By: John Balash
Virtual Reality is a really hot topic in the tech landscape, specifically connected play and avoiding the isolation often tied to virtual reality experiences on platforms like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, we’ll take a quick look at what teams around the world are doing to push these mediums along their natural path of bringing people together to have fun.
Virtual Reality Options
It is hard to argue against the immersiveness experienced when one is in virtual reality. The virtual world is often believable enough that your body will react to digital objects, whether it be a projectile or a table that isn’t simply there. Thanks to projects like Google Earth VR we can travel to practically anywhere in the world and enjoy a Godzilla-like view. While these experiences are very well designed, it leaves anyone outside of the head mounted display disconnected from the experience, curious, but definitely removed.
Virtual Play Together
Excitingly, companies like L.A.’s own 2 Bit Circus (who has raised $21 million up to date), push, poke, and prod connected and visible play. These experiences are crafted to be enjoyed in a specific setting – not from your living room. This allows for the immersion to be pushed full tilt – and perhaps more importantly – social.
From a tech standpoint, while the devices are untethered, guests are still required to wear backpacks which store the computers required to run the virtual experience. There’s no need to worry, however; devices will continually improve and we can look forward to new releases sooner than later.
On the flip side of tech to warehouse-wide Virtual Reality blended carnivals, is a tiny little microcontroller known as the micro:bit. Made popular by the BCC in the education arena, “the Micro Bit was designed to encourage children to get actively involved in writing software for computers and building new things, rather than being consumers of media” – sound familiar? From having 25 individually-programmable LEDs, 2 programmable buttons, physical connection pins, light and temperature sensors, motion sensors (accelerometer and compass), wireless Communication (via Radio and Bluetooth), there’s a lot crammed into this $15 device. That’s right, $15 (for the base bit)! Why are we talking micro:bit? They can connect via Radio/Bluetooth – which means games / experiences can be multiplayer and networked.
I encourage learners/makers/gamers/whomever to think about technology and their purposes. Whether it be experiences built on multi-thousand dollar VR rigs, to those developed for microcontrollers at cost equivalent of 3 designer coffee beverages. Remember: we’re human and we’re social.
It’s only natural for us want to experience fun together. In a response to that, innovators are blending physical and digital play. These experiences can be technically intense and can also be delivered on low-cost tech. The important takeaway is that the experience, not the tech takes precedence.
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John Balash was instrumental in Digital Dragon’s launch in 2013 as its first Curriculum Director and is now back in the fold as a consultant on all the latest and greatest in tech education. This is John’s latest contribution to a monthly blog series we’ve launched, Tech News from the Frontier. John is the Director of Educational Engagement at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. John has worked on educationally focused initiatives with clients ranging from D.A.R.P.A. to Disney. Working from both sides of the desk, you can find John in classrooms and conferences around the world exploring new uses for technologies in learning environments.