Crossing Physical & Virtual Worlds in Kids VR — Part I

Part of our UK ‘Roadshow of Research in VR+Kids’ for the Children’s Media Foundation — hosted by Dubit in Leeds.

2017 saw the introduction of Virtual Reality + kids at the Children’s Media Conference. We curated an entire series of sessions at CMC, bringing together academics and pracitioners to discuss Policy & Ethics, the Creative Challenge and Distribution & Monetisation. The conversation was passionate, informed and by no means conclusive, which led to the Children’s Media Foundation asking us to continue our research on VR+kids in 2018 with 3 core goals:

1. Appropriateness: the evolution of best practices for the design of VR content for children that compares duration, immersion, story-centered, learning-based experiences.

2. Cognitive and Sensory Health & Safety: scientific progress and studies into overloading children through VR experiences along with best practices.

3. Eye health & Balance: scientific progress and research into ongoing visual and balance implications and best practices .

Our kick-off event, 1 of 5 that are taking place around the UK this year, was co-produced and hosted by Dubit, Leeds on Tuesday 27th March 2018 and was attended by the collective brainpower of…

Alison Norrington — storycentral, Dr Dylan Yamada-Rice — Dubit, Dr Mark Mon-Williams — University of Leeds, Clare Duffy — Unlimited Theatre, Dr Steve Love — Glasgow School of Art, Stephanie Whitley — Dubit
Dr Eleanor Dare — RCA, Andrew Douthwaite — WEARVR, Dr Alexandra Antonopoulou — University of Greenwich, Sean Thompson — Dubit, Richard Watson — University of Northumbria, Liz Cable — Leeds Trinity University

With a format of 5x15 minute conversation-starters, we began with..

Designing Standards for place-based Immersive Experiences

Dr. Steve Love

Dr. Steve Love, of the School of Simulation and Visualisation at the Glasgow School of Art has recently secured AHRC funding to help develop design standards, taking stakeholders and audiences on the design journey from concept rather than as users/prototype testers, working with them to co-design.

Steve works with a Rich Pictures approach, of which there are 3 stages:

i. Critique Phase — discussion around perceptions of good/bad design and identifying the right problem to solve

ii. Fantasy Phase — co-design to envision blue sky ‘money is no object’ ideas

iii. Implementation Phase — take the design ideas and work through what is feasible and defining top 3 or 4 priorities. Only at this phase does the basic prototyping begin, through iterative design — saving time and money.

This approach prioritises co-designing from scratch in genuine ways and defining the audience and involving them in that content creation from the start

Steve highlighted the importance of using co-design and gamification for the wellbeing of younger children, emphasising the use of spatial design and movement, storytelling and game, and the accessibility of VR headsets in the home.

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Producer Perspectives : Storytelling Across Domains

Sean Thompson, walked us through a case study of an experience Dubit created as a tourist walkthrough at Malahide Castle, Dublin.

Sean Thompson, Dubit

Built in the 12th Century, with many of the family lost in Battle of the Boyne, the castle has fallen in to public ownership since then. Part of Dubit’s research and experiential goals were to give people more access, especially visitors that would be unable to manage narrow stairways and doorways. Dubit wanted to offer additional rewards, offering a VR experience for visitors to see places they wouldn’t usually see, including virtual souvenirs.

From a production perspective, the experience was shot on a Vuze VR camera, which is like using 8 GoPros, “delivering 8 high res videos stitched together, to give a stereoscopice viewing experience.

A key point that Sean raised was, How Things Are Different in VR simulations vs What You’d Expect on a Small Screen. In Virtual Reality you have no static screen, which means 2 things are missing — the frame (things around the edge) and a central focus of what is in ‘front’ (the focus of what you’d like to show). So with a traditional interactive narrative you might progress the narrative with controls — buttons, textfields — very few interactive media get away with having no manual controls. In a VR narrative, when you don’t have those, you need to put the controls within the world — in the interface — so from a design perspective you might approach them as you do in the real world (signs on toilet doors etc).

However, Sean emphasised limitations as to what can added as interactive controls:

i. How much space you’re looking at. The status range of human vision is roughly 180°, but not stereoscopic. In Virtual Reality you may reach 90–120° dependant on the headset you’re using.

ii. Given that we can only focus on one point at any moment in time, items that aren’t directly in front of the user will appear as low contrast in their periphery. The point being, to ensure that any navigational, directional or interactive prompts fit in to a 30° rangerange.

At the Malahide Castle experience, these navigational and interactive prompts are delivered authentically through a tour guide — who will speak to you (using binaural sound ) if you’re facing the wrong way. The use of sound is a common navigational device in VR, but the best way of getting information across in VR is to have someone in there with you — like a salesperson, tour guide or concierge.

“It’s about not so much looking at flat screens, but at theatre.”

Richard Watson, Senior Research Fellow and architect asked, “What would a future of VR look like when you can walk from room to room, or walk up the spiral staircase?”

Dr Dylan Yamada-Rice asked whether there is there anything other than accessibility that makes this VR experience better than the real experience. To which Sean replied — replayability. This Malahide Castle experience can be enjoyed time and time again, in your own space and time.

The source of this series of VR Research events is the Children’s Media Foundation, who survive entirely from donations, some of which are from medica companies in the children’s sector that are committed to supporting the research and the Foundation. If you’d like to help support the foundation, or find out more, please visit at http://www.thechildrensmediafoundation.org

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WHO WE ARE : PARTICIPANTS

Alison Norrington, Creative Director & Storyteller, storycentral Ltd

Alison is a writer/producer, Founder & Chief Creative Director of storycentral, a London-based entertainment studio that incubates and develops ground-breaking transmedia properties with global partners in film, television, animation, publishing, advertising, branding, theme parks, Virtual Reality and gaming. She specializes in storytelling that amplifies fan incubation and engagement, experience design, extending IP & franchises, community build through story and storyworld strategy, incubation & development — all centered around a strong robust core of story architecture, theme, awareness of audience and experience design.

Dr Dylan Yamada-Rice, Research for Dubit / Senior Tutor — Information Experience Design RCA

Dylan is an academic interested in Children’s Physical and Digital Play, Digital Game Design, Visual & Creative Research Methods, Multimodality, Comics, Drawing, Japanese Semiotics.

She works as a Research Manager for Dubit and is a Visiting Lecturer for the Information Experience Design programme at the Royal College of Art

Clare Duffy, Co-Director, Unlimited Theatre, Leeds

Clare is a founding member and co-director of Unlimited. She has co-written most of Unlimited’s touring work including The Noise, The Giant and The Bear, Mission to Mars, The Moon The Moon, Tangle, Ethics Of Progress and Zero Degrees and Drifting. She is currently working on The Big Data Show, a co-production with Perth Theatre for their main stage, which integrates digital gaming, film and live performance.

Andrew Douthwaite, COO, WEARVR

WEARVR is the world’s leading independent Virtual Reality App store. Founded in 2014 and funded in 2015 and 2017 we have offices in Atlanta USA and Leeds UK. WEARVR host, sell, promote and distribute over 6,000 VR games and experiences, across a wide range of genres and VR devices. From roller coasters, driving and flying sims through to 360-degree videos, social apps and jump scares, you’ll find them all on WEARVR.

Dr Alexandra Antonopoulou, Goldsmiths, University of London & Senior Lecturer, University of Greenwich, Design Futures

Dr Alexandra Antonopoulou is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Creative Professions and Digital Arts. Alexandra has completed a Masters at Chelsea College of Arts — University of the Arts London and a PhD at Goldsmiths — University of London. She has also been lecturing for both Goldsmiths and the University of the Arts. Working at the intersection between design education, narrative theory and science, Alexandra lectures and runs activities in different international settings (museums, schools, universities, businesses and festivals). She is part of the ‘Arshake: reinventing technology’ scientific committee, and her research and practice has been showcased at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Dr Eleanor Dare, Senior Tutor (Research) Digital Direction, RCA — immersive storytelling & VR Development

Eleanor Dare is the Senior Tutor for Digital Direction, reporting directly to the Head of Programme. She is responsible for the implementation, development and day-to-day management of two significant aspects of the programme: firstly, delivering the curriculum and secondly, supporting the Head of Programme to co-ordinate research activities, including research funding bid development. This involves initiating elements of the course (through curriculum development), the pastoral care of students, managing visiting staff, co-ordinating related external projects and promoting the programme through exhibition and through liaison with other institutions and industry.

Sean Thompson, Snr Producer, Dubit — games & apps

Sean is a Producer at Dubit with over14 years in Game Design, Programming and Production. He has a degree with Honours in Games, Virtual Reality, and Simulation.

Stephanie Whitely, Manager, Planning & Brand Strategy, Dubit

Stephanie is Manager, Planning & Brand Strategy at Dubit Limited.

Richard Watson, Snr Research Fellow, Northumbria University

Richard is a Senior Research Fellow at Northumbria University and Executive Director of RIBA Enterprises.

Steve Love — Co Design, participatory design, School of Simulation and Visualisation, Glasgow School of Art

Steve Love has led research projects investigating how individual differences (e.g. personality, cognitive ability) affect young people’s perception and use of mobile digital services and applications. In addition, he has worked on projects related to e-learning for adult learners returning to education and schoolchildrens’ use of mobile technology. He has published his work in international journals such as the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies and Computers in Human Behaviour and at international conferences such as CHI as well as being the author and editor of books such as Understanding Mobile Human-Computer Interaction and The Handbook of Mobile Technology Research Methods.

Mark Mon Williams, Professor of Cognitive Psychology, University of Leeds

Mark is a Professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Leeds. He is a psychologist and studies the use of visual information and the control of human action. His research explores hand movements (kinematics) in children with and without neurodevelopmental problems. This work has led him to promote the importance of perceptual-motor education within primary schools — the idea that teaching children fundamental perceptual-motor skills will benefit their physical and mental health as well as their ultimate educational outcome.

Liz Cable — Senior Lecturer, Leeds Trinity University, Transmedia & International Research Centre for Interactive Storytelling

Liz is course-leader for the single honours Media & Marketing Degree Programme, and teaches on all Media Courses, Digital and Social Media Degree, and the new Creative and Professional Writing Degree.

Liz has written and run live action games for over thirty years, for six to three hundred players at a time, in scenarios lasting from 1 hour to 72 hours. She co-wrote Questlands whilst at university, then founded The Adventurers Guild — the national association of live role-players, founding and editing their magazine “The Adventurer” and journal “Living Legends”. She created a world first live action roleplaying system — The Dreamscape — that routinely adapted characters from any story world in any medium to play together in a richly imagined, codified and realised multiverse, dealing with issues of immigration, privilege and more along its seven-year campaign.

She co-wrote the original rules system for massive multiplayer LARP system “The Gathering” wherein she invented a system to put a price on loyalty.

Part II of this report can be found at http://bit.ly/CMFVRKidsDubitPartTwo