Game Design Meets Physical Architecture

Looking Beyond Galleries

Through looking at the design of physical spaces like museums and galleries, I began to think about how this translates digitally. One area of differentiation between digital galleries and physical ones, is how the participant experiences motion. With a physical space, you are grounded. You can feel your feet firmly on the ground. Your brain tells your eyes what to see and how light effects what you see. Your brain tells your feet to move, and our bodies know exactly what is coming. Inside a Virtual Reality environment, it’s a little bit different. Our computers take a little bit more time to catch up, as do our brains.

Through out this process, Nicole has been working away with the Oculus creating mock ups and testing different things in the digital space. We have all been experiencing how each test works and feels within the headset. One of those test was an acceleration test, where the player (the person with headset on) controls the movement around the space. She tried it at three different speeds; one really slow, one that was fast and another which fell in-between the two. We found that for a comfortable player experience the speed of the player had to be fairly slow, to eliminate a feeling of motion sickness.

(Nicoles test video)

How to make movement comfortable?

So why can’t we move fast through the space? Why does it make me feel sick? Why does it take me out of the experience? Well according to Luckey, co founder of Oculus, it’s not necessarily the speed.

Moving at speed doesn’t actually make people sick; once you’re moving and at equilibrium that’s fine. The issue is constant deceleration and acceleration. It’s actually the duration of that change, rather than the magnititude, that makes people change.

He goes on to explain that the problem tends to arise when the camera is moved in a way that doesn’t match with users’ senses that gives balance and spatial awareness. Solutions to this can involve the creation of objects that the brain is familiar with. As co-founder of Oculus, Palmer Luckey writes,

“If you have something for your brain to fixate on as the thing that matches similar inputs you’re given when sitting in the real world, you’re going to be feeling a lot better.”

This research paired with our Oculus experiment made me re-think the design approach of the explorable space. In my early concepts I was designing the navigation without testing what feels right and thinking about what the brain can compute, so now, I’m questioning a few of my original concepts. If it takes 30seconds to move across a space, will it be boring for the participant? Probably. What can we add to break up this journey? What can we do to make it an enjoyable experience from start to finish? Do we need to add visual aids every few seconds to maintain momentum and interest? This line of questioning lead me to look into examples of “explorable” environments, and one real world example immediately came to mind – IKEA.


I am not a huge fan of shopping at IKEA, however, I can’t help but admire the genius behind the design. It leads you on a maze like journey through different worlds, displaying elaborate home sets paired with cheap pick up products along the way. I couldn’t put my finger on why this model was interesting until I came across this article by Jamin Warren of PBS Digital studios, where he compares IKEA to a game. Bingo! That was it. The parallels with game game design is unbelievable.

The shopper or player navigate themselves through a maze, curving regularly to bring visual variety and keep the player/customer interested. Lauren Collins in the House Perfect article for the New Yorker writes that the main isle in the store is meant to curve at every fifty feet so that there is variety in the journey to keep the customer interested (2011).

“IKEA has made a maze that is designed to keep you in the store long enough to grab a Bumerang, but not long enough to murder your family.” – Jamin Warren

Level design of first-person shooter games follow the same pattern; the path is constantly curving to keep you enticed by what lies around the bend. Find a shortcut? Feel triumphant! Pick up cheap little products along the way. Save for the big ones…


Warren’s commentary and approach really got me thinking. Is a maze the answer? I don’t know if it is just yet, but I do think that some form of physical guides through the space will be important. The participant needs to be able to reach and move between information quickly or they will get bored. The challenge is creating a space that isn’t too crowded, yet still features delightful little elements to maintain interest along the journey. Next steps: implementing some of these ideas into designs!


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