‘The Woods’ is an AR/mixed-reality game that addresses the perils of social isolation by promoting connections between people and engaging them in collaborative play. Players maneuver their virtually tethered smartphones through a field of distractions in pursuit of a fragmented voicemail left by an aging grandmother for her teenage grandchild.

‘The Woods’ is an AR/mixed-reality game that addresses the perils of social isolation by promoting connections between people and engages them in collaborative play. Furthermore, it inspires a discourse of contemporary life and explores how technology that is often criticized for inducing isolation can be reimagined to cultivate presence and promote positive societal change.

Since the 1980’s the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent. Research has also indicated that smartphones and online networking (in contrast to face-to-face interactions) can be detrimental to a young person’s mental and social wellbeing, leading to isolation and depression, cyberbullying, and even contributing to increased suicide rates. This concern is further magnified when dealing with interactions between digital migrants and digital natives.

In ‘The Woods’, players are tasked with supporting a verbal exchange between a digital migrant and a digital native (grandmother and grandchild) using smartphone technology while avoiding distractions that are intended to sever the bond between them. Together, the digital migrant and the digital native struggle to maintain their relationship which is crippled by the same technology designed to enable it. Using augmented reality (AR) apps and smartphones, players are joined by a virtual tether that visually connects their phones to one another, and serves as a metaphor of their own connectedness and to encourage collaboration.

As an interactive installation, ‘The Woods’ requires the collaboration and physical presence of its players, and also invites the surrounding audience to participate by making this otherwise private communication between grandmother and grandchild a public one through projection mapping. By bringing the audience directly into the fold of the experience, we raise questions about both private and public perceptions of isolation and well-being, while prompting an examination of human connectivity through the lens of contemporary technology.

Prof. Kyoung Lee Swearingen, Department of Design, The Ohio State University
Prof. Scott Swearingen, Department of Design, The Ohio State University
Rosalie Yu: Creative Technologist, Columbia University
Dr. Marc Ainger, School of Music, The Ohio State University
Skylar Wurster, Student, Computer Science Enginnering, The Ohio State University

Players and In-Game footage

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