SMAAASH: VR Entertainment Review

On Thursday, my friends and I went to check out the newly opened virtual reality games and arcade center at the Mall of America, SMAAASH. While many might be fooled by my studious outlook, I am actually a huge fan of arcade games. I have spent many hours in my teenage years in arcade centers and have always enjoyed new game stimulations. So, I was very excited about the chance to check out this new experience.

SMAAASH is an interactive gaming facility that is built around virtual reality (VR) technologies. Opened on Dec. 20, 2016 at the Mall of America, SMAAASH offers America’s first VR-driven “adrenaline arena,” coupled with sports, music, and bar dining experiences.

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When walked into the arcade arena, I was immediately drawn to the flashy LEDs and screens set up to get visitors registered for their play. My friends and I got an all-access pass that gives us unlimited access to all games and one round of Sky Karting (go kart). Main attractions include Finger Coaster, Exterminator, Vertigo, Art of Attack, X1 Simulator, Haunted Hospital, Hot Shot, Zombie Outbreak, and three sports based challenges namely Super Keeper (soccer), What the Puck (ice hockey), and Extreme Takedown Challenge (football). There is also a “smart arcade” with classics like race cars, skiing, and basketball ring toss, and other screen based games. You can read all game descriptions here.

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Having studied VR and wearable technologies since 2015, my colleagues at UMN and I have been intrigued by the potentials of VR in gaming and social engagement. SMAAASH embodies a combination of both. While back in our home lab there’s one set of HTC Vive for individual research and user simulation, SMAAASH offers interactive and communal participation in VR experiences. These experiences are made possible mainly by Oculus and Vive technologies. What’s interesting to me is how the player/user can be a part of creating their VR experience, and sharing it with their friends.

For instance, at Finger Coaster, players can design their own roller coaster tracks and bring up to four friends to share the ride they have invented.

^ This is one of my most favorite.

Another highlight at SMAAASH is the Vertigo experience. I’d say that simulation is indeed not for the faint hearted. Through the VR headset, the player is lifted to about 50 feet above ground to a single plank, with the mission to save a kitten at the middle of the narrow walkway. I almost chickened out of this particular simulation (although I actually did with the zombies), I am glad that I tried–and succeeded in saving the poor kitty–because it was something I would never have done in real life.

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VR does trick the mind into believing the simulation to be reality. What the Vertigo experience teaches me is that there are truly many ways VR can be used to simulate scenarios that are hard to create in reality, but might be useful in shaping or changing one’s perspective.

We ended up spending about 2.5 hours there, not including the time in the dining space (the wings are delicious, by the way). I think SMAAASH could be a great group trip for those who don’t mind spending a little more on the tickets that traditional entertainment. The ticket prices at the Mall are:

  • $5 per Active and Virtual Reality Game; $1 per Arcade Game, or
  • All Active & Virtual Reality Games: $28 for once; $35 Unlimited, or
  • All Arcade, Active & Virtual Reality Games: $34 for once; $40 Unlimited

I give this new arcade a 4 out of 5 stars for its innovative approach to social gaming. I reserve one star for when it lowers its ticket prices and for when the players can be even more involved in designing their own VR experience.

The Rhetoric and Design of Course Syllabus

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It’s that time of the year when professors and instructors squeeze their brains and put together their hopefully-comprehensible course syllabi for respective classes. As I enter my fourth semester of teaching a freshman-writing course, I realize there’s a constant urge to put more and more into my syllabus: maybe I should tell my students not to use their cellphones in class, maybe I should tell them I hate chewing gums, maybe I should tell them to bring their textbooks, maybe…

However, as Barbara Fister complained (quoted by Jason B. Jones), the syllabus is becoming less of a resource for the students, but something they skip “without reading-Terms of Service agreements”:

When you add all those rules to the traditional stuff – course description, the list of assigned texts, the class-by-class schedule, and information about major assignments – these documents get incredibly long and complex. … We traditionally go over syllabi on the first day of class, and then we’re annoyed when students miss an assignment or fail to adhere to a rule because “it was in the syllabus.”

So, this semester, I challenged myself by changing my approach to creating the syllabus for my freshman-writing class. By referring my students to all detailed information put on the course website, I reduced the dreary document into a 2-page course overview and added some colors to the layout. I have come to realized that a course syllabus should articulate only the gist of the course, which attracts students to find out more by redirecting them to other more-suitable avenues that contain detailed information about the course.

See the PDF of my syllabus here.

In this Information/Digital Age, I believe teachers, especially instructors of rhetoric and communication, should recognize how information is acquired and digested, and thus consider the more appreciate outlets to communicate with new-age students. Here are more examples of non-traditional syllabus:

Do you have a creative syllabus? Link it in the comments!

Updated: Came across this humorous post by College Humor today and so I decided to add it to this entry.

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Points made. Period.

Heineken Campaign Challenges Routine Lifestyle, Invent Possibilities

Hats off to the brains behind the recent Heineken campaign, where travelers are challenged to drop everything – their planned trips, responsibilities – to take on an unknown route to a mysterious location.

The campaign is designed to confront our regular lifestyle – an always-busy, planned, often-stressful, and indifferent lifestyle. The impact of venture comes in multiple fold. First and foremost, it reminds us of how aloof we are toward this short journey called life. It wakes us from the numbness of our supercilious acts, day in and day out.

Second, it brings back the excitement in life by pushing us to make unreasonable decisions. This is a piece of puzzle in life we’re all seeking every day. Being able to break free from our reasonable lifestyle is freeing our sanity from structure, boredom, and indifference. While being reasonable means constraining oneself from inventing possibilities, being unreasonable means doing something out of the blue – something that you’re compelled to do, with a rational mindset – to be responsible and have fun doing it.

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“Legends are not born, they are dropped,” spelled the campaign tagline. This is not the first outrageous campaign that Heineken has pulled together but definitely a notch up from their previous stunts. This new campaign is also inline with Heineken’s brand personality, which shines bright through their company tagline: “Open New World.”

Indeed, “Legends” are not apathetic people but those who are willing to create their own life, inventing new possibilities of which the reasonable consciousness seems to avoid.

So what have I learnt from Heineken? Be a wild magnolia. Challenge indifference. Invent life.

More from Heineken (previous challenges):

  1. Would you pass the Heineken interview?
  2. Heineken tests true friendship
  3. Heineken brings out the ultimate man in oneself

#cwcon 2013

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Woot! I had a blast at my first Computers and Writing (2013) this weekend! A quick shout-out to the organizing team led by Jill Morris and the hosting university, Frostburg State University, MD, for a job well done.

My panel consisted of Matt Barton (my thesis director), Jack Hennes, and myself, and we presented Friday morning in the first session. We briefly introduced MOOCs to the audience and talked about the implications of MOOCs on teaching composition and higher education as a whole. The session was well attended by scholars who are interested in topic.

My experience in the 4-day conference has been rewarding and beneficial to my thesis development. Cindy Selfe, Susan Delangrange, Risa, and Kristin Arola are among the scholars whom I have read in my rhetorical and composition theory classes and had the opportunity to discuss issues concerning massive online model of education with them at this conference.

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Jack, Matt, and I at the bowling social night.

I must admit that I was a little star-struck when I shook their hands for the first time and introduced myself. But these folks were so welcoming that my fear disappeared almost instantly (for some, after a couple drinks with them). Michael Day, Janice Walker, Cheryl Ball, and many other graduate students (and recent grads) from the discipline are extremely friendly and personal.

This conference has really opened my circle to the theorists and scholars in the field and those who I would like to study with in my PhD program. How I wish my Mass Communication program (my second master) would have conference like this to connect students with the most prominent thinkers in the field and prepare them for their doctoral pursuit. Maybe the CW community is simply unique. It’s indeed an honor to join their rank in the near future.

For now, it’s time for some post-conference recovery, if you know what I mean.