'Funky Forest' is an interactive ecosystem where children create trees with their body and then divert the water flowing from the waterfall to the trees to keep them alive. The health of the trees contributes to the overall health of the forest and the types of creatures that inhabit it.'[1]

Emily Gobeille and Theodore Watson created a playful environment where kids can explore the system. In a interview, Watson reacts on the question 'What do you think the most important thing for interactive design?' as follows:

Hmmm. I think, building open systems. Systems that can be played with and used in ways that were not intended. I am always more interested in the ways that people use my work that I never thought of and I think it is possible to design interactive systems that nurture that. [2]

Funky Forest could be seen as evolution based on the work of Myron Krueger called Video Place (1974-1975, see linked entry). 'In 1973 Krueger coined the term 'artificial reality' to describe the responsive environments he created as part of his doctoral research on human-computer interface design. As he wrote, 'An artificial reality is a graphic fantasy world in which a person uses her whole body to participate in an experience created by computer. I realized this was more than a technology - it was a culture-defining concept.' [3]

Video Place is an artwork where, as Krueger noted, 'participant's face a video projection screen that displays their live image  (captured in silhouette by a surveillance camera) combined with computer graphics.' [3]

Another comparison can be made with the project A-Volve (1994-5, see linked entry) by Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau. They created an interactive computer installation. '... users create and observe artificial life forms by interacting with virtual fish-like creatures 'swimming' in a glass pool of water. Using a touch-screen monitor, the user designs a creature by selecting a variety of anatomical and behavioral characteristics, then releases it into the aqueous ecosystem.' [4]

All projects have a key roll to the participator. Particators interact with the installations, create objects and play with it. For Sommerer and Mignonneau is the interplay between the installations they create (they have made similar work) and the participator is very important: 

'Based on the insight that interaction per se and the interrelation between entities and the driving forces behind the structures of life, we investigate interaction and the creative process a such. Creation is no longer solely understood as an expression of the artist’s inner creativity but instead becomes an intrinsically dynamic process.' [5]

They also talk about the educational part of installations:

'... we see interactive installations as an important medium to bridge the gap between purely artistic, educational and entertainment design criteria and convey artistic as well as scientific concepts and ideas.' [6]

I agree with them personally, Funky Forest and A-Volve show us how fascinated we are by these immersive environments. It would be great if we can learn by interacting, playing with it. Because in the end, aren't we not all a child of the Homo Ludens?

References

[1] http://www.theowatson.com/site_docs/work.php?id=41

[2] Interview with Theodore Watson, Hitspaper, undated.

[3] Krueger in Art and Electronic Media, p. 166

[4] Ibid., p. 152

[5] Sommerer & Mignonneau, in Art and Electronic Media, p.254

[6] Ibid., p.255

For more information about Homo Ludens (the "Playing Man" of Johan Huizinga) check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_Ludens_%28book%29