Augmented Reality and the Reader

Wonderbook, J.K. Rowling, Playstation, 2012

Recently, I attended a conference session about the use of Augmented Reality (AR) to engage younger patrons. Interesting and enlightening, I left the session with an itch to know more about the technology, its possible applications, and drawbacks.

AR is a layering of virtual objects over tangible, real world triggers. A smartphone or tablet reads an AR trigger the same way it would a QR for the AR features to take effect. Some app-based games use AR, implementing the virtual game features over the players’ real-world environment, such as the Augmented Pixels, Inc. game Bugs Mayhem, a first person shooter that lays the targets over the players actual surroundings.

Bugs Mayhem
Bugs Mayhem, Augmented Pixels, Inc., 2013
Bugs Mayhem Augmented Reality Shooter, AR23D Shooter, 2012
Bugs Mayhem

Publishers of juvenile and young adult non-fiction have already begun incorporated AR features into their book. The Guinness Book of World Records has been implementing AR features into their books since 2013, and publishers had been playing with the idea of AR about decade before that. Primarily, the AR illustrations are merely 3D models of what appears on the page or short videos giving a real-time demonstration of a concept.

Great Whit Shark, Guinness Book of World Records 2013
Great White Shark, Guinness Book of World Records 2013

Use of AR-laced nonfiction can be a great classroom technique. It’s hands-on, interactive, and utilizes technology in ways that are engaging and not merely task focused. Elements 4D by Daqri allows chemistry students to create reactions compounds not feasible in a lab space. Some curriculum discussed by the conference presenter even included apps that allow students to create their own AR features so long as the trigger image is unique enough for the program identify. While it has near endless possibilities in the classroom, some of the fiction works geared toward children also have triggers for AR games to play in-universe.

For some works, such as Wonderbook: Book of Spells, J.K. Rowling’s collaboration with PlayStation, the universe expansion draws in fans eager for more about their favorite fictional worlds. The practice of using gameplay to increase interest and readership isn’t limited to books with AR features. The immensely popular The 39 Clues series were first published in 2008 ,with each book containing a card pack to be used in the associated online game.

Most of the time, universe-expanding games are an exciting addition for readers. However, I do see potential for backlash to AR features in print books, primarily from parents or caregivers. Many times reading a physical book is seen as a way to get children off their devices and lessen their amount of screen time. All books featuring AR that I’ve come across are completely readable without the AR features, but I do see where the argument could arise. As with all technology, there are areas where AR does a better service than others.

The use of AR may not be optimal in literature for particularly young children, but for upper elementary through high school classrooms it helps encourage multi-modal literacy. The use of multiple manners of information communication ensures more students comprehend the information presented. AR in particular encourages them to become knowledgeable about a technology that is set to become more prevalent as time progresses.