Axion is an award winning, unique game and interactive documentary. By allowing a player the freedom to navigate and discover an evolving virtual environment, the project suggests a consonance between the process of scientific discovery and a personal, emotive confrontation with the unknown. As players navigate their virtual world, each will gradually discover intimate but scientifically rigorous conversations with scientists and researchers working in cosmology and particle physics, while experiencing abstract, multi-sensory content that reacts to and informs these interviews. During this process, Axion draws a parallel between visual poetry and scientific concepts, illuminating a creative and expressive side of the discourse that is often not showcased, and thus sharing a facet of scientific life that most people outside the scientific community have lacked.
Axion is designed to respond to both conscious interactivity and unconscious interactivity. The conscious level is the game-like exploration of a virtual environment. The player has control of their progression through the game-space such that their movements determine the documentary content they encounter while fostering a desire for exploration and building an emotional connection to the interview subjects.
Unconscious interaction arises from Axion’s algorithmic interpretation of a user’s biometric data as an input detached from their direct control, such as pulse rate, breath rate, blink rate, or electroencephalogram (EEG) signals. Because players may be unable or unwilling to provide biometric data, it is not strictly necessary in order to use the program, nor will the experience feel limited for a user not providing biometric data. Instead, this data is used to add a level of personalization to each player’s journey to make the Axion experience manifestly unique and to create a learning process adapted to user needs or mood.
Collecting biometric data serves two functions. First, from the user’s perspective, the environment they explore will be a reflection of themselves as the biometric data algorithmically generates and shapes the environment. For example, a topography generated in real time by the waveform of the player’s EEG signal, or a forest where each “tree” is a visualization of data from previous journeys including those of other players. The second feedback function, which takes place in the app framework separately from the user’s experience, uses biometric data to gauge the player’s level of focus or interest. Because some people may be more engaged by technical scientific information while others may be more responsive to emotive stimuli, the app monitors how each player responds to each part of the documentary and adjusts the subsequent content stream. In our prototype, we use EEG data from a consumer-available headset to make this determination, but eye-tracking or pulse rate can also be implemented in future versions.
A primary goal of Axion is to humanize science, and challenge the perception of scientists as distant, alienating voices of mysterious authority. The game experience focuses on the role of science as a source of questions and intellectual transformation, while exploring the personal stories and motivations of scientists struggling at the limits of human understanding of natural law.
By making Axion a non-linear, digital experience as opposed to a traditional documentary, a viewer can emotionally connect to the subject matter in a way that would otherwise be impossible. Instead of simply being shown and told a story, Axion allows a player to discover a story about discovery. By giving the viewer a sense of personal agency, they are invited to experience the story not only via the arc that we design, but through their own personalized path.
We want to challenge the notion that science is a practice far-removed from daily life. We want to leave the viewer not with answers, but with a sense that it is acceptable to be uncertain – realizing that the methods of science provide not the ultimate source of answers, but rather a way to ask questions.
A CO-PRODUCTION WITH
STORY ARCHITECT/PLAYCENTRIC STUDIOS & LUXLOOP
IVAYLO GETOV, IDUN ISDRAKE, KYLE GUSTAFSON
ALAIN THIBAULT, IDA LONG, IDUN ISDRAKE
PROFESSOR MARTIN POHL
DIRECTOR OF THE NUCLEAR AND PARTICLE PHYSICS DEPARTMENT, UNIVERSITY OF GENEVA
DR. MARK WYMAN
AMES ARTHUR POSTDOCTORAL FELLOW, NYU
PROFESSOR ELENA APRILE
CO-DIRECTOR, COLUMBIA ASTROPHYSICS LABORATORY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY
DR. SARAH MILLER
CHANCELLOR’S ADVANCE FELLOW AND MCCUE FELLOW, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, IRVINE
DR. JENNIFER SIEGAL-GASKINS
EINSTEIN POSTDOCTORAL FELLOW, CALTECH
DR. JASON RHODES
SCIENTISTS AT JET PROPULSION LABS; U.S. SCIENCE LEAD FOR ESA’S EUCLID MISSION
DR. ALINA KIESSLING
POSTDOCTORAL FELLOW AT JET PROPULSION LABS
DR. SEAN CARROLL
SENIOR RESEARCH ASSOCIATE IN PHYSICS, CALTECH
RAIN ASHFORD, JULIAN MACIEJEWSKI, JASON WISHNOW, NEAL HARTMAN at CERN; OPEYEMI OLUKEMI, INGRID KOPP, and AMELIE LEENHARDT at TRIBECA FILM INSTITUTE; NATASHA RODRIGUEZ-BACCHUS (LOGO DESIGN); MACIEJ MUSZKOWSKI (PROGRAMMING HELP); ZACH CALDWELL (VIDEOGRAPHY); JEREMY UNGAR, NICK ZEIG-OWENS, and CLINT JOSEPH HANAWAY (CAMERA ASSISTANTS); JOONA KURIKKA at the CERN IDEALAB; INSTITUTION OF NEUROSCIENCE AND PHYSIOLOGY IN GOTHENBURG; EVERYBODY AT CERN, CINEGLOBE, AND TRIBECA FILM INSTITUTE.