And You’re There, Too is an ongoing collaborative experience that asks people around the world to quickly describe the future they dream about for themselves. The user is taken through a celestial environment where they have a chance to interact with passing objects and unlock randomized submissions. No two playthroughs will be the same.
As more people contribute to the project, more levels will be added. Add your voice at https://bit.ly/vrstuff.
This project was designed for TEDxTylerPark and was built continuing in the themes of collaboration, listening and empathy that drives my conceptual artwork. As a social practice artist, I like to build platforms for audiences to share their own ideas and stories, presenting them in novel experiences. At its core, I just want everyone to have the opportunity to learn from one another in unexpected, creative, honest, and engaging ways. It pairs extraordinary with ordinary, and was inspired by the overview effect that astronauts experience while looking at the Earth from space, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, Into The Magic Shop by James R. Doty, and my previous project: Almost Something.
Though set in space, I wanted this project to reference the moments in which we sit down to try learn more about another person, and the missed connections that happen along the way.
+ Accommodate users of all ages with zero VR experience
+ Minimal but exciting interactivity/controller usage
+ Option of direct contribution/participation on site or in the future
+ Keep it short but easily-expandable for later
And You’re There, Too was developed to be suitable for attendees of public events, regardless of age, background, or experience with VR/gaming/technology. It’s especially targeted to players in several categories: those who haven’t had the opportunity to experience profound and humbling imagery of space; those who may not have recently had the ability or time for self-reflection; those who haven’t had the capability/resources of meeting and learning from others outside of their communities; and those who feel alone and/or unremarkable.
When I bring AYTT to events and public spaces, my goals are to: create a sense of sheer awe and delight; allow players to learn from the thoughts and feelings of others; foster real self- reflection/exploration; and allow players to feel acknowledged, valued, and included by providing a unique but low-risk space to share their stories.
It’s meant to offer a gentle, guided opportunity for each player to really have a moment to pause and robustly visualize what their dream future might look like. It’s my hope that conceptualizing an idea is the first step towards actualizing it.
Since it’s primarily played by individuals within a crowd, it needed to be brief but extraordinary enough to spark both self-reflection and conversations between strangers gathered around after. I love that people who’ve never met one another will take off the headset and remark to others nearby or myself which submissions stood out or that they identified with. They’ll openly discuss whichever memories/hopes were triggered by certain words or phrases, and it’s incredible.
Most importantly, however, I just want everyone to feel heard and be reminded that they are important.
I want to reinforce that they’re there, in our shared dream future, too.
Photos below are courtesy of Sarah Katherine Davis Photography:
The user starts in the known Milky Way, clicks the START button and is taken to an instructions/about scene. After that fades away, they transported into seemingly unknown space, surrounded by a few stars and galaxies/globular clusters that seem far away. While playing with perspective, the user is taken via on-rails movement towards a small-ish, flat, disk-like cluster of stars. As the user gets closer the galaxy gets bigger and bigger, until user goes almost past the disc of stars, revealing how huge, dense, and three-dimensional this gathering it, and is eventually taken through the starfield and out the otherside. During on-rails movement, asteroids will randomly generate near the camera for the user to click on. Each asteroid will contain a random audio generator to cycle through the submissions collected from the prompt.
USER TEST & FEEDBACK - 31 y/o Ops Manager & space enthusiast
Aesthetic: The visuals were stunning! And when you realized the galaxy was actually huge and you were small? Amazing.
Interactivity: I wasn’t sure when an asteroid was ready to click or not.
Movement: Love it, like a very gentle rollercoaster.
• Follow up: Highlight asteroid with outline when clickable and darken outline when not.
USER TEST & FEEDBACK - 28 y/o Developer & has a phobia of space
Aesthetic: Very pretty, but absolutely terrifying. My biggest fear is dying alone in space and the start of this is... a lot for me.
Interactivity: Feels just fine, maybe something to let you know you had a successful click?
Movement: Was slow enough to be nice once you got into star field.
• Follow up: Add haptics to trigger pull. Re-adjusted path of on-rails moment to prevent the ”empty space” from feeling so overwhelming and infinite. Made title sequence on solid “ground” of moon to give the user a moment to adjust to experience of being in space, but safely (”training wheels,” if you will).
USER TEST & FEEDBACK - 29 y/o Photographer & ambivalent about space
Aesthetic: I cried. It was so beautiful. I felt so big and so small and loved.
Interactivity: Some of the sound was really quiet? Or maybe the background music was just like... too loud.
Movement: I liked looking down and up a lot while moving, it was wild.
• Follow up: Brought BGM volume down and volume of some submissions up. Adjusted path of on-rails movement to climb upwards to allow users to “surface” the starfield, and see “above” it at the end.
Technically: The user now begins on the culturally familiar, solid ground of the moon with a sky referencing another widely-known perspective of the Earth. The user seemingly hovers in a crater to allow them to adjust to the feeling of weightlessness in space. However, if they look down they’ll notice they are “standing on” a pillar to ease the transition into the next scene. Once everything fades to black and the instructions appear, if the user looks down again they’ll notice they’re not quite floating in the blackness of space just yet, as the tip of the pillar they were standing on still remains. The main scene begins at the outskirts of the star cluster and the on-rails movement tours the outside of the spiral arms, eventually into the dense mass of stars, and up and out of the other side. Along the way, asteroids appear randomly and the user floats past them, with the option to click on them if audio is not playing. They disappear after a brief period.
Conceptually: The ability to interact with and “unlock” the stories contained in the asteroids is an homage to Carl Sagan’s, “We’re all made of star stuff” quote, while simultaneously referencing everyday communication with the people in our own lives. In order to really listen, you are only able to activate one rock at a time while others will pass by, and some that you intend to click disappear before you get the chance. Randomization means that it’s impossible that you’ll be able to hear every submission. Finally, the path takes you towards one single, small but golden bright star on its own, and above it the words appear: “And You’re There, Too,” to let you know that you, the user, are included in this dream future - not just that you are able to participate in the project, but also that you are valued and that your existence is important.
This was absolutely the most challenging project i’ve ever worked on, and absolutely THE most rewarding. Working with two completely new SDKs meant months of trial and error, but it was amazing to make it through the other side. I am tremendously proud of my own persistence in the face of everyday, consistent failures. My C# skills have vastly improved, I was able to teach myself how to build for the HTC Vive, and I became intimately acquainted with the type of logic required for a system that uses two controllers and a tracked head-mounted display. Even though this was a seated experience, I had the opportunity to really learn my way around 6DOF. Conceptually, this is one of my favorite works to date, and I hope to continue to build more VR and technologically-based creative projects that incorporate audience participation in an accessible way.