Post by Lorna O’Brien, Innovation & Business Development Director.
Last Friday, 15 Aug, we were delighted to have the chance to host a Virtual World Workshop with Dr Alan Miller and his team from St Andrews University, School of Computing, Open Virtual Worlds in collaboration with Timespan Museum and Arts Centre.
The team set up four stations with different examples of the historic virtual worlds they have created including one using Oculus Rift technology. They featured Caen, a township from the time of the Highland Clearances; 18th century Brora Salt Pans and St Andrews Cathedral. Local children and adults were able to participate, exploring the worlds, interacting with them and each other.
Dr Alan Miller gave a short introduction describing the historical references and the environments the worlds are based on.
Then we all got a chance to have a play!
Each station had a small crowd of children and adults around it, everyone taking turns to try out the technology. On three of the stations the avatar was controlled with an Xbox controller, something that most, if not all of the children (and some of the adults) were very comfortable with. There was no narrative or direction which meant lots of fun exploring the landscapes and buildings in an intuitive way with much testing of boundaries to see how far you can fly and whether the avatar can swim.
There was lots of discussion between the adults and children about the historical environments; what the buildings would have been made from, what the animals were doing there, how the same landscape might be different today.
It has to be said that the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset stole the show. The children were straight in, confidently navigating and enjoying the immersive experience while the adults looked on, waiting for their turn. I dashed in for a try in a brief moment of the novelty having worn off and took a turn. It was quite a feat of coordination to move the avatar with the Xbox controller whilst being able to view the environment all around by turning my head. The sensation was slightly disorientating, slightly exhilarating and great fun as I congratulated myself for getting the avatar through a doorway to a cosy looking fire, not so easy to get out again though…
It was a great opportunity to offer this experience to local families including my own. Thanks to Dr Alan Miller and his team, and to Timespan Museum and Arts Centre.