In our daily lives we use stories to describe events, to express emotions, to demonstrate ideas. It is also believed that stories are a necessary part of the learning process. Yet story telling and story recognition are skills that must be developed. A powerful technique for teaching the use of the conventions and structures of stories is to engage children in their construction. This process allows the children to create an intellectual product that results in obvious pride of accomplishment.
We present a virtual reality landscape consisting of a family of educational environments for young users, which embodies a set of common principles. In this shared virtual environment, participants interact directly with the world to create story threads. The methods of interaction between the participants and the world are natural and aided by the presence of artificial (remote or proximate) agents. Our approach is based on constructivism, where real and synthetic users, motivated by an underlying narrative, build persisting virtual worlds through collaboration with other human and simulated agents. In terms of learning environments, this encompasses nearly all the major contemporary dogma: constructivism, collaboration, problem solving, and authentic experiences.
Narrative and characters are used by conventional media, such as the novel or the cinema, to present imaginary worlds. Virtual reality joins these traditions as an artistic medium which encourages active participation in the creative process, redefining the relationship between the audience and the work. In this piece, it takes on the role of a distributed participatory theater where people at various locations can share the same virtual stage. The viewers, challenged by the vividness and the sensation of this new space, craft stories through their travels in these fantasy worlds. These stories have a life beyond the users' short term interaction with the virtual space; they persist, allowing others to experience and further the ongoing narrative.
The participants are introduced to ideas of social interaction; they learn about group dynamics when interacting with other real or imaginary characters; they can become protagonists and, along with the characters, explore their stories, give life to their imagination, and gain an awareness of changing environments. The selection of the characters and the attributes that describe them can determine the "central conflict" or general direction of the narrative, without restricting its outcome.
Our prototype system explores the above ideas within the ImmersaDesk(TM) virtual reality tableau. While this work can be experienced as a standalone piece, its full potential is only shown when multiple networked users are exploring, and interacting in the same virtual environment.
Christina A. Vasilakis
Electronic Visualization Laboratory
851 South Morgan Street
Chicago, IL 60607-7053
ImmersaDesk(tm) with deskside Onyx