Nuro: Play your way to curious

Play isn’t just fun – it’s also good for your mind. Follow your curiosity with Nuro and prime your mind for new ideas.

After a year when so many of us have felt powerless, the NGV Triennial is designed to spark our imagination and help us reclaim our sense of agency.

Drawing on research in education, psychology and interactive visualisation, Nuro has been designed to help users enter an open, curious mindset – a state we call ‘relaxed alertness’. But when modern life is one distraction after another, finding this mindset can feel impossible.

That’s where Nuro comes in.

We’ve developed this online experience in time for the opening of the NGV Triennial  – and all of your summer experiences - ready to engage and learn.

Graphic of the Nuro game, which contains different coloured spheres.Nuro invites you to follow digital spheres on a journey through a series of distinct worlds. Combine and split spheres to explore a range of colours, textures and responses.

Spend as little or as much time with Nuro as you like – it’s designed to be intrinsically rewarding, and the more you enjoy it, the more focused, calm and engaged you’ll feel.

We’ve developed Nuro specifically for NGV Triennial, but it’s not limited to art. Use Nuro anywhere, anytime to play your way to curiosity.

Have you ever been so absorbed in a task that the hours fly by and you think of little else? You were probably experiencing a state of flow.

‘Flow’ is the feeling you get when you’re totally involved in the task at hand. The parts of your brain responsible for judgement, sense of time and sense of self slow down, and you get a surge of the neurochemicals that drive attention and motivation.

Nuro is designed to help you reach a state of flow. It acts as a mental palate cleanser, clearing your mind of distractions and stressors.

After playing Nuro and reaching a state of flow, you should find it easier to cultivate a mindset of relaxed alertness – the optimum state for experiencing the NGV Triennial.

Nuro draws on the work of La Trobe researchers in fields of education, psychology and interactive visualisation to spark curiosity and cultivate relaxed alertness.

Leading the academic collaboration on the Nuro project are Associate Professor Craig Deed from the School of Education, Dr Laila Hugrass from the School of Psychology and Dr Richard Skarbez from the School of Computer Science and Information Technology. Nuro’s design is based on key concepts contributed by each academic.

From Associate Professor Deed’s education research, we draw on a framework currently being used to help children transition back to the classroom after COVID disruptions. The components of the framework, which form the basis for Nuro’s in-game environment, are:

  • agency: You can determine what happens next
  • exploration: A sense of journey. The game engages your curiosity through your senses
  • security: Play in a safe environment, free of judgement
  • space: You have the ability to create their own space.

From psychology, we incorporate Dr Hugrass’s research into flow states. The activities you’ll complete as you play Nuro are carefully chosen to prompt a state of flow by:

  • stimulating both the creative and functional parts of your brain
  • featuring predictable patterns
  • matching the difficulty level to your level of skill and attention.

Dr Skarbez’s interactive visualisation research shows that game designers must pay careful attention to how players respond to events in a game. A game that behaves differently to the real world can cause stress in the player.

To fully engage the player, the events of the game should cohere with real-world physics – a concept known as ‘plausibility illusion’. This concept has contributed to the way Nuro’s spheres move, evolve and respond when combined with others.

Learn more about each academic’s work – and their contribution to Nuro – in their own words below.

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Associate Professor Craig Deed

Associate Professor Craig Deed

Craig’s research looks at how learning environments influence teaching and learning.

Craig’s research

Dr Laila Hugrass

Dr Laila Hugrass

Laila examines what happens in the brain during visually guided hand movements.

Laila’s research

Dr Richard Skarbez

Dr Richard Skarbez

Richard’s work explores how humans interact with immersive technologies.

Richard’s research

“My research focus is on the interaction between learning environments, teaching practices and the learning experience. It stems from the idea that the context you are in shapes your emotional, behavioural and cognitive reaction – this derives from the concepts in the theories of experiential, situated and embodied learning. The implications of my research show designers and practitioners how to see, think about, re-shape, and use different spaces for education.

Nuro is really about creating a space, even if it is a virtual space. All spaces have affordances – action possibilities and constraints. Recently I have been working on a project to help students transition back to the classroom after lockdown. This project was about creating temporary cardboard spaces within classrooms, imagined and made by students. The basic concepts of this project were translatable between the physical classroom and a virtual experience. The ideas that worked with cardboard construction – individual agency, exploring and making, safety and creativity, and making spaces and artefacts – all contributed to the base form and working of Nuro.

Nuro is about prompting people to shift their mindset. This occurs as people immerse themselves in a virtual environment. My research on environments and learning translates directly to the design of virtual experience.

Nuro is research in action. It takes concepts and knowledge from different disciplines and melds them into a set of understandable and applicable principles. It’s exciting to see our research directly influence the design of Nuro. The really exciting thing is to see how Nuro works with people and what else we can learn from this – where and how it can be used in other settings and situations.”

“I am currently studying the brain processes involved in visually guided hand movements and the changes in brain activity when people are learning new visually guided actions. I also study the neuroscience of visual perception and emotion.

We hope that when people play Nuro, they will experience a 'flow state'. By this, we mean a pleasurable mental state that occurs when people are completely absorbed in the task at hand.

Research has shown that flow is most commonly experienced when the task requires a motor action that is well balanced with the person's skill level. Nuro was designed to involve well-learned phone gestures that players use to combine spheres and move through a series of worlds.

I hope that playing Nuro will encourage people to think about activities that can promote optimal brain states for learning, so they can get the most out of new experiences.”

"My research interests broadly refer to how humans experience and interact with immersive technologies, specifically virtual reality, human factors, user experience design, visualisation, and immersive analytics.

What I contributed to Nuro was the idea of coherence. This originated from my work in virtual reality where coherence – the extent to which virtual things behave predictably – is thought to give rise to plausibility illusion - a user's belief that virtual events are actually happening. In Nuro, this manifested as a desire to minimise surprise while still maintaining a sense of discovery.

What excites me the most about Nuro is the opportunity to try it for myself! I'm very interested to see how our various research-informed contributions come together in the final product.”