Location-based VR experiences for Children

ReMAP members Eleanor Dare and John Potter were co-investigators in this pre-lockdown AHRC-funded Knowledge exchange network, led by PI Dylan Yamada-Rice who was working at the RCA at the time. It established a partnership with academics and game industry people in the UK and Japan to explore location-based VR, site specific experiences that aim to bring together materials beyond those in the virtual space, to carefully curate an experience for an audience who are likely to use the content only once or a few times. As a result, location-based VR experiences are emerging predominantly in two areas; gaming arcades and museums/art galleries.

The overall intention of this knowledge exchange (KE) project was to bring together a network of academics and digital gaming industry partners in Japan and the UK to join up knowledge, begin researching the current state of VR experiences and technologies, and to understand the best methodologies for including children in the design of VR experiences for them. This was undertaken so that this knowledge can be applied to areas in which VR is evolving for children, such as entertainment, education (e.g. Yamada-Rice et al, 2020) and health care (e.g. Tarrant et al, 2018; Won et al 2017; Arane, et al 2017; Yamada-Rice & Love 2019).

The following text summarises the project briefly. For full details, and to download the project report, please visit the project site.

The project focus built on previous studies by various members of the network around children and VR, such as a commercially-funded study led by the Principal Investigator, Yamada-Rice entitled ‘Children and VR (CVR)’ that shows how 8 to 12-year-olds use VR in highly tactile ways, that cross virtual and physical domains and that this is the case even when the content has not been designed with this intention and thus indicates a desire for mixed reality as opposed to purely digital immersive experiences (Yamada-Rice, et al, 2017). Further, market research data from Dubit Global Trends (2018) that supported the CVR study provides initial insight into how the technology fits into children’s everyday lives to suggest that location-based virtual experiences are likely to be sought because they are more inclusive and engaging than devices and content currently available for the domestic market. Also, many households are too busy or don’t have enough space or money to set up VR experiences in the home. Indeed, many studies across the years have shown how children have always combined physical and digital media together in this way (e.g. Marsh’s (2014) work on how children played with physical materials alongside the 1950s TV show- Davy Crockett, to more contemporary TV viewing combined with physical play in Marsh et al (2005). Also, in relation to children’s app use Marsh et al (2015)). Such studies combined with the findings of this one suggest there is a market for location-based VR experiences if the right content can be made for children.

In the domain of Digital Storytelling research, Co-Investigator Eleanor Dare explored the social imaginary of virtual reality, in particular, tensions between VR works which invoke empathy and those which appear to operate through less conscious processes, such as fear and reflexive, pre-conscious responses.

John Potter studied children and VR during the ‘Playing the Archive’ project, a study addressing the nature of historic play recorded in archives, contemporary spaces and technologies of play (Potter & Cowan, forthcoming 2020).


It was also considered that the chance to undertake KE activities with Japanese partners would be important because research on semiotics and related social practices shows how unlike English, Japanese communication practices foreground emotional expression rather than objects and time (e.g. Shelton & Okayama, 2006). This is particularly relevant to VR because the medium is increasingly considered a good match for content that centres on emotions which are important to both gaming, entertainment and health design, and is emerging as the key affordance that is separating this medium from others that have gone before.

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