The Physical, Digital and Virtual Worlds Make Transmedia and Mixed Reality at InPlay2011

If you’ve seen the movie Inception: Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio eventually struggles with the difference between dreams and the real world.

The movie is great because it offers a preview of our intensified struggle between the physical, digital and virtual worlds in the coming years.

At InPlay2011, an event held by Interactive Ontario last week, Derek Reilly, an Associate Professor at the Ontario College of Art & Design said: “We always try to converge the digital with the physical so that we don’t lose reality”.

As we’ve seen with device-to-device communications technologies like Bluetooth, the physical-digital world convergence is certainly here, and has been for several years, but has never been more pronounced than now with the impending smartphone and tablet revolutions.

One future prediction from Bob Gessel, The Head of Technology and Network Strategy at Ericsson two weeks ago at Canada 3.0 is that in the next 3-5 years there could be over 50 million connected devices.

We have to think about what the ramifications of exactly that are.

At InPlay2011, one early example is Sifteo, which uses cubes and a USB wireless link that all communicate with one another to create an interactive game for people of all ages.

Many of us are addicted to games at some point in our lives, and emphasis at InPlay2011 was put on developing games so that kids can learn by playing, not just through textbooks and lectures.

Further, the reality is that with the continued diversification of media, our kids will grow up in an age where they will be subjected to transmedia experiences that come in the form of mixed reality; physical, digital and virtual.

By definition, transmedia is the process of using several forms of media integrated into one production.

To explain how much media has diversified in the Internet age:

Erik Schonfeld, a writer at TechCrunch, recaps Seth Goldstein’s speech at the Conversational Marketing Summit in New York City last year: “In 1996, Webpages became media. In 2001, search became media. In 2005, people became media. In 2007, status updates became media. Last year, places became media. And in 2010, he predicts, objects will become media”.

Objects did indeed become media in 2010 and 2011 as QR Codes have become one of the hottest trends in the marketing world, enabling smartphone and tablet users to connect the physical world with the digital through the use of a barcode scanning app.

What’s more is that Daqri, a California-based startup has created the first QR-augmented reality platform, making objects not only digital media, but also forms of virtual media through one standardized digital barcode that everyone can recognize.

The reality is that we need objects to play augmented reality off, whether those be print, product, or an exploding virtual goods market that according to CMO Richard Maryyanek of Big Tent Enterainment has hit four billion dollars and is growing at 50% year-over-year.

At the same time, we have to be careful we don’t mix too many elements as transmedia and mixed reality experiences can be very confusing for the engaged audience at first.

Take for example this recent transmedia campaign done by Magnum that combines gamification with several forms of media, mixing a large number of elements.

On the flip side, InPlay2011 also spoke of enabling youth to share their transmedia and mixed reality experiences through various social platforms.

One in particular is Launchpad Toys, a San Francisco based start up that creates digital toys and tools that empower kids to create, learn, and share their ideas through play, just as we share things everyday through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and throughout the web.

Just as in the movie Inception, we’vre always going to lose some sense of reality when immersed in a mixed reality or transmedia experience.

It’s just important to remember that no matter how differentiated and diversified media and reality become, that InPlay2011 and the organizations involved are taking steps to ensure that there will always be a way back to physical reality through sharing our experiences with others.

That’s just as Cobb in the movie Inception carried a personal landmark known as a totem to determine whether he was in a dream or not.