As a self-proclaimed non-gamer, I used to struggle with the idea of spending hours in front of a screen immersed in a virtual world until I realized: I already do this, all the time. Whether it’s a basement at an observatory overlooking Los Angeles, a movie about a botanist stranded on Mars, or a video game where you’re captain of a spaceship, these experiences all have one thing in common: they are designed to transport you to places that capture your sense of curiosity and imagination.
When it comes to interpretive planning, basic game design principles are applicable, if not crucial, to the initial development of immersive experiences. With video games, you are brought into a world filled with characters, places and things that invite a sense of adventure through unsolved challenges, role playing and teamwork. In a physical environment, almost all the same elements are applied with the added benefits of sound, touch and even smell. For example, the Hydrogen Fuel Cell game at the Telus World of Science in Vancouver is a driving game allowing visitors to take the wheel while sounds of the road (imbedded audio cues) and drafts of wind (built in fans!) pass you by. At the Ronald McDonald House BC it’s a magic room featuring an interactive digital holograph, visual and audio effects to create a game about exploring the world. From under the sea adventures to wandering through a forest, it’s a game that allows patients to play and engage during a time of healing.
Another game design principle that is frequently referenced in the planning stages of an exhibit design is the concept of dwell time. In analytics, this may be referred to as bounce rate, or average time spent on a website. In game design, this has been studied as a physiological state of arousal and defined as “….an activation set point to which we return that is enough to motivate us without draining us.” And in a world where experiences on screen are increasingly mind numbing, this is a recurring challenge to face. Creating unique experiences that captivate our wandering minds is no easy feat. It’s an element of design that is constantly circled back to through user testing and regular iterations. Gathering feedback from different user groups can offer valuable insights to the development of a project and the earlier you can do this, the better.
Game development software like Unity and Unreal are particularly useful when it comes to prototyping. These platforms make it possible to test things like object orientation, internal structure and comprehension of a game. At the Telus World of Science in Edmonton, The Science Garage invites visitors to interact with exhibits that are purposely in prototype mode, both unveiling the mystery behind how science works and allowing the science centre to gain valuable feedback from a real audience.
Over the last few years we’ve heard a lot about storytelling and this is perhaps the biggest lesson interpretive planning can take from game design. Realizing that people don’t operate in silos, and that all of our experiences are connected allows us to create short term experiences that integrate learning in the form of stories. One of my favorite examples recently shared at the office was a game where nearly 40 Alaska Elders, community members and storytellers came together to create a form of transferring cultural knowledge to the next generation. Never Alone is a perfect example of the intersection between game design and learning through interactive environments.
As a non-gamer, what I’ve learned in the past two years is that games come in all different forms and that they have the ability to transport us to places limited only by our imagination. In both digital and physical worlds, they involve a great deal of planning and push the potential for education and entertainment to create memorable, unique experiences.
-Carolyn Fung, Producer & Project Manager