Produced by Infinity Experiences
As experienced in Tacoma ~ July 2022
The Experience & How it Works:
The Infinite is an in-person exhibition that you experience through virtual reality. What this means is, you arrive at the event location — likely, a large warehouse-type space — and once you’re there, the hosts guide you to select a VR headset, teach you how to put it on and fit it to your head, and make sure yours is working correctly before sending you “into space.”
Once everyone in your group has their headset on, you’ll walk into a large room that, with your VR headset on, feels — and looks like — outer space. You’ll be able to identify members of your group by the color of the pulsing light inside their avatar, but you won’t be able to discern distinct individuals. You’ll also be able to identify participants in the experience that are from groups who started before or after you. This ability to identify other participants is mostly so that you don’t walk into each other; the experience itself is more an individual experience than a group activity, although you may enjoy comparing notes with your group-mates after it ends, since you may have experienced some different moments.
Once you’re wandering through outer space, you’ll see a space station with transparent walls that you can walk through. When you walk through them, you find yourself on the international space station and can explore. You’ll discover large glowing orbs that, when touched, take you into a live-action 360 video of an actual space station where an astronaut talks to you and tells you first-hand about their experience. You can look around and, in all directions, you will see the space station — different areas may have different astronauts doing different things. Each orb experience is relatively short. Just long enough to share something new and not quite long enough to get tired of hearing any one person talk.
Why it’s Interesting, IMHO:
With this exhibition, Infinity Experiences—a joint venture of PHI Studio and Felix & Paul Studios—is tackling a big issue in the 360 video space: how to distribute content and get your experiences in front of an audience. While the number of people who own VR headsets is increasing, the awareness of — and therefore, demand for — narrative and 360 content remains low. As a result, there has been little incentive for the major players to monetize 360 and narrative the way they have monetized games. This leaves innovative and accomplished creators in a sticky situation; they want to continue to pioneer, but struggle to find a business plan that allows them to build a library that will entice an audience and in turn incentivize monetization. (The notion of building a collective library — and, in turn, a community around this type of content — is the inspiration behind TheLook.Club). With The Infinite, Infinity Experiences is using a location-based-entertainment (LBE) model to get their 360 video content in front of an audience.
Initial Impression & Critical Discussion:
The Infinite creates a successful experience around 360 video. There is a thoughtful narrative structure that begins with a lift-off like experience in what feels like a space elevator, continues with multiple chapters inside the headset, and concludes with a space walk and art experience that helps bring one back down to Earth, complete with seeing trees through an overhead porthole.
The use of VR in this experience serves a clear purpose and creates a unique opportunity and ideal setting for viewing Felix & Paul’s amazing, high-quality 360 footage of astronauts in space. The bite-size one-on-one moments with astronauts provided by the orbs are digestible experiences made all the more profound (than just seeing them on YouTube VR) by setting them in a transparent space station within an LBE star-strewn universe.
The viewer-participant experience is consistent and comfortable. Throughout the experience, one feels like an embodied human — with a consistent narrative and visual POV pairing, even though what makes one feel this embodied 1st person POV varies; in the participant POV sections, it is through one’s human-body outlined avatar, and in the entity POV sections, it is through the way one is regarded and addressed by the astronauts. Knowing that the footage was filmed years before the idea for the LBE experience was conceived, the creative team deserves credit for building an experience that feels cohesive, intentional and organic.
Experiential Viewpoint Expression (E.V.E.):
Embodied, 1st person narrative, 1st person visual, participant/entity, mortal
ON EFFECTUAL POV (participant/entity):
When wandering through the space station, you have participant effectual POV; you can effect the story or scene in two ways: (1) you can acknowledge or talk to other viewer-participants as you wander around, if you like, and
(2) you can choose which orb to enter (even though you don’t know what it contains), and you can choose when and whether to enter or an orb.* When you’re inside a 360 video, you have entity effectual POV: you can’t impact the story or scene through your actions, but the astronauts are aware of — and acknowledge — your presence.
ON EXPERIENTIAL POV (mortal):
While participating in The Infinite, the viewer-participant has control over 1-6 DOF, which corresponds to mortal experiential POV.
When you ascend into outer space, you and your cohort choose to enter memories and moments left behind by astronauts who’ve lived and worked on the space station so that you might get a better feeling of what it’s like to be an astronaut, and then it’s time to return to Earth.
Pillars of Game:
Voluntary Participation — Check!
Goal — To learn about the experience of being an astronaut.
Rules — You can select an orb to experience a moment with an astronaut. You can choose whichever orbs you like in any order. You have limited time in each chapter. You must keep your headset on and be respectful of others in the space. If you exit a 360 video early, you will not be able to return to it.*
Feedback — When you touch an orb, it takes you inside a 360 video. If you get to close to a real-world object (e.g., curtains in the warehouse), you see a red grid. If you walk while inside of a 360 video, you will exit it.
*This rule was not made explicit and was deduced through experience.
Who Should Experience This?
Everyone. Even if you’ve been to space museums and seen shuttles and lift-off videos and astronaut interviews, The Infinite presents a unique, personal, digestible (a.k.a., not overwhelming) and memorable space experience. You’re guaranteed to learn something — without reading anything — and to come away with a new, up-close and personal appreciation for the experience of an astronaut. You’ll also very likely enjoy yourself.