Hackathons have become a sanctuary for me lately. I find myself at peace during the times hackers are all hunched over their machines putting their dreams together and when they exhibit their work in one massive science fair. Those are the inspirational moments when my senses are eager to feast on the various experiences the makers have in store for their audiences. Yet only a few of them will stick with me because I can only handle so much innovation at one time. Right after diving into one hacker’s world, I wonder how the next viewer will feel about the creation, but I never find out because everybody in the building is scurrying to catch the final ceremony. Recently, though, I had an opportunity to witness the power of a shared experience created by hacks at an unusual place, an art gallery exhibition.
Babycastles LIVING is a NYC art exhibition that brings together in one space modern furniture pieces and virtual reality games “celebrating the living room lifestyle.” The event was curated by design studio Pinkhouse NYC, Stephen Lawrence Clark (game designer and Babycastles team member), and avid graphic and video game designer Prashast Thapan. Pinkhouse NYC makes time-specific pieces, and Prashast’s got quite the collection of virtual reality apps that require verbal and physical interaction between multiple users simultaneously.
Proxy is a multiplayer game that simulates a virtual private network where both players start at opposite ends of a virtual reality world. The objective for the players is to avoid obstacles, collect data packets and upload themselves to the cloud. After uploading, they must find each other by talking about the visual cues they see. “With Proxy I was most interested in how people communicate with each other while playing the game,” Prashast says.
“Similarly to LIVING, I was keen on how much the audience would interact with the furniture and the virtual reality experiences. I want everyone to be involved in the physical space of one another,” he continues as he watches the crowd of viewers entering the gallery in awe of Babycastles’ aesthetic.
The concepts shown in Prashast and James Orlando’s VR development made much more sense to me now that I was in the gallery on opening night. Tables, chairs, other contemporary furniture, and 3D-modeled banana peels were scattered all over the place. Prashast prompted me to try out the featured showcase by Pinkhouse NYC. The main character in the game resembled The Bicentennial Man, where I was roaming freely in my surroundings. All the furniture pieces in the game’s world were exactly the same as the objects in Babycastles.
Once I’d had my fill and removed the Oculus Rift headset, I appreciated the gallery decoration even more. It’s almost as if I never left the augmented reality world I was just in.
There was a long line of anxious people eager to experience what I’d just felt. A lady leading the line grabbed the headset from me in excitement as she was gearing up for her turn and says, “Watch your step! There’s so many of these banana peels in here.” I took her word and walked carefully because there actually were banana peels at my feet! The transition from the game back to the gallery’s setting was seamless.
As I headed slowly back to the main room, everybody was interacting with elements that I had just seen in the game. They were having a blast in the banana pits and the arcade machines, and they were even moving the furniture wherever they pleased.
This gallery raised more ideas and questions about the tech and hackathon world for me. What if hackathons would strongly promote and encourage more people who aren’t hackers to come check out the expo, as if it was an art gallery? Would more people come to visit? How would that affect the type of hacks that will be built?
Who knows? Yet it is great to see that tech can be showcased in the art world.