Contextualization: Bentway Skateboard Group
The Design Document post for our project can be found here.
We’d first like to briefly talk about our project, without repeating too much from the Design Document.
We had a really great experience getting to know Immony and Wes, and their passion really fueled our project. Our main goals creating the project in Hoverlay were to create an immersive experience of what the Toilet Bowl could have been if it was never torn down. More importantly, we wanted to show what it could have been for the community. We also wanted to emphasize the point that each user will have an individual experience with multiple perspectives because of the collaboration of personal Toilet Bowl accounts with the AR experience we have created, and influence the plans for DIY skateparks for the future. Now that we have experienced different types of storytelling in Sheffield, our goals would shift a little if we were to continue working on the project. We would have regular check ins with Wes and Immony to make sure we are telling the story they want to share. It is important to make sure that you are being ethical with your client and putting their story as the top priority and let creative experimentation be secondary.
The different groups of stakeholders all work in relation to each other. The Build for Bokma organization entices in community members with their AR experience. The community members go through the experience, then go on to tell others about it. It spreads throughout the community, until it eventually reaches those groups involved in building the community center as well as those with the power to make this project city-supported. Once they catch wind, the community and the Build for Bokma organization can work in tandem with the builder and official groups to explain their vision and how it can be achieved in a way that benefits everyone involved.
The most important goal of our project was to send a message that would affect a number of people in a powerful way. With this comes two main requirements: the piece needs to be able to reach a large number of people, and it needs to be emotionally convincing. This makes AR the perfect medium for this sort of project. With an app that accessible to a large number of people on their mobile device, we can reach the majority of stakeholders in the community. Additionally, AR allows us to take these users to a space that is regularly unreachable; in our instance, back in time. By taking our users back to see what the space was like in its prime, we can elicit an emotional response and a urge to return it to its former glory if not beyond. We also hope that by being such a location based project, people will be more encouraged to share it with their friends and create an initiative. If it were accessible from anywhere, it might reach more people, but those extra people would have less of a personal attachment to the environment.
In terms of larger narrative, we would want to have more anchors in Hoverlay emphasize the call to action and circle back to why we are creating this project and why we are creating the project using augmented reality. We would like to have an anchor bring the user to a place to make an impact on the Build for Bokma project whether that is a petition or donation. Wes and Immony did not have that type of call to action at the time, so maybe if we had more time with them to collaborate on call to action material, this collaboration would help progress their project success while at the same time getting their story out on Hoverlay. We would also like to track key performance indicators to have a report of numbers for the Build for Bokma team to present in times where they can fight for how the DIY skateparks are beneficial for the community. We would want to track these KPI’s by knowing what content is the most engaging by measuring what anchors had the most interaction and what times people come to the skatepark on Hoverlay.
During the process of making this project, we were shown hard evidence that the community wanted this building to be theirs to use. The pictures shown in the slide encapsulate this idea. It shows all the keys on the fence, which represents the large amount of support, and then a close-up, allowing people to read the tag. These tags say “UNLOCK the community centre”. A part that was less visible was how these tags were placed on the fence by the community’s children. In context, Wes was trying to find the ones his children placed, but there were so many that he had trouble finding them. This was key in representing the existing support for this project.
This project spreads the advocacy of the Build for Bokma group by sending a message to the community. People come in, see the overlay of how the skatepark used to look, and then can juxtapose it by looking away from their phone and seeing the rubble heap it is now. If we continue with our planned functionality, we’d also have a setting to show the general idea of what the skatepark could be, showing a visual representation of what the Build for Bokma group hopes to do with the site. This project would spread their narrative by memorializing what the skatepark could have been, and hopefully igniting public interest so that the group’s ultimate goal, having skateparks that are built to last, can be achieved in the future.
We additionally all wrote individual short reflections on our time with this project from after DocFest, and how it was further contextualized from our time in Sheffield. This way you can hear individual points of view from each group member.
After experiencing all types of virtual reality and documentary stories at the DocFest in Sheffield, I have a whole new understanding of how to construct a story in this medium and the pros and cons that come with working with documentaries in virtual reality. I think there needs to be clear objectives for the user experience to justify a story being told a VR installation. I do not see the need to make regular movies just in 360 because media makers have the tools to do it in that medium. Sometimes the exploration aspect in VR takes away from the user paying attention to the narrative. When you give people the option to explore, it is harder to make them pay attention to what the creator wants them to pay attention to. In the Build for Bokma project, we would utilize sound as attention grabbers to keep the user’s attention in the right direction.
Gabriele Arp brought up a point that I continue to think a lot about when watching documentaries. At the virtual reality summit, she said, “How do we tell stories about underdeveloped communities in VR and get the stories out to the communities they are about?” I thought it was an oversight by a lot of creators at the festival did not fully think about until they were asked about it. It is important to have ethical reasoning when making and discussing documentaries where the subject does not even have the ability to watch the documentary experience their creator made about their life. I think this issue is relatable to our project because a large part of our target audience is children and they might not have smartphones or access the app to view the experience. I’m not even talking about this access issue as a money issue. I think virtual reality and augmented reality projects are really well done but the downside of creating really cool projects in this medium is that most people do not have access to the equipment to experience it. The lack of access can be for any reason like money or not having the space or network requirements to cue up the experience.
Our time at the Sheffield Doc-Fest, along with the opportunity to experience a variety of “alternative reality” experiences, has shown me the level of empathetic humanity that can be communicated in this medium like none other. In a world where we’re constantly surrounded by distractions and have little-to-no attention span, Virtual Reality offers an opportunity to actually immerse a user in the experience. Once a user puts on the headset, they experience no other distractions, and become caught in the sense of presence, especially when there is somebody you trust operating the experience on the other end and making sure you’re safe in your surroundings. Usually, VR is referred to as an “empathy machine” but that doesn’t necessarily prove true without any sort of setup. In VR, we still have to use the same methods as in film to establish an empathic connection between the user and the subject material of the piece. In face, VR’s true power comes from its spaciality. One example that comes to mind is in “The Day the World Changed” when you suddenly find yourself in a dome completely surrounded by nuclear missiles pointed at you from every direction. Such a scene could not be effectively communicated in any other medium. VR’s affordance of movement, of turning your head at will, of feeling the instantaneous reactions of your inputs, even as simplistic as your hands moving, are what make it so effective. The biggest issue that faces against these affordances, is the limited accessibility to virtual reality. With the current cost and space requirements of VR, it tends to be a medium accessible only to the elite members of academia. This became especially evident at the festival. Every single person I talked to there was a media maker or a student, and it was easy to feel as if I was surrounded by social giants. It worries me that perhaps by the time VR is accessible to the general public, they will have lost the ability to make any significant impact on the traditions of the medium. Overall, given the potential that these alternative realities have, it is extremely important that we utilize them to create real human connections and create media of actual substance, rather than falling into the clickbait, intentionally addictive methods that much of gaming and the entertainment industry abuses on a regular basis.
Within experiencing almost all the VR and AR experiences here at Sheffield Doc/Fest and then having the opportunity to talk to the makers. I have more insight on how to make a good, nonfiction story in these mediums. In experiencing the projects, I was able to feel the impact a well-made story could have on a person such as me. Some projects taught me hard facts in a new way, others made me think of the information age we live in today. Yet others made me want to cry, filled me with wonder or drew me to action on a debated topic. Seeing so many successful projects also allowed me to realize some things on my own, such as how you don’t need good, realistic graphics to make an effective story.
Talking to the makers let me see the “backstage” of these projects – how they came up with, executed, changed, iterated their projects to what it is today. Through talking, I learned about how in AR and VR, use of space and presence are essential. If they aren’t used, a flat film could convey the message easier. For AR, I learned how context is key. Terminal 3 would not be the same if was done in a playground instead of the interrogation room they built for it. In addition, instead of trying to put people in other’s shoes, we should let them stay in their own shoes and try to make them draw their own conclusions. As it was their own thoughts, they would be more likely to remember and/or act on the message we are trying to convey. Adding to how graphics are not everything, I learned how the limitations could be used to enhance the story, such as using “holograms” to represent what was, or a person being, literally, “scanned”.
Applying that back to the Build for Bokma project, I understand how we lacked in presence (hoverlay objects were flat and/or in the wrong places) and, if provided another chance and more time to add to the project, how we could improve. Thinking farther ahead, on location (which provides context), we could have a virtual building space made of simple, “holographic” ramps for all stakeholders to edit and comment on. Instead of trying to texture everything to make it realistic, we’ll keep a certain style to it in order to give the projected builds presence in the space. If we were to make a VR version for those who don’t want to/can’t be there, we’ll make sure the context is well represented through set design and then overlay everything live the AR version. Instead of trying to make them relate to each other, we allow them to see each other’s viewpoints and help them collaborate to something everyone agrees on.
Working on this AR project taught me a lot about the medium and its advantages. For one thing, AR is widely available since it does not require any sort of expensive headset, just a phone you likely already own. The ability to augment the reality we live in instead of creating a new, “virtual” one means that the experience can feel more genuine and tailored to the situation. Tying into that, the ability to incorporate the location and scenery allows the whole project to feel more personalized. When we worked with community partners, the process of combining our visions into something greater felt very rewarding, and was very good experience to have.
AR is much easier to grasp for users, since it can be as simple as opening an app on your phone. It is also less daunting than putting on a big VR headset that many people have never used before, which we learned at Sheffield was a major consideration you needed to know when developing VR. That being said, AR headsets do exist and can be daunting to put on, like we saw at Sheffield, but since they overlay images onto the real world you do not feel like you are blinded inside this big black box on your face, and in general it feels less confined. Finally, there were fewer logistical issues, since we didn’t need a big room space to wire up our complicated headset or set up fancy cameras and calibrate everything. All we needed was the great outdoors and some room to geo-anchor assets.