BALLOON here! BAGEL and I have just wrapped up our first season of our digital project CLOSER TIES. We’ve seen six audiences across two months discover moments of hilarity, emergent play and communal reflection, and be truly engaged in a shared digital experience in the Mozilla Hubs platform.
If you missed a chance to participate, never fear! We have plans to run a brand new season in Autumn 2020 with audiences in Nova Scotia and beyond!
Read on to discover more about our use of a new digital platform to make CLOSER TIES!
What is CLOSER TIES?
Let us take you to a green space that exists both here and there…
In two places at once…
CLOSER TIES is a PDF game pack developed by BAGEL+BALLOON to be run as a participatory show in an online setting. It invites participants from anywhere in the world to explore, curate, build and share their connections to real world spaces in a 3D virtual space. The project began life as a game played in urban spaces, supported by the Trust In Play European School of Urban Game Design. The advent of COVID-19 however caused a shift from a physical game to a digital experience.
Finding a virtual venue!
During lockdown we made a virtual replica of Manchester Gardens, a local park in our London neighbourhood, and uploaded it to Mozilla Hubs. Hubs is an open source service that allows creators to design and build their own worlds and connect with others using a VR headset or web browser. The 3D models we created are now available to anyone to visit, simply by typing in a web address, choosing a colourful avatar… Et voilà! It’s now time to play CLOSER TIES!
Participants enter this garden as if charging into a playground! It’s then our role as guides to generate a focus around the direct connection between real life memories and the virtual world through a series of activities. These include the curation of a virtual gallery, the sharing of stories, and a tour of audience-created worlds visualised in the 3D space!
Some challenges we discovered!
- Translating an ‘urban game’ into digital play – We did not intend to make a digital experience initially, and there was no guarantee that the initial game idea would survive the transition!
- Facilitating a safe space online – We had to be considerate about people’s privacy, use of microphones, and be on the lookout for abusive or trollish behaviour. It was important that we asked for permission to use images from the shows, and that we sent aftercare packages via email, to ensure everyone was able to enjoy the show safely.
- Lowering the barrier to entry – The tools in Mozilla Hubs require some hand holding to begin using effectively. Some participants would be much more accustomed to first person camera controls, and so we had to manage a space of mixed abilities and technical issues.
- Backstage and documenting – Using two microphones in the same room introduced noise interference, and upon several occasions our recording software filled up the memory on the computers midway through the shows! We developed behind-the-scenes codes (“Tag” = Help!) and paid closer attention to each other.
Some outcomes too!
- Responding with our skill sets – Despite some grief at the loss of physical proximity, we listened carefully to the shifting processes involved in adapting the game for digital. BAGEL’s game dev skillset kickstarted the conversion, while my own theatre practise skills developed the activities.
- Mentors – We relied on the guidance of our mentors and peers at Trust in Play with regular check in meetings. You can access the TiP forum here. (full of resources, goodies and great people, check it out!)
- Emergent play – Once participants were onboarded the fun could begin! During the run, participants have had impromptu dance parties using music from Soundcloud (played in 3D sound in Hubs!), made up their own activities (hide and seek!) and shared personal stories. One audience member said he was surprised by the interactions he was asked to perform, that they were not what he would expect of an online game or theatre show.
- Inspiring change – It was a refreshing break for many from Zoom fatigue, some even contemplated hosting meetings, architecture design workshops or using Mozilla Hubs for other purposes.
Generating a roster of new 3D venues in Mozilla Hubs could offer more ways for people to be in places they want to be, but cannot. Locations that are threatened with being lost altogether could be rallied around virtually. We think developing CLOSER TIES with the collaboration of communities could unlock these spaces for shared reflection and play.
Excited to see where get to! – BALLOON X