Concept: Randomness & predetermination

My initial idea about this project is to explore the concept of randomness and predetermination. In our daily life, it is quite often that people believe they have their influences on random incidents and can change what will happen even when the final result is not in their control. There are also situations people believe that the results are random but actually not, such as fake or biased prize draw, objects or participants picked by magicians.

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When thinking on the random side, I think about the live data of everyday things such as stock market, exchange rate and social behaviour. Many factors are involved and affecting these data therefore impossible to predict precisely. Some people believe there are patterns in the stock market movements, there are courses online that claim to teach you how to read the graphs and find the patterns so that you can spot a right time to buy or sell shares.

Research and Inspirations

1) Probabilities, Choices, and Gambling

A Rube Goldberg machine is a machine intentionally designed to perform a simple task in an indirect and overcomplicated way.

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Franzi Schneider-Krumpus sums up the reasons people like such things as they are funny, pulling back the curtain, and bring out our inner engineer.

Sheena Iyengar states that the Human has the natural desire of making decisions. She did her PhD in Psychology, working as a Professor of business school, and is widely known as an expert on choice. Making choices and controlling situations seems like a good thing, but there are scientists did experiments showing that too many choices can make people less satisfied.

Gambling involves all these aspects, it asks people to make decisions, yet blindfolds them and gives random results. In order to better understand the way gambling businesses engage people without actually giving people control of the outcomes, I visited the Palace Bingo Club in Elephant and Castle in February. People there take the activity very seriously, you have to sign up to be a club member to get in, and the players were very concentrated on their tickets, also known as ‘books’.

By analysing the Bingo system, it is not difficult to understand that at the moment players purchased their tickets, it is predeterminate whether they will win or lose, because the numbers to be displayed are generated randomly, as well as the numbers on the tickets, players have no control on the final outcome. Therefore, there is really no need to keep everyone waiting and listening to the numbers and trying to find and circle those numbers on tickets. However, the process retains the players and the possibility of getting the next number on their tickets keeps them excited.MinisMachine

The existence of Rube Goldberg machine, Bingo, Minis Machine indicates that lots of people enjoy the unnecessary complication and the unexpected random outcomes.

2) Cognition & Cognitive Psychology

In April, I visited The Wellcome Collection for its exhibition Smoke and Mirrors – The Psychology of Magic. I watched a show given by a PhD student, who was also interested in finding out more about choices and the psychological mechanism behind. She explained the concept called Information Gap, which means people making free choices but getting the same outcome. This is commonly used in magic.

I also found a lot of examples of how people’s mind could be misdirected and can be used as references for my project. One of the examples is called Partial Debrief Form, participants were asked to lie under a piece of high-tech looking equipment. In the end, they believed that their mind has been manipulated.

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Another relevant example is a personality test, participants were given the same analysis of their personality and asked to rate the accuracy of the results. The average rating was 4.26 out of 5. As Joan Didion mentioned in her book, ‘we tell ourselves stories, interpret what we see and select the most workable of the multiple choices.’

3) Idea Development, Prototyping & Testing

Back in March, we had a group brainstorming which helped me to set my ideas and concepts in decision making and provided me with two initial ideas selected by classmates.

At the time I thought the blindfolded game idea is crazy and difficult to realise but it stuck in my head. I consider using VR the best way to achieve the blindfolding effect. It not only isolates the users from the physical world and allowing them to make intuitive choices without rational consideration but also provides a sense of privacy to the users and stop other people from knowing the experience beforehand. This is important as I want to ensure that users make choices without distractions, so they feel more related to the final outcome, similar to the technique used in the personality test experiment mentioned above. Also, it is necessary to prevent other users to watch for similar reasons: pulling back the curtain would be compulsory for my ideal project.

I started with paper prototyping and then created a simple website to demonstrate my idea in class, though the medium could not fulfil my requirement.

Later on, I made another website with more choices and more results and showed it on the Work-in-Progress day. I purposely showed an illustration about Sigmund Freud’s ‘Conscious, Preconscious and Subconscious’ ideas and a printed i-Ching Hexagrams chart on the table, as shown on the photo.

There are about 10 people tried the website, more than half of them did not read the instruction on the first page and clicked the OK button straight away, I had to stop them and explain the way of using the system. This also reminded me to think about the user habits of not reading terms and conditions when prompted to do so. I will have to think about creating graphical instructions instead of expecting people to read.

Out of all the participants, one student said the result is very true, three students said the results make sense, a few students did not care about the result but asked me how to make the website. There was one did not to try the system and said that he was the wrong person to ask as he does not believe in such kind of results. ( ? ? ? )

Someone came and just clicked through all the pages and said that six choices are generating too few different options. I did not explain the math (2 in the power of 6 = 64) or reveal the way the system works. It is a bit disappointing when people just run through your prototype without following the instructions, but it is helpful as this situation should also be taken into account when thinking about the design.

One of the classmates, who knows the results are random, showed great interests in the i-Ching chart and wanted to use the system multiple times as she has many questions wanted to be answered. This showed me how the system can be used differently, some people may still enjoy using the system for advice even they know the answers are completely random.

Implementation

The tools I used are mainly Unity3D and Photoshop and I had to learn some C# to create interactions.

Unlike paper and web prototyping, in the actual VR environment, all the transition should somehow make sense, but it is not feasible to create 64 different routes for the users to go through.

I drafted a storyboard of environment concepts including keywords such as Inconspicuous, Nature, Civilisation, Magic and Mystery, the Universe, Abstract.

I tried to visualise these themes and to create some connections between them, so the transition between scenes would look more sensible. For example, the users will start from a bedroom with two distinctive paintings hanging on the wall. The painting showing the sea would take the user to the scene with the sea. After making all the choices, the users will be back to the starting bedroom and have their results.

Writing the results is also time-consuming work. I am using I-Ching as my reference and trying to translate the 64 basic results. They are written in Chinese with lots of symbols and metaphors which cannot be translated word by word.

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For interactions, although using a controller is kind of cool, I decided to let the users interact by gaze. The reason is it frees the users’ hands, hence fewer distractions. It is also useful in controlling the speed of the journey. No user would be able to click through like what they may do when using a website.

There are also other details to be considered such as lighting, the placement of objects, font to use, and so on. I want the font to look worn so picked the second one.

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Font choices

During the making process, I realised that I underestimated the difficulty of creating the project I visioned. There are bugs and errors on every step of building the program, and having no VIVE headset on hand means that I need to use stimulator on my computer and change components when running it for the actual headset. Another problem I face is the errors caused by using different operating systems.

My computer was infected by some virus during my implementation stage. That was frustrated as I could not tell there is a virus but thinking it as another bug or error caused by codes or OS. I wasted a week’s time of trying but not able to download and import the Steam VR plugin from the Asset Store. I made my Plan B of using Google VR SDK and bought a Google cardboard just in case the Steam VR thing could not work out.

Fortunately, I finally got my Mac cleaned one week before submission and was able to fix all bugs so far.

There is still a long way to go. I learned some knowledge of applying lighting and post-processing effects to make the VR world look more real and want to use the time before the graduation show to improve the project.