An interactive narrative experience with food.
Bring focus to the body while eating through a multi-sensory interactive narrative.
A playful experience where the reader eats a gummy bear that is ‘alive’ and guides them on how their stomach and the gummy bear feels based on what they are eating.
February 2020 - Present
This was an individual project.
This experience is about slowing down while eating and understanding how different foods effect the body through a multi-sensory narrative where readers are active participants. The reader eats a gummy bear, and soon enough the gummy bear starts screaming as it is alive, it stays in the reader’s stomach. The reader must help the gummy bear get out by eating various food items. As the reader eats, the gummy bear tells them how it is feeling because of what they chose to eat (healthy vs junk). Furthermore, the reader feels heat and motor vibrations along their stomach in accordance to how the gummy bear is moving through their digestive track. This project has been implemented using real food items and it is a real physical experience as opposed to a digital one.
The gummy bear is a cynical witty character that tells the reader how it feels based on what they eat. The reader must help the gummy bear get out. For example, when the reader eats something oily, the gummy bear says:
When the reader drinks ginger tea the gummy bear says this, while the reader feels the heat of the tea through the belt and also vibrations on their stomach, signifying the gummy moving down
Here is a video of the interaction.
This work stems from the field of tangible interactions that bridge the gap between the physical and digital world by using physical objects to interact with technology. When used in storytelling, physical interfaces can help bridge the gap between the reader and the story world through ‘Diegetic’ objects that exist in reader’s world and the fictional world. Inspired by these works, I created a system where food and the body were diegetic as they are a part of the narrative world.
(Mueller, Byrne, et al. 2018) use the German terms and describe ‘Korper’ as the body and ‘Lieb’ as the lived experience (how the person feels when they perform the action).Their idea was to treat the body as a ‘lived’ body through which people could experience the world rather than just treating the body as an object. My goal was to use the same concept and study how people experience the act of eating through their ‘lived’ body, as it becomes the place of interaction between the reader and the Gummy bear.
Chewing Jockey was another project that inspired my design. The authors explored different sound effects while one chewed on their food, out of which one was a screaming sound when a jelly baby was eaten. I took this idea further by making the Gummy bear a living thing that guides people through the eating experience. I also wanted to explore cross-modality in eating, where the sensory experience of one modality (taste) can change due to different modalities (heat, vibration).
• Position readers as active participants where they are invested in helping the gummy bear, feel responsible for it, and become more aware of what they eat
• Bring people’s attention to their body, how the body feels when they eat specific items, and develop a feeling of self-care and responsibility towards one’s body
• Experience the body as a ‘lived’ body
• Position food and the reader’s own body diegetically in the narrative
• Explore what heat vibrations, and sound may add to the eating experience
I created a low-fi belt by using motors, a heat pad and an Arduino. I tested this setup with three friends using Wizard-of-Oz testing, where I gave commands to my computer as they ate. Here are pictures of the same
After seeing that people were enjoying the system and it was answering my research questions, I went on to code and build the system.
I used a Makey Makey and clipped different spoons and forks to the board. Each utensil was then mapped to a food item. The glasses were not currently conductive but could have been made so by putting copper tape on the rims. The user would sit with a glove so that the Makey Makey circuit would not be triggered through their hand. Only when their lips would touch the utensil would the circuit be completed, and they would hear the recording. I included various food items as shown below.
I created a belt for the heat and vibrations. I used vibration motors, Adafruit’s heat pad, and Adafruit’s flora for the same. I soldered, stitched, and glued everything together and used Velcro for adjustable belt straps. I coded everything in python and Arduino. The python script handled interactions with the Makey Makey and sent commands to the Flora for the vibrations and heat.
I tested this with three friends who were delighted and surprised with the experience. They were engaged, they felt like they had eaten the Gummy bear and it was their responsibility to help it get out. They felt more aware of their food choices. One even said that he would not eat chips for a while as the gummy bear was slipping on oil in his stomach. Listed below are a few changes I made / intend to make:
• Earlier I had connected heat and vibration effects to how the gummy was feeling. The participants did not find this useful. I then connected vibrations to where the gummy was in one’s stomach, signifying its movement. I also added dialogues such as “do you feel me moving?” which gave an audio signifier. I turned the heat on anytime the participant drank something hot and the Gummy bear felt warm and nice. These two changes had a better response but still need to be tested in detail.
• In one of the dialogues the Gummy bear asks the user to drink something with ginger to get rid of the acidity. Participants liked this prompt as it gave them a clue on what to do next and taught them that ginger can help in acidity. Without these cues, at times people felt lost on what to eat next. I plan to add more of these cues, to guide the users through the eating experience such as: “Give me something cold that will make me stronger (directing one to soda or coconut water).”
• One participant mentioned that he was not connected to the gummy’s goal much as he knew it would get out. To solve this, I will add setbacks to progress if the user eats too much junk food. For example, the gummy bear may say that “it is getting gassy”, or may start moving up instead of down.
• The more visceral the dialogues, the more the effect of food on the stomach stuck with people. For example, the dialogue “I keep slipping on all the oil you keep eating” made an impact and two people felt averse towards oily food items. I will add more such visceral dialogues that describe the condition of the stomach.
• One person mentioned that they already know what is good and bad for them, but they liked the information on fiber and acidity. I plan to add more such information about sugar, acidity, gut bacteria, etc. in a narrative way.
• People were eager to eat fast and there was less time for reflection. I plan to slow down the experience through dialogues such as “Hey, eat slower, it is pouring in here!” or “Aah, so warm and relaxing, let’s just enjoy this for a bit…I can feel the golden liquid trickle down and shower onto me.”
These are the immediate changes I will make. In other versions I may make this more specific to people interested in gourmet food, how it is made, the ingredients, where they come from and so on.