Less is more

We’ve been doing our Holojam project for more than a year now at NYU. It’s a variant of Virtual Reality in which people hang out together in physical reality, except that everyone wears a motion tracked GearVR headset, so all participants see each other as avatars in a virtual world.

When you enter the space, it’s like walking into the Holodeck. The usual rules of reality are suspended, because you can see impossible things. In particular, we give people wands that they can use to draw in the air. We have found that people immediately get it, and they gleefully start drawing all sorts of shapes in the air.

We’ve been showing it this week at the FMX conference in Stuttgart. Except this time something went wrong. We had three people in the space, but one of the three wands stopped working. At first my students were panicked. What would happen if people were in the space, but couldn’t do anything there?

But then a curious thing happened: When there are three people in the Holojam world, but only two have wands, participants create a sort of game out of it. Two of them will draw something, while the third watches. And then they will start to hand the wand around.

Instead of everybody just drawing in the air, grooving on their new-found superpower, people are forced to interact with each other, because that superpower is now a scarce resource. Less is more, as scarcity creates comradery, participants turn the sharing of the wands into a new meta-game, and the experience becomes richer for everyone.

My students and I were astonished that it took us more than a year to realize this.

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