycle system. For instance, desert, mountain valley, plains, reservoir, jungle and wetlands. Visitors are forced to use their imagination to predict the impact of the water change in one environment to the entire system. Animals and seeds from different ecosystems may even migrate, leading audience’s eye to shift between each stories. It is like event-generating games or narratives, revealing the whole story little by little, providing fulfillment when anticipations are met or challenged. Such active engagement and full attention trigger audience’s curiosity to explore further plots, maximizing their understanding of ecology in a dynamic environment, sustainability from a systems-thinking perspective, and the future of interactive education.

If we compare Connected Worlds and current virtual reality techniques, the flaws of VR become obvious. The first one is users’ discomfort when putting on all the VR devices. Wearing the clunky headset wears is like wearing a helmet, which is definitely not a free or nature state for users. Not to mention the wires hanging on the headset that constrain users’ movement. The second flaw is motion sickness, like headache, stomach awareness, nausea, which is due to latency and low fresh rate of the device. Assuming that these two flaws will eventually be solved with the development of technique, the third defect, spatial disorientation, will constantly accompany VR. VR applications have a really high site requirement. If users need to move around, no obstacles can be placed nearby. Otherwise users should wear some protectors like Omni. VR tries hard to replace the reality with the virtual world. However, audience still tend to be alert to what happened in the real world in case they being hurt by instability of the VR system. Such disoriented feeling or distraction from VR will alienate audience from the immersive VR world.

Contrary to VR, Connected Worlds represents the unique characteristic of panorama that audience can “experience the sensation of being in two places at the same time”. The proportion of these two places is so balance that it’s not necessary for audience to try hard to forget the reality. The real world acts as vital as the virtual one in the context and the story-telling. In this sense, Augmented Reality seems to have more potential market in the future.

In addition to that, like what Soke said, “The panorama satisfies the human desire to take possession of nature”. While in VR, lacking comprehensive senses apart from sight and audition, audience can easily feel lost in a way that everything he/she owns in the virtual world cannot be perceived with body. Their imagination loses reference from the physical world and become illusory and vague.
Works Cited:
1 Dinkla, Soke. “The Art of Narrative – Towards the Floating Work of Art.” 2001.
2 Barker, Timothy. “Objects and Interaction.” 2011.
3 Simons, Jan. “Narrative, Game, and Theory.” 2007.
4 “Connected Worlds”. Official Website of Design I/O. <[]>