Walkabout: Mini Golf by Meow Wolf x Mighty Coconut
By Artist Rivka Yeker
Published in Issue 122, February 2024
VR insinuates that your reality will be altered and turned into something unreal. For Meow Wolf and entertainment studio Mighty Coconut, virtual reality has less to do with tricking you into something that doesn’t exist, and instead brings you into a world that already does. This specific world is one that was originally built by Meow Wolf at Convergence Station in Denver, Colorado. Numina, created by Meow Wolf’s brilliant blue-haired angel Caity Kennedy, is “an organic landscape that is actually a sixth-dimensional sentient plant — the many cells of which are all timelines and universes within.”
While Numina’s physical location is open to whoever ventures to it, Kennedy and Lucas Martell, executive producer and head of Mighty Coconut, expanded the access to bring the world to people everywhere with virtual mini-golf game, Walkabout. In a conversation with Meow Wolf’s Director of Brand Content Allyson Lupovich, Kennedy delved into the joy of collaboration within the art of VR. But before there was talk of collaboration, there was exploration of what mini-golf means for people — in its campy nature, oftentimes ridiculous setup and childhood nostalgia.
Kennedy reflected, “It has a little bit of a funny mystique to it, kind of like a roadside attraction. You know, any of those things that as a little kid you were like, oh my god. Here’s a giant dinosaur in there and you can choose the color of your ball. It’s such a bizarre form of entertainment that is beloved and kind of forgotten and the sort of thing that people who are from another culture could come here, see mini-golf and be like, wow.”
Mini-golf allows people the option to gamify their experience or just take their time to leisurely explore the magical world that was carefully crafted and imagined by these artists. With collaboration being at the forefront, there was so much possibility for Meow Wolf and Mighty Coconut’s Walkabout to actually co-create together by learning from one another’s mediums. For instance, Kennedy excitedly spoke about a lighting designer who found thrill in newfound possibility amongst the fantastical.
“There was no particular logic at play that he had to work with. You know, in our world, we have to deal with light fixtures, and in their world, they often have to make light fixtures up. We can just light things, but then they have to go in and make light sources so that it looks more natural.” This exploration of what is possible in the “natural” world versus the digital one is both a science fiction phenomenon and a tangible reality for designers, animators and artists operating in both spheres. What you know in one plane of existence looks differently in another.
But this is exactly what encouraged such open collaboration — the power of people’s strengths and curiosities. Kennedy said that she’d pose the question: “What do you want to do? Yeah, this is my project, but it’s your project now too. What have you always wanted to do that you could do here?” These sorts of questions were the perfect ground for the most natural partnerships in world-building. It invoked true unlimited imagination.
In many ways, the digital space is the new accessible art collaboration. Meow Wolf started off as a vehemently open door collaborative, but as the company progressed, possibilities shifted. So, for this to be the first Meow Wolf VR project, it made sense that it was co-conspired with others — a reminiscent homage to the early days when anybody could join in and collectively make art. For this particular project, because the art itself is also mini-golf, there are so many different ways you can explore the VR sphere. Kennedy explains, “You can be the type of deep diver that’s gonna go find every detail, find every Easter egg, have it be more about the visual experience. You can be the type of deep diver that’s gonna solve every puzzle. You can also just pass through.” The openness of the world reminds the experiencer that there is no correct way to appreciate this world. It is an experience crafted by people who want you to engage with it in whatever way is right for you. Everything is intentional, so no matter how you go about it, you’re doing it right.
In terms of the actual production of the work, Kennedy spoke about Mighty Coconut’s perspective on the game itself. She explained, “The Walkabout folks said something like, ‘this is the most complex of any of our builds’ even though it’s one of the spatially smallest, but a lot of their builds have a lot of space, a lot of planes. This one is all tangles and facets and, you know, leaves and flowers are complicated shapes.” She went on to describe how difficult it is to replicate certain concepts in the virtual world, how an artist has to think in a totally different language. For instance, mirrors in the physical realm are used as a cost saving device. In VR, they’re nearly impossible. Kennedy reflected, “You just can’t do an exact mirror in this space. It’s easier to build a second room that’s flipped and have it look like you’re looking through whatever than to build a mirror that’s reflecting what you’re actually in. Creating reality is really hard. Dealing with the reality of sound bleed in real life is really hard. The things that are so natural — they become problems in one — are so impossible to recreate their problems in the other.”
Despite these challenges, the digital world of art-making does create way more accessible options for people to engage with art. Though it isn’t cheap still, it is far less expensive to buy a headset than it is to acquire a huge space, all the materials, and all the help necessary to build a gigantic installation. Kennedy reflects on a dream she has — a Meow Wolf commune. She analyzes, “We can find people, they can find us, we can have proposals, we can work together, we can do all this stuff with a few people that takes years, but other than the ecological implications of server farms, the digital space is open.” She envisions, “We could have people building together as neighbors, like those games where you have a farm and you build a farm and then you can go visit a random farm over and over and be like, ‘I like this farm,’ upvote or see top voted farms … Or top voted cookie shops, you know, they’re all games where you can do that. It’s this quasi-social, quasi-geographic experience that could be done with art and with the virtual.”
Meow Wolf’s approach to art is, in many ways, a subversion of the norm no matter which reality it exists in. Kennedy and her team take pride in this new venture into the digital, planting a Meow Wolf stamp on every virtual crevice they find. With this being her first entrance into a VR game like this, she wholeheartedly asks, “What’s weirder than the idea of an art game?” In every inch of the Walkabout x Mighty Coconut x Meow Wolf version of Numina, weird art waits for someone to witness it.
When it comes to VR, it expands these realities into multiple layered meta planes. It allows for collaboration on every level, from its most physical form to its more digitized. This is what encourages and welcomes sincere artistic expression — the freedom to truly play with, be inspired by, and learn from one another.
Escape into the fun and beautiful world of Walkabout.
Visit the real life Numina and more at Convergence Station in Denver, CO
Check out other portals near you: near you: House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe, NM | Convergence Station in Denver, CO | Omega Mart in Las Vegas, NV | The Real Unreal in Grapevine, TX | And coming soon … Houston, TX!
This feature was produced in partnership with Meow Wolf.
They use they/them pronouns and pronounce their name like REEv-ka.
Check out Meow Wolf’s January Birdy install, The Story Behind Meow Wolf’s Whimsical Animal Cave aka Womb Room by artist Jess Webb, Interview by Leah Clancy, or head to our Explore section for more of their past published pieces.