Wizard of Oz in South Park

In Human-Computer Interaction studies, we often simulate new interfaces in experimental trials before actually putting the effort into making them. Sometimes this simulation is interactive, like Human Media Lab’s Display Objects, and sometimes it’s a crappy non-interactive piece of styrofoam (like the first prototype for the iPod). Although the device is non-interactive, we can pretend it IS interactive, by either the user imagining that it is, or the designer standing next to the user making various noises or even grabbing the device intermittently and drawing it. When this happens, this is called a Wizard of Oz experiment, from the Wizard of Oz where a men pretends to be the powerful wizard by amplifying his voice and other effects. It has fooled everyone in The Land of Oz for a very long time, until Toto the dog (presumably not as easily fooled by the pyrotechnics) simply pulls aside a curtain.

The point is that simulation works, as long as we do not look behind the curtain. This is a very useful concept, and it is also pretty funny. This came up in a recent episode of South Park, Over-logging, where the internet goes down and panic breaks out. In one particularly hilarious scene, one of the characters, looking for online porn, finds someone that can perform a Wizard of Oz for him. However, it turns out to be disappointing.

The best part is that he automatically says click for the person drawing to hear him.

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