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"Environmental impact." It’s one of those terms that you’ve heard so often that it’s grown more or less meaningless. Yet the cause and effect relationships between what we do, and how it affects our environment, are extremely important!

Connected Worlds, by interactive design studio Design I/O, is a gigantic installation that trades esoteric terminology for a sea of pixels. Installed at the New York Hall of Science, the room-sized exhibit revolves around a 48-foot digital waterfall that "pours" onto the floor. Kids can aim the resulting streams by damming around the space with logs. And ultimately, the water will flow to one of various environments that live on the walls—from deserts to jungle—where it will allow children to grow plant life and interact with animals.

There’s something to be said for its sheer power of scale. Whereas most digital experiences span a four-inch screen, or at max a small living room of flailing around with the Wii, Connected Worlds is over 5,000 square feet of interactive projections.

"Normally our ideas are limited by the physical dimensions of the space we have to work with," explains Partner Theodore Watson. "But the Great Hall is so big—80 ft tall and over 110 ft long—that we knew we could make something really wild and at the limit of what is possible in this field,"

To create this experience, the team spent 3 years coding custom software, and coordinating the suite of projectors and motion sensors track to react to the gestures of dozens of participants at once. All of this effort means that as many as 60 children can move logs to reposition the stream, or walk up to the walls and cup their hands to plant seeds or karate chop in mid-air to chop down trees, and the system can keep all of the movements straight.

But unlike most video games or apps, it’s a digital experience that actually delays the player’s gratification. Because of the giant scale, water pouring through the environment moves relatively slowly, yet it's such a large space that one person still can't handle it alone, necessitating collaborative play.

"These interactions are not immediate though as the water takes time to travel across the floor, so it can be quite a puzzle for the children to get the water routing in a way that it can feed several of the environments on the wall," Watson says. "When we were installing with just three of us we got really tired running around trying to get water to different parts of the installation, it actually works much better when there are 20-30 kids to manage the water."

In this sense, the actual mechanics of game become a metaphor for our environment: It's too big of a project for anyone to protect alone.

Connected Worlds is open now, and will be on display for the next 5 to 10 years, assuming the world doesn't end before then.

[via Creative Applications]