During the pandemic, I taught a number of online workshops, and took part in several online origami meetings. They were all very nice, but each seemed to lack an essential component: the ability to stroll around and talk to random people. Even with multiple zoom rooms, such online meetings always seemed to lack the spontaneity of a face-to-face meeting.
Enter the OrigamiUSA Convention 2021 which employed a new tool, called Gather. It works from within your browser and is, essentially, a multiplayer action RPG game. You see the surroundings in a top-down view and can interact with it and other players. When your character walks close enough to another person’s avatar, you can use audio and video to talk to each other. You can talk among multiple characters who are within reach as well. Of course, you can also temporarily disable audio and/or video for privacy.
During the convention, we experienced the app becoming unstable and disconnecting participants. People also complained about not being able to use the camera when running on an iPad. Hopefully, such issues can be sorted out as the product matures.
While at first I was rather skeptical of the whole idea of simulating a convention in the form of a game, I quickly found out that it worked very well. Since connections are set up automatically when two peoples’ avatars come close, the burden of setting up a connection is reduced to nil. Due to the way distance affects audio in the game, just like in real life you can talk in small groups, but you won’t run in the problem of having dozens of people talking at the same time. Overall, this is the best simulation of a real-life meeting I have run into so far, and it really made the convention stand out from the rest. Since this was my first time at an American convention, I got to meet many people who don’t usually come to European conventions, and whom I would not be able to meet if the convention used a more traditional format. At conventions I attended live, I always found freefolding and chatting with people in the time between workshops to be the best part, and this one was no exception.