What to do in lockdown: Top 5 immersive experiences and why they work

December 8, 2020

Wherever you are, it’s likely that you’re spending a bit more time at home. A little while ago, we wrote about the latest AI/AR trends making their mark on the world of immersive storytelling. Whilst we haven’t been able to experience these technologies ‘out in the real world’ for a while, we thought we’d give you a run down of what immersive experiences (both lo and hi-fi) are out there for you to enjoy from the comfort of your own home and how they’ve got us hooked.

Best at-desk experience: Window Swap

At the beginning of these godforsaken months you may have loved getting to know the local squirrel who pops by your window every morning, or perhaps you’ve been captivated by the weeds growing out of the wall. But chances are that the squirrel is getting a bit grumpy and this view is getting, now, well, a little tired. 

Enter Window Swap, the site which allows you to open a new window somewhere else in the world. From a busy crossing in Bordeaux, to a lake in Maine - let your soul breathe in the atmosphere of another corner of the globe and feel a bit tearful when it all feels so far away...

Why it works: Window Swap taps into the needs of users pining with wanderlust and most importantly gives them what they need, quickly. The site follows the less-is-more design principle by presenting the user with a minimalist site. The key actions, ‘Open a new window somewhere in the world’ and ‘Submit’ (your own window), are centrally located on the page allowing the user to quickly interact with the site. The ‘windows’ themselves open into new web browser windows helping the user to escape from any more mundane tasks.

Window Swap follows the less-is-more principle helping the user complete their journey quickly and with less friction. Screenshot of site user experience.
Window Swap follows the less-is-more principle helping the user complete their journey quickly and with less friction. Screenshot of site user experience.

Best virtual meeting hack: Meeting Intruders

The number of meetings workers attend has increased by 13% since COVID-19. This might be too much to bear for many people who weren’t a big fan of the meeting in the first place. The Meeting Intruders Chrome extension by B Reel provides an entertaining way to while away the time on Google hangouts by virtually exterminating your co-workers through playing Space Invaders. The plug-in only appears on the player’s screen so Alex from marketing will have absolutely no idea what you’re up to as he embarks on his third monologue of the call. 

Why it works: We won’t beat around the bush with this one because why it works is very simple. B Reel used a well known arcade game, Space Invaders and applied it to the zeitgeist of monotonous video conferences. The company refreshed something very recognisable and applied it to a tool widely used by their target audience. Sometimes the simple ideas are the best ones.

Virtually exterminate your co-workers in your 20th video call of the day with Meeting Intruders. Video courtesy of Meeting Intruders.

Best entertainment: Swamp Motel

The immersive theatre company Swamp Motel is the embodiment of necessity as the mother of invention. The creative industries have taken a battering in the past few months with 44.7% of creatives believing they have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. In a feat of creative destruction, Swamp Motel has translated their award winning in-person experiences that blur the boundaries between theatre, film and gaming into virtual collaborative performances taking place over zoom. Whilst nothing can substitute the hair raising moments of live theatre, we certainly could all do with a bit of escapism through our computer screens right now. 

Why it works: In-person immersive theatre returns intimacy to the entertainment experience, so it would be a feat to convey this bespoke atmosphere through Zoom. Swamp Motel manages to do this by making use of an existing virtual space, the internet, as the central element of the experience. Existing content hosted on social media and other sites is central to the mysteries audiences are asked to solve, transforming a space the user encounters every day into something else entirely.

Best audio experience: British Wildlife Soundscape

Country life has never been so appealing. However,  we can’t all immediately hound our favourite beauty spots or frolick in fields of wheat. The Guardian’s British Wildlife Soundscape however will give you about 5 minutes of frolicking at home, as you scroll through its interactive exploration of the wildlife inhabiting a British forest. The experience takes you through a typical day in the life of a British forest, introducing you to the calls of the animals from a ‘pugnacious’ Robin to the ‘surprisingly noisy’ Hedgehog. 

Why it works: It’s definitely not the most sophisticated experience available, but British Wildlife Soundscape is a great example of how a mainstream news title can integrate illustration and parallax to create something just as immersive as AR. The individual sound effects provided by the British Library are a great example of a fruitful creative partnership which brings to life a series of charming characters for both older and younger users alike.

Best to do with your bubble: Super You

Our worlds have felt smaller for a few months now and maybe your housemate or even your children are looking just that bit too familiar. Super You, a costume arts experiment by Universal Everything (UE) has you covered: transform your bubble into moving arrangements of geometric shapes, flowers and leaves with some clever AR using the Super You app. Body tracking technology follows your companion using your phone camera to give you something different and more entertaining to look at, from a distance. 

Why it works: UE manages to subvert AR’s gimmicky reputation by creating an experience that truly delights the user. The body tracking technology picks up a colour the subject is wearing and integrates it into the 11 costumes available giving the user agency in the experience. Bringing the human touch to technology is a concept UE has been interested in for a few years now as a way for users to understand that technology has a soul.

A demo of Universal Everything’s Super You that brings agency to the user in a variety of different environments. Video courtesy of Zoonou.

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