Friday, October 19, 2007

The multimedia crowd experience

Sometime, quite a while ago, big sports events changed. Time was, you would sit in a stadium and watch a game. If you were up in the nosebleeds you'd bring a pair of binoculars. If you missed a play, well, you missed it.

Then they started putting big screens in parks and you could watch what you were watching. If they panned the camera into the crowd, you could even watch people watch what you were watching. If you missed a play, you could watch a replay.

The same concept works for concerts. Even people up in the cheap seats can see the sweat drip off the performer's nose. In fact, you might have a better experience there than someone on the floor of the arena too far away to see the stage well and without a clear view of the screen.

The same basic setup of crowd, performer and big screen is also used in megachurches and even in larger college classes.

OK, so if you're basically watching the show on TV, why bother to go to the arena, particularly if it's a sports event that's on TV anyway? Why not just sit comfortably at home, steps away from your kitchen and bathroom, skip the freeway or train trip and take in the commentary. If you have a DVR you can even pause and replay that close call yourself, as many times as you want.

Clearly, being part of the crowd is important. Being able to react and experience everyone else's reactions is worth a lot. So is being able to say you were there. There's something basically human going on here, along the lines of Mike Chwe's theme of common knowledge.

I have no direct experience of the latest generation of virtual worlds, but my impression is that they're not immersive enough to deliver quite the same experience. The virtual stadium (minus the long lines at the restroom) is probably quite a ways a way, not to mention the virtual moshpit.

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