University of Nottingham: Virtual Oxjam creates immersive festival fun

A virtual festival people can move around featuring performers, sideshows and crowds will be part of the Oxjam fundraising event that is back in Beeston this weekend.

Researchers from the Mixed Reality Lab and Horizon Digital Economy at the University of Nottingham have created a hybrid virtual Oxjam experience for anyone who can’t make the event or still isn’t comfortable attending in-person.

The virtual experience is a mixture of computer game and video call, with people able to walk around a virtual Oxjam festival site that is set in Wollaton Park. They can watch live performers from the Middle Street venue, Bristol and Leeds; catch up with some videos from previous years, hangout with friends, play carnival games, and ride the big wheel.

The audience in the middle street venue will also have a view into the virtual festival, with the remote performances from Bristol and Leeds projected on a virtual stage.

Oxjam went fully online last year and this year over 50 acts will be back performing in 15 venues across Beeston. The virtual Oxjam event will run alongside and is part of the Horizon Future Festivals project that is exploring how the virtual and physical space can work together to provide rich experiences for audiences.

People taking part in the virtual festival will be asked for feedback that will be used to understand what generates a powerful online festival experience. This will be used by researchers to improve the technology in the future and make it more widely available. The lab will donate £20 to Oxjam for everyone who tries it out and gives feedback.

Covid-19 has profoundly disrupted the creative industries who have adapted by taking events online. Dr Paul Tennent, Assistant Professor in the Mixed Reality Laboratory and one of the creators of the virtual festival said, “Even though in-person events are back, there is still a role for the virtual world for those that can’t attend or don’t feel comfortable doing so. However, we are aware that screen fatigue has set in for lots of people which is why we are exploring ways to make the online experience more immersive, exciting and interactive.”

Oxjam is a national music event that raises money for Oxfam. Now in its 11th year, the Beeston event has grown to be hugely popular and has raised over £150,000. The University of Nottingham’s Mixed Reality Lab has always been a keen supporter of the event with academics, staff and students regularly showcasing their own musical skills as part of the event.

We have aimed to create a unique online festival experience of being able to explore a site, chat with friends and family, while also feeling part of a crowded audience. We want to take the online experience beyond staring at flat screen of video windows, here you are part of a crowd exploring a festival world where you can find stages and sideshows and meet other people as you go.
Professor Steve Benford, head of the Mixed Reality Lab

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