Upon donning a headset, the user is transported to a tranquil garden and guided to enter a tatami-lined tea room. The user becomes the host who performs the ceremony with a table of instruments and learns how to embody its four principles: Harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.
Designer | 3D Modeler | Environmental Artist
Hi-fi VR Prototype
The goal of the VR environment is to introduce the user to a cultural tradition as a guest and transition to a participatory role as a performer of the tea ceremony. The experience also serves as a tool to practice the ceremony and supplement real world practice.
One of the first steps in developing the story and function of the experience was determining who would be best served by the experience and how they would use the space. We developed two personas: one focused on learning more about a culture and the other feeling more confident within the culture.
Frank is a recently-retired federal government employee who lives in northern Virginia. He enjoys spending his afternoons exploring the galleries and exhibits at the Smithsonian museums scattered across Washington, D.C. and spends his evenings watching travel documentaries, both on TV and on YouTube.
Goal: Frank wants to learn the nuances of Japanese tea ceremony to improve cultural literacy and satiate his curiosity.
Pain Points: Frank has a lot of time on his hands and is often bored in his retirement. He wants to experience a different culture, but has limited mobility and doesn't travel very well.
Ayami, a 2nd year high school student in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, Japan, lives with her Mom and sister while her dad is mostly away for work. Her favorite subject is history, and she loves visiting historic landmarks around her city. Ayami has been looking for a club to join after school that combines her academic interest and desire to make friends.
Goal: Ayami wants to gain more confidence in practicing tea ceremony for an audience.
Pain Points: Ayami becomes really anxious when she has to perform in front of others, usually leading to her making many mistakes and feeling further embarrassment.
Sara and I divided and individually developed the tea ceremony instruments. I created half of the 3D objects such as the water ladle, bamboo whisk, tea powder scoop, wall scroll and hot water kettle. Sara created the tea bowl, matcha powder holder, tea bowl and water waste bowl. I created the teahouse interior and Sara added scripts and settings to make the object interactions possible. She also voiced and recorded an introductory monologue that gives an overview of the meaning of tea ceremony. The monologue plays when the user approaches the wall scroll in the alcove. Sara also narrated instructions to users trying to perform the ceremony when testing the experience.
At the midpoint of the project and after the the first iteration was complete, I made further refinements to the experience such as adding an introductory garden scene with ambient nature sounds, more realism and lighting to the interior of the tea house, and using a particle emitter Unity package that allowed users to scoop virtual water from the hot water kettle.
When testing the experience with various types of users, many were delighted by the ability to interact with the ceremony instruments (even in some cases just throwing them around the room, which was more than allowed). They also found the environment to be calming and tranquil. Given more time, resources and coding capability, further iterations would ideally include 1) overlaying interactions to guide the user in the movements required for the ceremony, and 2) an opportunity for the user to be a guest who is served the tea.