The ultimate interactive experience

Photo by Steve Cohn.

Photo by Steve Cohn.

Newly appointed North­eastern pro­fessor Stacy Marsella is a rock­star in com­puter sci­ence. He develops crazy algo­rithms that essen­tially read emo­tion in snip­pets of text or audio. He’s put these skilz to use in a variety of plat­forms, from health appli­ca­tions to vir­tual reality games (stay tuned for my story on this work in the news@Northeastern).

But while Marsella is a renowned com­pu­ta­tional expert, the books on his shelf reveal another story entirely. Many of them are on things like psy­chology, cinema, and art. “I’ve always had an interest in per­for­mance and in cre­ating envi­ron­ments where people interact with things,” he told me in an inter­view recently. “I like this notion of some­thing coming together, hap­pening in the moment, and then going away. There’s just some­thing quite beau­tiful about that.”

And what’s a better inter­ac­tive expe­ri­ence than a vir­tual reality game? Enter, an inter­ac­tive expe­ri­ence Marsella cre­ated with col­leagues during his time at Uni­ver­sity of Southern Cal­i­fornia. It’s an entire nine­teenth cen­tury bar, com­plete with uneven floor­boards and shot glasses of whiskey, an aban­doned deck of cards where two saloon-​​goers were playing poker. There’s just one thing about this bar that’s dif­ferent about it. The patrons are vir­tual humans, embedded in life-​​size screens on the walls. You as the player must interact with these char­ac­ters to come up with a reli­able solu­tion to the territory’s number one problem: Rio Laine. He’s the unsa­vory fellow who’s been causing chaos throughout the land.

Take a look for your­self: