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  • Writer's pictureStuart

"Shark Wars!" - a "Wizard of Oz" experiment.

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

A "Wizard of Oz" experiment is a research experiment where a user is interacting with a system they believe is autonomous, but it actually has a human being "pulling the levers behind the curtains" - eluding to the eponymous film.

Screen grab from "The Wizard of Oz", showing the Wizard hiding behind the curtain.
The man behind the curtain... ("The Wizard of Oz", © Warner Bros. Entertainment)

The purpose of such a ruse is to test a system that doesn't actually exist yet. It's a neat way of testing a concept, or validating assumptions, at an early development stage without having to build a fully-working prototype.

Famously, the founder of Palm computing Jeff Hawkins carried a small block of wood in his pocket for several weeks and pretended that it was a working Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) by tapping away at it with a short piece of dowel.

Palm Pilot prototype and final device
Palm Pilot Prototype (and the final product) on display at The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA)

He quickly learned that if sufficiently small enough to hold in one hand and fit in his shirt pocket then, yes, this was something he'd carry around and use all day. By sticking paper designs onto the block of wood he further refined how a theoretical interface design could work, without having to spend any money developing working hardware and software.

As part of an Interaction Design exercise to refine our prototype creation skills, our group were tasked with building a game featuring a complex interactive element that could be user-tested using the Wizard of Oz technique, then make a video demonstrating the final product.

The game and final video were produced by "Team Oasis" - myself, Sriraj Aiyer, Shannon Monahan, Marta Pastuszka, and Zanqui Sun.

Please enjoy "Shark Wars", featuring an AI-controlled Sharknado!

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