Conjuring Magical Experiences for Kids VR — Part II

Part 2 of the 3rd UK ‘Roadshow of Research in VR+Kids’ by storycentral for the Children’s Media Foundation — hosted by Immotion in Manchester.

Ontological Design & Spatial Awareness

Peter Caddock, Director of VR, Immotion

Peter Caddock — Director of VR, Immotion

Peter has spent many years designing, developing and producing bespoke, interactive software solutions and entertainment experiences for a variety of clients and audiences, gaining him multiple awards.

Peter started the session and conversation by referring to his recent research on the concept and nature of ontological design, immediately directing us to a white paper published in May 2018 Virtual Memory palaces : immersion aids recall by Eric Krokos, Catherine Plaisant and Amitabh Varshney of the University of Maryland, USA.

Download link here —

He went on to set a context for his discussion on ontological design with a quote by Anne Marie Willis,

We design our world, while our world acts back on us and designs us.”

Peter stated how, “the world around us is architecturally designed, with ontological outcomes, from the way that roads are designed and structured — even the lines in the road keep us on the right side, tell us where we can or can’t park”.

Alison added that the architectural design of cathedrals dictate how we behave when we step inside — “we feel very small, if we speak loudly it echoes and reverberates, there are pre-defined spaces for quiet prayer, loud worship, reflection, isolation and community”.

Peter went on to show a short video from Jason Silva’s series ‘Shots of Awe’; How Our Creations Change Us.

Silva’s video riffs on ‘Interfacing Brains’, stating, “Our environment moulds and shapes us. How what is without becomes within. Everything that we design is designing us back. We are designed by that which we have designed.”

Escher’s Hand

The Silva video went on to talk about research from Stephen Johnson, how our thoughts shape our spaces, and talks about architecture and references how cathedrals build cathedrals inside our minds. In his Shots of Awe short, Silva asks, “What is our responsibility when we build the cities of 21stC — how do we make their systems thinking, their feedback loops to upgrade how we function in the world? How to understand the city as an organism?”, reiterating the inherent need for us to understand these feedback loops.

Peter smartly applied this approach to designing Virtual Reality experiences for children, and how what we design, the spaces we put children in through a HMD, has the power and potential to feedback their own experiences. He went on to reference Jeremy Bailenson, of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford and his studies on how VR can change behaviour and memory in both adults and children. Part of Bailenson’s work looks at the effects VR has in the real world — bringing elementary school children into the lab for an experience, then bringing them back a week later to see that 50% will believe that what they experienced in the virtual experience happened in their real world. This sparked an intense discussion on the impact, possibilities and dangers of Virtual Reality to embed memories, specifically within children.

Peter stated that,

designers of content and interaction for VR must take on a new level of responsibility, particularly for children” ,

and concluded with a powerful question, “How do we trust ‘free’ content in the ‘wild west’ frontier of these powerful immersive technologies?”

QADD : Q&A, discussion & debate

The discussion immediately landed on the space between what we design, how that affects us, and how our minds are continuously reassessing and processing information based on our individual perspective (and cues within this space/gap). It was asked, “how do children (or any of us) control what how they receive information from the world?”, especially when the Rashomon effect of alternate perspectives based on point-of-view come into play.

Dylan Yamada-Rice picked up a point about kids collecting stones in their pockets. Many a parent has emptied out stones from their child’s pockets after a day at school, only to be challenged, perhaps days later, on why their ‘meteorites’ from the lunch break Star Wars game have been thrown out.

The point is, as adults we think we are great at recognising the lack of value of these easy-to-come-by-stones, but for children they have significant meaning.

Dr. Emilia Djonov, a visiting researcher from Macquarie University in Sydney mentioned the value in listening, observing and learning from children when designing VR experiences for them, “because they might still go against the grain of your design.

Either way, it’s more intuitive than a voice-over telling you where to look.

Will Brenton added, “if you’ve ever taken a kid around a museum or art gallery they will run and be interested by exactly the things you don’t want them to do. They will rush to look at things that, we as adults, won’t.” He added that the action of picking up stones plays into other elements, such as weight and texture, in a child’s mind — something that remains lacking in a VR headset.

Will questioned whether the future of creating VR for kids will mean ‘the boring stuff’ for adults?’ That’s going to be quite difficult to capture but raises a question about what kids want and what they might benefit from through a VR experience and story, compared to what adults, as designers, think children want and need.

Rob Scott, UX Architect at BBC suggested that we shouldn’t pinpoint VR as being the only medium capable of embedding memories. He referenced a Hot Air balloon experiment that took people’s childhood photos and photoshopped them into the air balloon basket. Some of these people soon begun to believe that they took a hot air balloon ride as a child.

Misinformation Paradigm & False Memories

The discussion escalated around our human ability to remember correctly, and an interesting study into this can be found by Elizabeth F. Loftus , Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior and Professor of Law at UC-Irvine as she presents a fascinating survey of her ground-breaking research on false memory in 2015 as part of the Human Development Outreach and Extension Program.

In this video, Loftus discusses how her research has helped the Innocence Project overturn wrongful convictions based on false eyewitness testimony. She received the 2014–2015 LPHD Lifetime Achievement Award.

Main takeaways from Peter’s talk on Ontological and Spatial Design, and the energetic conversation that followed, triggered central topics of:

i. Behaviour

ii. Memory

iii. Environment


Part I of this report can be found at

Part III of this report will be published soon.