Originally published Oct 2011 in Wired Magazine ‘Change Accelerators‘ by Gary Hayes 4 of 5
When planning your next holiday to London with the fam, don’t forget to sync up your iGlasses and load up the London experience packs. On arrival, slip on your augmented reality sunglasses and take a look around: Roman-era London appears before your eyes. Slaves and gladiators walk through the streets and chariots rush past. You can add your own comments leaving virtual “We Were Here” graffiti for all time. The experience is part documentary, part user-generated narrative, and entirely pervasive. In other words, augmented reality meets living history.
In our everyday lives, we engage with stories in many ways, whether it’s eye-to-eye contact with a stranger that sparks an instant connection or a well-crafted movie or TV show. But what if we started experiencing those stories in the outernet’s layers?
While online networks are evolving traditional entertainment, such as TV and web series, we are also witnessing the rise of a new form of media called “augmented reality storytelling.” I’ve dubbed this new form of diversion ’ntertainment, as a shorthand for immersive augmented reality entertainment.
At its broadest level, augmented reality is about enhancing the physical world through digital elements, such as images, sound, and information. Now technology is enabling us to further situate and layer our digital stories in places where other narratives can’t reach. Right now, we see this happening when someone holds up a camera on an iPhone or tablet and shares objects or stories from the real world.
The opening Roman London example is based on an existing service called Londinium, which is a collaboration between the History Channel and the Museum of London using augmented reality video layered over real-world streets to re-create an alternate history. Coincidentally, London is also used as a site in the globe-spanning Ghost Tours 2.0. Haunted London encourages visitors to explore the city’s eerie side using locative AR (augmented reality). Likewise, another situated project is Witness, which draws participants into the dramatic and seedy underbelly of criminal Berlin. In this case, players are the hero: They watch graphic video scenes at different city locations and are then sent detective challenges to uncover the truth. But here’s the twist: The story might just bite you back! Augmented reality games and stories can even get physical, like the recent example of Chelsea FC playing the world’s largest Space Invaders game in a stadium using projection AR.
Gaming is leading the way. New consoles, like Vita, allow users to literally take game characters orreality fighters into the streets. Other gaming advances like AR games on Nintendo’s 3DS start to recognize place markers placed around a player’s city, transforming screen-based MMORPG(massively multiplayer online role-playing games) into an LMMOG (location-based massively multiplayer online games).
Augmented reality storytelling is starting to appear across our smart GPS mobile devices. Several marketing campaigns are taking the initiative by spearheading real-time AR challenges, such as Vodafone’s Buffer Monsters, which challenged German smartphone users to download a mobile app to capture virtual creatures and win a lifetime plan. This is only one example, other AR advergames encourage users to competitively run around cities on scavenger hunts for real-world prizes, such as the Droid Bionic AR Game. Similarly, this October, Gundam, the Japanese anime giant, release an iPhone/iPad app called Gundam Area Wars. The game uses the devices’ camera and gyroscopic sensors to show life-size 3D models situated in the player’s real-world landscape.
Given these above examples, I return to my earlier travel scenario and I wonder how commonplace it will become for people arriving in a new location to start experiencing it through augmented reality storytelling and gameplay? The traditional guidebook has already morphed into digital form. The Lonely Planet is already a downloadable app. Is it a big jump to imagine AR and location-based storytelling won’t soon allow travelers to engage history on a whole new level? One might even argue a deeper and more meaningful one than just the 2D sightseeing experience of looking at crumbling ruins. So many guidebooks have been written on the principle of making history come to life—AR actually makes it possible.
One could even take this one step further and question, why do we need to travel at all when we have our own personal Holodecks at our fingertips? Fast Company recently reported on Tour Wrist, a virtual tour that lets iPad users move around a global location with unlimited zoom and freedom. “Travelers” are virtually transported to that place and able to immerse themselves in it becoming the hero in a remotely situated, digital storyworld.
Finally, in the near future, we might all have the capability to create duplicates of our surroundings in 3D for others. This Microsoft R&D initiative to map the world uses the fastest selling piece of tech on the planet, the Xbox Kinect. This would allow everyday people to create unlimited user-generated 3D AR—foreseeable as easily as snapping a digital picture. In addition to this, there is a saturation of location-stamped social stories inside services, such as Google Earth, TagWhat, HistoryPin, Facebook Places, CheckIn+, Foursquare, and Gowalla, among others. What will result from all these stories becoming interconnected and navigable using AR devices?
From that point on, we will be co-creating an augmented entertainment eternity. Together. Will you be a part of it?