Alternate reality

Alternate Reality (not to be confused with Augmented Reality, qv) can be summarised as ‘a fictional narrative instigating and supporting exploration of a physical space’. It is a technique that iMuse has been introduced to at several museum-computer conferences in the US and UK, but has not as yet participated in in real life apart from one trial we undertook at the Museum of English Rural Life, Reading, UK, The Great Fire Engine Mysterythough the Detective Trail technique might also be considered to be a minor version of Alternate Reality

The story, involving an (Easter) rabbit fire-fighter who gets injured, centred around one of the more unusual objects in the Museum, a hand operated fire engine. The aim was to get visitors to move around the museum looking for and at various objects while re-tracing the rabbit’s and his colleagues’ steps. There were several physical props, including an Angry Bird, a rabbit and his warren, and several virtual scenes, (children spotting the flying bird, a silent film of a similar fire engine etc) together with video of the workings of the fire engine. The story was strongly influenced by the objects that were available and the photos available from the archives. Its realisation was particularly influenced by the IT available at the time, a few communal iPads set up to work without needing wi-fi and either fixed against visitor interference, or under supervision of a role-enacting volunteer.

Today it would be possible to rely on many visitors providing their own mobile equipment with a few pre-loaded tablets being made available for loan to those without. This would enable a greater use of technology throughout the site rather than at just a very few spots.

Having said all that, what was the most popular part of the experience? For small children it seemed to be the end where they were rewarded by putting on a real fireman’s helmet and for the grandparent generation it was sitting watching the silent film (Buster Keaton). iMuse has no strong memory of others enjoying the experience in any one, specific way, apart from the fun of moving around the gallery as a family group. It is possible the narrative was almost too complex, and the reactions to the simpler (both in story and in technology terms) Detective Trail with its semi-repetitive activity more strongly remain as a positive experience.