Bar Code Hotel (1994) recycles the ubiquitous symbols found on every consumer product to create an multi-user interface to an unruly virtual environment. The installation makes use of a number of strategies to create a casual, social, multi-person interface. The public simultaneously influences and interacts with computer-generated objects in an oversized three-dimensional projection, scanning and transmitting printed bar code information instantaneously into the computer system. The objects, each corresponding to a different user, exist as semi-autonomous agents that are only partially under the control of their human collaborators.
Each guest who checks into the Bar Code Hotel dons a pair of 3D glasses and picks up a bar code wand, a lightweight pen with the ability to scan and transmit printed bar code information instantaneously into the computer system. Because each wand can be distinguished by the system as a separate input device, each guest can have their own consistent identity and personality in the computer-generated world. And since the interface is the room itself, guests can interact not only with the computer-generated world, but with each other as well. Bar code technology provides a virtually unlimited series of low-maintenance sensing devices (constrained only by available physical space), mapping every square inch of the room’s surface into the virtual realm of the computer.
The projected environment consists of a number of computer-generated objects, each one corresponding to a different guest. These objects are brought into being by scanning unique bar codes that are printed on white cubes that are dispersed throughout the room. Once brought into existence, objects exist as semi-autonomous agents that are only partially under the control of their human collaborators. They also respond to other objects, and to their environment. They emit a variety of sounds in the course of their actions and interactions. They have their own behaviors and personalities; they have their own life spans (on the order of a few minutes); they age and (eventually) die.
Since any bar code can be scanned at any time, the narrative logic of Bar Code Hotel is strictly dependent on the decisions and whims of its guests. It can be played like a game without rules, or like a musical ensemble. It can seem to be a slow and graceful dance, or a slapstick comedy. And because the activities of Bar Code Hotel are affected both by its changing guests and by the autonomous behaviors of its various objects, the potential exists for the manifestation of a vast number of unpredictable and dynamic scenarios.