There are three key relationships in Nanobots. The first is between the user and the Nanobot. The second is between the user and the microscopic creatures they encounter. The third is the relationship between the user and the virtual reality space.
The Nanobot avatar is like a smarter, more able version of the user. The user will immediately think of the Nanobot as ‘theirs’. It’s a deep and immediate bond based on identification, trust, friendship, shared experience and the acquisition of knowledge. Nanobots avatars will speak to the user in a voice that is reassuring because it will be based on user’s preference when they first choice their Nanobot model (a projection of their own primal need, i.e a ‘protector’ or ‘friend’).
The relationship between the user and their tardigrade is something that evolves. At the start of the game there’s a high degree of uncertainty - much like embarking on a wildlife safari - but in the course of the interaction, the wild tardigrade is tamed and eventually becomes the user’s virtual pet.
Sense of control plays a big part in forming emotional connection with your virtual pet. This is why taming your tardigrade is key to establishing an emotional bond. A child's desire for mastery begins to develop at age six or seven and in Nanobots there are so many things to master: the terrain, knowledge of the environment, negotiating relationships with monsters. It's a world of expertise in which kids can revel, free from parents who rarely understand the microscopic world. Just think of the mountains of information kids can absorb about dinosaurs without ever seeming to formally learn it. The user is master of their microscopic domain and free to explore as they wish. The creatures they find are theirs to track down, observe, befriend and tame.
There are three elements to turn a virtual pet into an interactive learning experience:
Learning - We learn about the tardigrades and their environment. All science based.
Nurturing - Using what we have learned about the creatures we befriend them, maintain their environment, feed and care for them and are rewarded by building an emotional connection to them. Knowledge is solidified through action.
Competition - Users test their competence and knowledge with others. They compare their Nanobots and microscopic creatures with their friends and compare their adventures. It takes time, skill and knowledge to master the environment and the creatures. Later, we could add a more immediate element of competition by having tardigrades fight off predators.
Emotional connections are made through the virtual pet developing a need for the user, (for food, companionship etc). It’s a significant reward to have tamed your own tardigrade. Having gone through all these stages, all these increasing levels of commitment, the user ends up with a creature that is dependent on them. Tamagotchis were successful because they were like babies - if you ignored them they died. We don’t need to go that far but we could have our Nanobot alert the user via text or email when the tardigrade needs feeding etc.
Learning through object play creates a bond your tardigrade - imagine a tardigrade you can play fetch with? Petting is also an important bond activity and has contributed to the success of mobile games such as My Horse. As User Interface (UI) solidifies in the VR platform we will be able to enhance this experience by incorporating more haptic mechanics into our game.
The third key relationship is between the user and the virtual space. This is something unique to VR and will likely be an experience that is completely new to the user. The sense of presence and immersion in a virtual world is what elevates VR above other platforms, whether it be console games, mobile games, smart phones, tablets or televisions. The experience can be an incredibly emotionally charged and ‘real’ as well as being wonderously rewarding.
Base Camp provides the user with their own, private and safe place - their den. "The den is the child's sense of self being born," says David Sobel, a developmental psychologist. "A den is the child's chance to create a home away from home that is secret, and becomes a manifestation of who they are. The chrysalis out of which the butterfly is born." In Nanobots Base Camp is the space where users who are new to the game and virtual reality can find their bearings and get comfortable with the experience. They can take as long as they like - they’ll be plenty of simple things to do and explore here - before gaining the confidence to step out and explore the outside environment.
The micro world, or micro park, is purposely more of a challenge for the user. It represents the unknown, a wondrous place that allow children to experience danger in a secure environment. Importantly, children will not be alone in this environment. They’ll have their best friend/guide/protector with them - their personal Nanobot. Exploration walks the path between wonder and fear. At every step the user is in control. Whenever they want they can stop, seek help, advice and reassurance or they can just step out of the experience completely.