There’s some movement over at the website for my new venture. I mentioned Hubbub before: it is a design studio I am setting up for physical, social games that are played in public places. We hope to address social issues and the like using these games.
I’ve adjusted the temporary site to fit with the brand that’s being developed by my friends at BUROPONY.
It’s been a few weeks since I presented at the Nijmegen Design Platform (NOP), but I thought it would still be useful to post a summary of what I talked about here.
A little context: The NOP run frequent events for designers in the region. These designers mostly work in more traditional domains such as graphic, fashion and industrial design. NOP asked Jeroen van Mastrigt — a friend and occasional colleague of mine — to talk about games at one of their events. Jeroen in turn asked me to play Robin to his Batman, I would follow up his epic romp through game design theory with a brief look at pervasive games. This of course was an offer I could not refuse. The event was held at a lovely location (the huge art-house cinema LUX) and was attended by a healthy-sized crowd. Kudos to the NOP for organizing it and many thanks to them (and Jeroen) for inviting me.
So, what I tried to do in the talk was to first give a sense of what pervasive games are, what characterizes them. I drew from the Hide & Seek website for the list of characteristics and used The Soho Project as a running example throughout this part. I also tied the characteristics to some theory I found interesting:
Mixing digital technology with real world play — I emphasized that ultimately, technology is but a means to an end. At Interaction ‘09 Robert Fabricant said the medium of interaction design is human behavior. I think the same holds true for the design of pervasive games.
Social interaction — Raph Koster once said single player games are a historical aberration. It is clear much of the fun in pervasive games is social. In a way I think they bridge the gap between the “old” board games and contemporary video games.
Using the city as a playground — Here I could not resist bringing in Jane Jacob’s notions of the city as an entity that is organised from the bottom up and Kevin Lynch’s work on the mental maps we create of cities as we move through them. Cities play a vital role in facilitating the play of pervasive games. At best they are the main protagonist of them.
Transforming public spaces into theatrical stagesets — This is related to the previous one, but here I made a sidestep into the embodied nature of player interactions in pervasive games and how embodiment facilitates reading at a distance of such actions. In a sense, the social fun of embodied play is due to its performative quality.
After this, I tried to show why designers outside the domain of games should care about pervasive games. This I did by talking about ways they can be used for purposes other than ‘mere’ entertainment. These were:
Enlarging perceived reality; you can create games that play with the way we customarily perceive reality. This was inspired by the talk Kevin Slavin of Area/Code delivered at MIND08. Examples I used were Crossroads and The Comfort of Strangers.
Changing human behavior for the better; think of the Toyota Prius dashboard’s effect on people’s driving behavior. Examples of games that use feedback loops to steer us towards desirable goals are CryptoZoo and FourSquare.
Crowdsourcing solutions; games can simulate possible futures and challenge players to respond to their problems. Here I used Jane McGonigal’s ideas around collective intelligence gaming. The example game I talked about was World Without Oil.
Conveying arguments procedurally; Ian Bogost’s concept of procedural rhetoric isn’t specific to pervasive games, but I think the way they get mixed up with everyday life make them particularly effective channels for communicating ideas. I used The Go Game, Cruel 2B Kind and Join the Line1 as examples.
By talking about these things I hoped to provide a link to the audience’s own design practice. They may not deal with games, but they surely deal with communicating ideas and changing people’s behavior. Come to think of it though, I was doing a very old media style presentation in attempt to achieve the same… Oh well.
…and run around with lunch-boxes on their heads.1
This was all part of a workshop I ran, titled ‘Playful Tinkering’. The mysterious Mink ette — who amongst many things is a designer at Six to Start — and I got people to rapidly prototype pervasive games that were be played at the conference venue the day after. The best game won a magnificent trophy shaped like a spring rider.
Some exercises we did during the workshop:
Play a name game Mink ette had made up shortly before the workshop in no time at all. This is good for several things: physical warm-up, breaking the ice, demonstrate the kinds of games the session is about.
Walk around the room and write down imaginary game titles as well as names of games you used to play as a child. Good for emptying heads and warming up mentally.
Walk around again, pick a post-it that intrigues you. Then guess what the game is about, and have others to fill in the blanks where need. Then play the game. This is mostly just for fun. (Nothing wrong with that.)
Analyse the games, break them up into their basic parts. Change one of those parts and play the game again. See what effect the change has. This is to get a sense of what games design is about, and how changing a rule impacts the player experience.
Participants brainstorming game ideas
People then formed groups and worked on an original game. We pushed them to rapidly generate a first ruleset that could be playtested with the other groups. After this they did another design sprint, and playtested again outside the room, “in the wild”. All of this in less than four hours. Whew!
The games that were made:
A game that involved hunting for people that matched the descriptions on post-its that were hidden around the venue. You first needed to find a post-it, then find the person that matched the description on it and finally take a photo of them for points. This game was so quick to play it already ran at the party, hours after the workshop finished.
‘Crowd Control’ — compete with other players to get the largest percentage of a group of people to do what you are doing (like nodding your head). This game won the trophy, in part because of the ferocious player recruitment style the runners employed during the playtest.
A sailing game, where you tried to maneuver an imaginary boat from one end of a space to the other. Your movement was constrained by the “wind”, which was a function of the amount of people on either side of your boat. It featured an ingenuous measuring mechanic which used an improvised rope made from a torn up conference tote bag.
The lunchbox thing was improvised during the lunch before the playtest. A student also brought in a game he was working on for his graduation to playtest.
We set up the playtest itself as follows:
The room was open to anyone passing by. Each game got their own station where they could recruit players, explain the rules, keep score, etc. Mink ette and I handed each player a red, blue and yellow tiddlywink. They could use this to vote on their favorite game in three separate categories, by handing the runners a tiddlywink. People could play more than once, and vote as often as they liked. We also kept track of how much players each game got. We handed out prizes to winners in the different categories (a lucky dip box loaded with piñata fillers). The most played game got the grand prize — the spring rider trophy I created with help from my sister and fabricated at the local fablab.2
Spring rider trophy and tiddlywinks ready for some playtesting action
It was a pleasure to have the elusive Mink ette over for the ride. I loved the way she explained what pervasive games were all about — being able to play anytime, anywhere with anything. I was also impressed with the way she managed to get people to do strange things without thinking twice.
We had a very dedicated group of participants, most of whom stuck around for the whole session and returned again for the playtest the next day. I’m very grateful for their enthusiasm. The whole experience was very rewarding, I’m keen on doing this more often at events and applying what I learnt to the workshops I run as part of my own games design practice.
Happy winners of the spring rider trophy flanked by Mink ette and yours truly
I think it was around half a year ago that I wrote “UX designers should get into everyware”. Back then I did not expect to be part of a ubicomp project anytime soon. But here I am now, writing about work I did in the area of multi-touch interfaces.
The people at InUse (Sweden’s premier interaction design consultancy firm) asked me to assist them with visualising potential uses of multi-touch technology in the context of a gated community. That’s right—an actual real-world physical real-estate development project. How cool is that?
This residential community is aimed at well-to-do seniors. As with most gated communities, it offers them convenience, security and prestige. You might shudder at the thought of living in one of these places (I know I have my reservations) but there’s not much use in judging people wanting to do so. Planned amenities include sports facilities, fine dining, onsite medical care, a cinema and on and on…
One of the known issues with these ‘communities’ is that there’s not much evidence of social capital being higher there than in any regular neighbourhood. In fact some have argued that the global trend of gated communities is detrimental to the build-up of social capital in their surroundings. They throw up physical barriers that prevent free interaction of people. These are some of the things I tried to address: To see if we could support the emergence of community inside the residency using social tools while at the same counteracting physical barriers to the outside world with “virtual inroads” that allow for free interaction between residents and people in the periphery.
Being in the world
Another concern I tried to address is the different ways multi-touch interfaces can play a role in the lives of people. Recently Matt Jones addressed this in a post on the iPhone and Nokia’s upcoming multi-touch phones. In a community like the one I was designing for, the worst thing I could do is make every instance of multi-touch technology an attention-grabbing presence demanding full immersion from its user. In many cases ‘my’ users would be better served with them behaving in an unobtrusive way, allowing almost unconscious use. In other words: I tried to balance being in the world with being in the screen—applying each paradigm based on how appropriate it was given the user’s context. (After all, sometimes people want or even need to be immersed.)
InUse had already prepared several personas representative of the future residents of the community. We went through those together and examined each for scenarios that would make good candidates for storyboarding. We wanted to come up with a range of scenarios that not only showed how these personas could be supported with multi-touch interfaces, but also illustrate the different spaces the interactions could take place in (private, semiprivate and public) and the scales at which the technology can operate (from small key-like tokens to full wall-screens).
I drafted each scenario as a textual outline and sketched the potential storyboards on thumbnail size. We went over those in a second workshop and refined them—making adjustments to better cover the concerns outlined above as well as improving clarity. We wanted to end up with a set of storyboards that could be used in a presentation for the client (the real-estate development firm) so we needed to balance user goals with business objectives. To that end we thought about and included examples of API-like integration of the platform with service providers in the periphery of the community. We also tried to create self-service experiences that would feel like being waited on by a personal butler.
I ended up drawing three scenarios of around 9 panels each, digitising and cleaning them up on my Mac. Each scenario introduces a persona, the physical context of the interaction and the persona’s motivation that drives him to engage with the technology. The interactions visualised are a mix of gestures and engagements with multi-touch screens of different sizes. Usually the persona is supported in some way by a social dimension—fostering serendipity and emergence of real relations.
All in all I have to say I am pretty pleased with the result of this short but sweet engagement. Collaboration with the people of InUse was smooth (as was expected, since we are very much the same kind of animal) and there will be follow-up workshops with the client. It remains to be seen how much of this multi-touch stuff will find its way into the final gated community. That as always will depend on what makes business sense.
In any case it was a great opportunity for me to immerse myself fully in the interrelated topics of multi-touch, gesture, urbanism and sociality. And finally, it gave me the perfect excuse to sit down and do lots and lots of drawings.
I’ll be posting a top 5 of the themes I noticed during the past 2007 IA Summit in Las Vegas. It’s a little late maybe, but hopefully still offers some value. Here are the 5 themes. My thoughts on the first one (tangible) are below the list:
The IA community is making a strange dance around the topic of design for physical spaces and objects. On the one hand IAs seem reluctant to move away from the web, on the other hand they seem very curious about what value they can bring to the table when designing buildings, appliances, etc.
The opening keynote was delivered by Joshua Prince-Ramus, of REX (notes by Rob Fay and Jennifer Keach). He made some interesting points about how ‘real’ architects are struggling with including informational concerns in their practice. Michele Tepper, a designer at Frog talked us through the creation of a specialized communications device for day traders where industrial design, interaction design and information architecture went hand in hand.
I was standing in line at the local Albert Heijn1 the other day and had a futurist’s ‘epiphany’. I had three items in my basket. The couple in front of me had a shopping cart full of stuff. I had an empty stomach and was tired from a long day’s work. They were taking their time placing their items on the short conveyor belt. The cashier took her time scanning each individual item. The couple had a lot of stuff and only a few bags to put their stuff in. Did I mention this was taking a looong time?
I wasn’t being impatient though, I used the time to let my thoughts wander. For some reason my associative brain became occupied with RFID. Many of the items in the Albert Heijn shelves have RFID tags in them already. They use those to track inventory. Soon, all of the items will be tagged with these chips. That’ll make it easy to restock stuff. But it occurred to me that it might make the situation I was in at that moment (standing there waiting for a large amount of items to be moved from a cart, scanned and packed in bags to be placed back in the cart again) history.
Imagine driving your overflowing shopping cart through a stall and having all the items read simultaneously. If you’d wanted to get rid of the friendly cashier you could put automatic gates on the cash register and have them open once all items were paid for (by old-fashioned debit or credit card or newfangled RFID enabled payment token). Walk up to the gate, swipe your token past a reader and have the gate open, no matter how many items you have with you.
No more checking the receipt for items that were mistakenly scanned twice (or not scanned at all, if you’re that honest). No more waiting for people with too many stuff in their cart that they don’t really need. And no more underpaid pubescent cashiers to ruin your day with their bad manners!
Actually, would that ever happen? It would take a large amount of trust from everyone involved. There is a lot of trust implicitly involved in the whole exchange. Handing your stuff one after the other to an actual human being and having that person scan them is a very physical, tangible way to get a sense of what you’re paying for, and that you’re getting your money’s worth. With completely automated RFID-enabled shopping, that would be lost.
It’s a banal, pedestrian and simple example of how this stuff could change your everyday life, I know, but something to think about, nonetheless.
1. Albert Heijn is the largest super market chain in the Netherlands.