Every fall, without fail, Fairfield Studios participates in the Digifest South Expo. The event is put on by all of the lovely folks at the Bossier Arts Council (BAC), and it’s an opportunity for businesses and industries to showcase STEAM careers, gadgets, and tech for area elementary, middle, and high school students. The event lasts three days. The first two days are the actual expo, and we usually start at nine in the morning and wrap around two in the afternoon. The third day is actually a free concert held under the Texas Street Bridge, usually starting at or around sundown.
This year, Fairfield Studios set up a video loop showcasing some of our most recent projects, including the Tour de Bossier with Pierre Bossier series and a highlight reel that covered some awesome throwbacks (like the geektastic promo we did for Nerdy By Design). Because we’re awesome human beings, we also fired up two different virtual reality simulators. One was a basic headset that simulated riding a roller coaster. It ran off a phone app, and there were no less than five incidents where I thought a child was going to fall over and bust it on the concrete floors. They loved it, my blood pressure didn’t. The other piece of VR tech we brought was the Oculus Rift.
For those who aren’t fully in the know, the Oculus Rift includes a headset and two controllers that go in both hands simultaneously. This differentiates it from the other VR, because it’s an interactive experience. The kids absolutely loved it. We had Google Earth open for most of the expo, and the kids had a blast looking for their houses or the towns that members of their extended family live in. A few even went on the hunt for their hometowns (or home country, as was the case for one guy from Venezuela).
I was defacto manager of all the things, because Clint was off with the camera getting video footage. I was pleasantly surprised by how agreeable and sweet the kids were (though being called ma’am made me feel ancient). I gave minimal instructions for operating the Oculus, trying to intervene only when I saw one of them struggling. For the most part, they really enjoyed figuring it out themselves, and often times their classmates would jump in with tips or guidance, which also warmed my cold, somewhat cynical heart.
Things were going well until they realized we had more than just Google earth available. You see, there’s a game called “Super Hot” that YouTubers apparently play, and there were no less than a dozen kids who were borderline in tears wanting to play it. “Super Hot” is significantly more involved than Google Earth, in that you’re basically being attacked by glowing red men and you fight them with either fists, nearby objects you throw, or guns. Digifest 2017 will forever be the year I took one for the team. Several times. Let me tell you right now, you haven’t lived till you’ve been punched in the face. And the arm. And the hip by a particularly bony, scrappy elementary school kid. I eventually mastered the fine art of staying close enough to keep them from killing themselves with the cord or falling over, and staying far enough away where my physical safety was ensured. This was also not good for my blood pressure.
In all seriousness, I had a blast. Talking to the kids about what I do and why I do it is easily one of the top ten best ways to spend the day. Laughter is infectious, and the more fun they had playing with the Oculus Rift the more fun I had, too. I think it’s easy for me to get desensitized to technology because I’ve spent so much of my time with high-end equipment, so this was kind of a reminder that, hey, this stuff is actually still really freaking cool. I have no idea what all those kids are going to grow up and pursue, but I hope someday they’ll be as happy with their choice as I am with mine.