Thinking Inside the Box with Nintendo Labo and Google Cardboard

by Jessica Gleason July 24, 2018

laboNintendo Labo & Google Cardboard: Imagination Station

Cardboard boxes can be a lot of fun for kids. With a little imagination and maybe some crayons and stickers, cardboard can become houses or spaceships or submarines. It may seem like technology is moving us away from finding joy in cardboard creations, but projects like Google’s Cardboard and Nintendo’s Labo are here to remind us that even where computers are involved, there’s still a lot you can do with everyday things — and there’s a lot we can learn from these efforts.

Nintendo Labo is a kit consisting of a game for the Nintendo Switch, some small common materials like rubber bands and stickers, and a large pile of cardboard. It involves following directions to assemble the cardboard into peripherals that work with the Nintendo Switch game, such as a racecar and a piano. The mechanisms of these cardboard creations are so clever that it’s not always immediately apparent how they work. It’s delightful to twist some cardboard made to look like a bike handle and have the Switch understand you’re trying to accelerate on a virtual motorcycle and wonder, “Wow, how does it know?”

Not unlike Lego and other building toys, assembling the cardboard is not merely a means to an end but a big part of the experience itself. The instructions are not traditional paper booklets – they’re 3D figures that can be rotated on the screen of the Nintendo Switch with animations showing you how things fit together and in what order. It’s easy to fast forward, rewind, and zoom. This is interesting in ways that have little to do with video games or assembling cardboard pieces — in the digital world, we have the potential to deliver information to users in interactive ways. As Nintendo Labo is aimed at children, we can also think about the way that young people turn to the internet for “How do I…?” questions. This shapes expectations for information they get from brands they interact with now, and as they get older.

Pre-dating the Nintendo Labo is another clever use of cardboard and sensors. In 2014, Google announced the Google Cardboard, a makeshift VR headset made of cardboard, plastic lenses, Velcro, and magnets, where most modern smartphones could be inserted to serve as a screen. The gyroscope in user’s phones oriented them in the scene as they moved their bodies, and the phone’s compass detected when the user moved the magnets to register a “click.” It’s an ingenious demonstration of how Virtual Reality is a concept that doesn’t necessarily require expensive specialized equipment.  

At Ascedia, we had a little fun with the concept of the Google Cardboard. For our holiday card in 2017, we took a 360 degree photograph of a holiday scene that could be viewed either by itself on a computer or inside one of these cardboard viewers. This was just some holiday fun, but it’s a proof of concept for how virtual reality and 360 degree photography can be introduced into a new site with a little technical architecture. It’s just one way Ascedia can help you think outside the box—even when that means thinking inside a literal box.

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