Desert Mothers: a multiplayer virtual reality meditation circle Aaron Oldenburg (Simulation And Game Design, University of Baltimore, Baltimore, MD ) A1
This is a discussion of the process for creating the game Desert Mothers, a game where players are connected across a network, and each individually interact with an environment that expresses its emotions through weather. I will discuss responses to the game, as well as briefly describe the theory and history behind it. Players begin in the same randomly-generated environment. This diverges for each as their personal environment, composed of individualized weather and hallucinations, responds to the player's actions. The constraints within which the players interact are discovered during play, and revolve around the body, simulated breath, drawing in the air, and out-of-body exploration of flora, fauna, and abandoned human habitations. Participants sit on cushions on the floor facing each other. They use either desktop Virtual Reality (VR) devices, or non-VR (flat) systems with monitors and Xbox controllers. In the game world, they are also sitting, either looking out across the desert at one another or lost in an exploration from the perspective of an environmental object. They see one another's drawings and any two players are rewarded for returning each other's gazes. The intelligent landscape watches the manner in which the player draws with their hands in the air, the frequency of their simulated breath, and other movements. The world enters a mood based on what it has observed and expresses itself abstractly by changing the environment in a manner similar to weather. All environmental objects move expressively based on the entire system's current mood. The player can attempt to provoke changes in behavior from this entity, or explore interactions with other players while the environment reacts. Although the player might not interpret the game environment as having a mind that responds to their actions, it's a feature of the game's reality, and a logic that underlies the gameplay. There is a slippery relationship between the player and their body as separate from elements in the environment, as they explore the landscape from the perspectives of other environmental entities. The player can select a plant, animal, or human-built structure and view the environment from its perspective. They can also leave their body sitting in the sand and roam freely around the latter structures. There is also a tension between the stillness of meditation and the preoccupation with activity in an interactive space. This is a multiplayer game where players can discover ways to communicate and interact over the network, but the individualized environmental behavior pushes the experience inward. The game has its inspiration in group psychedelic and meditative experiences, such as Ayahuasca ceremonies. Although it is ostensibly a group experience, it is intensely personalized.