Creativity in Real-Time: Designing, Storytelling, Learning, and LARPing inside Social VR

Concurrent Session 5
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

When COVID-19 closed the doors of the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts, the students and faculty opened the doors to a virtual Carson Center and other learning environments inside Mozilla Hubs and VR Chat.

Extended Abstract

Seizing the pandemic as an opportunity to try alternative online learning platforms, Carson Center faculty Ash Smith, Jesse Fleming, Anna Henson, and creative technologist-in-residence Ben Kreimer, started holding classes inside social VR platforms Mozilla Hubs and VR Chat.

Within two weeks of being in lock-down, Carson Center faculty and students had built a virtual Carson Center inside Mozilla Hubs.

A free, open-source and browser-based virtual-world for social experiences, Mozilla Hubs works on computers, mobile devices, and virtual reality headsets. Users embody avatars and can explore 3D environments, walk up and talk to other people/avatars, and speak to groups, providing a virtual social experience akin to face-to-face in-person interaction.

By importing images, videos, text, audio, 3D models, faculty and students have used Hubs for worldbuilding, user experience design exercises, live action role-playing, and other remote learning experiences. The virtual Carson Center hosted the Spring 2020 Open Studios event, where students created 3D environments to present their work, and interacted with visitors from around the nation and world.

Professor Ash Smith continued working in Hubs throughout Fall 2021 to push the boundaries of collaborative storytelling and speculative design. Asking students to re-imagine a local landmark (The Haymarket) and build it inside Hubs, the platform became integral to their individual and collaborative writing and storytelling process through the ideation phase, design fiction prototyping phase, character phase, and then ultimately doing a live-action role-play (LARP) to test the story ideas and write further. The LARP lead to a big storytelling breakthrough as students used one of their created characters as an avatar and embodied them improvisationally. This process enabled a novel way to push collaborative storytelling and engaged a multi-modal approach to creativity and imagination. Professor Anna Henson held her “Creating Augmented Worlds” class inside VR Chat, Rec Room and Hubs. Each student was provided with an HP Reverb G1 VR headset, provided to the Carson Center through their participation in the HP Educause Campus of the Future community. Students explored issues of cultural representation, erasure and exploitation in emerging media technologies. They learned about the ways culture and identity can be exploited and erased through a critical engagement with the software tools and media, discussed what it means to ethnically represent and preserve movement, and put these practices into action be creating their own digital avatars and environments.

The Carson Center panelists will show how they have used Social VR as remote learning platforms, share their learning outcomes, take participants into these virtual worlds, and offer their vision about their corner of the metaverse.