This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
(Thesis Draft) Dec. 4th 2011
We live in a networked world with increasingly blurry lines between our physical and virtual lives. Our computation-centric society is more orderly, more systematic, and more governed by algorithms than ever before. Technologists often rush forward, in the name of progress, without looking back to reflect upon the effects (or missed opportunities) in their wake. Focusing on the “how” instead of the “why” these new pioneers develop faster and better ways of systemizing, quantifying, streamlining, documenting and tagging our world. As new algorithms get pumped out faster and faster, ubiquitous networked computing pervades everything from our built environment to our pockets. One effect of this ubiquitous computing has been a fundamental shift in the way we separate work and play (Hilbrecht). The idea of work was once confined to the tangible real world, while play was allowed to exist in the intangible imaginary realm. Now for many of us, much of our daily work only exists in a virtual, intangible, and imaginary realm. As a result, not only does this liberate our work from rules of reality, it also becomes subject to the rules of play. One benefit of existing in this space is that it’s particularly ripe for being re-imagined. For instance, a virtual system which was once designed to deliver serious and objective truths, once liberated from the rules of reality, can become a space for playful and subjective truths. Questionably objective truths, created by algorithms, already shape our real life, from finances to culture to the very terrain of our earth (Slavin). So perhaps new systems could emerge to support a wide range of subjective truths created by humans, so that we too can shape the world we live in. Of course as individuals the effect of our impact may seem inconsequential, but collectively the effect could be revolutionary. Within the ordinary world, both physical and virtual, there are already “magic circles” (Huizinga) ripe for the picking everywhere. These “magic circles” are special but temporary everyday spaces where rules enable specific performances. Being subject to arbitrary (and often absurd) constraints, these areas are subject to new possibilities bound only by imagination. But what kind of possibilities are we aspiring to create? Within these new systems that make our lives more efficient, what will be the role of the human? Algorithmic thinking, which presumes that any problem could be solved through a set of logic based rules, is quickly becoming an increasingly valuable skill as we find more and more ways of systemizing our lives. But this way of thinking favors rule based, rational, and predictable outcomes, as opposed to potentially innovative outcomes led by human intuition and curiosity. In order to grow we must create space for capricious thinking (and making) to flourish as well. With the inconveniences and obstacles of life being “cured” away with technology, will there still be space for human intervention, improvisation, and interpretation?
While many believe play to be opposite of work, a good game actually invites players to do more hard work by tackling unnecessary obstacles in an interesting way. The creativity within play comes not from removing constraints but in fact by reinterpreting and finding new possibility within the constraints. (McGonigal). Looking at our real world “magic circles” through the lens of potential opportunities for play, we can find new ways to reshape it, with goals other than just profit and efficiency. Since people’s behaviors are heavily influenced by their environment, with this power we also have to take responsibility for the type of values or behaviors we’re promoting (Harris). It’s also important to keep the system open enough for individual agency, allowing new possibilities to emerge and raise new questions about what we currently accept as fact or normalcy (Wark). With these values in mind, I am interested in mashing up our common everyday technologies as a way to create alternative uses for them while challenging our ideas of so-called technological and cultural progress. By hacking together our existing real and virtual worlds I hope to explore, expose, and exploit the absurd assumptions that both hold these worlds together and keep them apart. Also, by encouraging the co-existence of creative free play in both our digital and physical lives, I am hoping to create new spaces of possibility for others to build upon and reshape.
This body of research investigates technology’s role in shaping how we work and play, within virtual and physical environments. More specifically, I am exploring how the use of simulation and representation affects our ideas about collaborative creation in real life. At the same time, I am interested in the way human values, emotions, and behaviors can be shaped through hacking the virtual and physical spaces surrounding us. Through this survey of research, I hope to bring together seemingly disparate areas of interest, such as playgrounds, games, urban spaces, business, and technology. The historic research has interesting insights into larger societal trends and theories, but doesn’t account for the way our real lives are increasingly mediated by virtual systems. I am particularly interested in this area of research because I would like to find new ways of using technology to create spaces that facilitate idiosyncratic ways of working and playing collaboratively. The organization of the literature reviewed starts by framing the context of our relationship to work & leisure. Next, it focuses on the spectrum of experiences and values within subjects such as the built environment, magic circles, and abstractions. Finally it zooms back out to look at the bigger picture goals. 1. Work-Leisure Context The ideas surrounding the work-leisure relationship exposes the ways work and leisure (which includes play activities) have been framed, which changes the way we understand the relationship between the two. Changing Perspectives on the Work–Leisure Relationship, by Margo Hilbrecht, surveys the various theories and research approaches over the past few decades. For instance, dominant theories about the work-leisure relationship in the 50’s and 60’s primarily focused on men’s experiences within the manufacturingbased economy. Many neglected the unpaid workforce, such as domestic care-givers who were predominantly women. This emphasizes the importance of considering diverse types of work in our modern interpretations (and future visions) of the term. The article also explores changing perspectives on work-life balance. While modern teleworking technologies have been promoted as a way to create more balance, the truth is it is often not the case for women with family responsibilities. Hilbrecht also groups modern research under the idea of the “New Economy” in which technology is changing social interactions, turning work into “the new leisure” where the boundaries are blurred. Our collective, technology-led, shift in expectations regarding work & leisure creates a new space in which my proposed interventions can exist. Our shared shift in expectations also creates a shared relationship to this space.
2. Playing with Public Space Moving into the physical realm of public spaces, Insurgent Public Spaces, edited by Jeffery Hou, is a collection of essays which investigates how people around the world have been reclaiming urban spaces to suit their own desires. By defying the “design” of the spaces, people are challenging the way spaces are scripted by architects and urban planners. One of the case studies included is “Taking Place: Rebar’s Absurd Tactics in Generous Urbanism” by Blaine Merker. The particularly interesting part about this case study examines Rebar’s belief that “deep within every rational system holding societies together are assumptions that, if taken to their logical conclusion, tend toward absurdity.” This idea is particularly interesting because it implies that any rational system can become an opportunity for intervention, improvement, or exploitation. In Contesting the Public Realm: Struggles Over Public Space in LA, Margaret Crawford argues that the mutability, contestation, and change is not what constitutes a failure of public space, but instead defines it. The emergent activities in Los Angeles’ public spaces are what enable us to pose questions about urban citizenship. Therefore, we should not mourn the loss of our public spaces but instead see it as a space filled with possibilities. Building upon this idea of reclaiming built environments of possibility, Parkour seems to be especially relevant. From Obstacle to Opportunity: Parkour, Leisure, and the Reinterpretation of Constraints, by Nathaniel Bavinton, explores parkour as both a leisure activity and form of resistance to the scripted use of spaces. At the same time it looks at constraints not as hindering fun but in fact adding value and enhancing it. Thus creative improvisation comes not from removing constraints but by reinterpreting and finding new possibility within the constraints. This is particularly important to remember when considering the role of technology, which has historically been focused mainly on removing obstacles to make our lives easier. 3. Intentionally Designing for Play On the other side of play in public spaces, I looked into how spaces have been explicitly designed with play in mind, for both children and adults. Entyrely Fun Playgrounds by James A. Jolley lays out various ways to construct children’s playgrounds using old tires. He is particularly interested in the use of tires because they symbolize our advanced technologies yet we consider them eyesores once they’re used. Also, the fact that they’re so hard to dispose of makes them especially suitable for withstanding the repeated impact of children interacting with them. The idea of repurposing old technologies to give them new purposes or to create a new space is especially appealing when considering the speed at which our new advanced technologies are now becoming obsolete. In Design for Play, Richard Dattner prefaces his playground case studies by explaining the difference between work and play. The way Dattner differentiates between the two makes it especially clear that the book was written in the late 60’s, when ideas about working were bound by the physical rules of reality. He considers work to be characterized by the fact that
it’s performed in the real world, involving real tangible products, and existing within the realm of the possible. On the other hand he defines play as being not bound by reality. But today’s office worker often interacts with the imaginary and virtual more than the physical. Given the intangible aspects of many people’s current jobs it would be hard to claim these definitions still hold true today. But if anything not bound by reality can be considered play, then our newly liberated work life also has this potential. Looking at the way playful spaces were designed for adults led to researching the tactics and ideas behind the American Dime Museums, particularly the way P.T. Barnum played with the expectation of truth in the context of museums. In Weird and Wonderful: The Dime Museum in America, Andrea Dennett exposes P.T. Barnum’s techniques for manipulating the press and submitting anonymous letters and tips to stir up controversy about the verity of his exhibits. This drove up ticket sales because he knew the audience loved trying to figure out if the exhibits were fact or fiction. By inviting the viewers to question his exhibits, he was respecting the viewer’s intelligence. Many of the viewers enjoyed collaborating on the “intellectual exercise” regardless if it could be proven to be true. This underscores the value of respecting user’s intelligence by inviting them to play along with the creator. In Humbug: The Art of P. T. Barnum, Neil Harris explains how the development of 19th century technologies left people thinking that just about anything mechanically or organically probable was possible, making people very susceptible to hoaxing. This seems especially relevant in our modern times, given the rapid pace of developing technologies which were once only fantasy, such as 3D printing, ubiquitous networked computing, and complex predictive algorithms. 4. The Power of Play Investigating play in culture, Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens is often referenced as a classic study. Huizinga defines real world places, from tennis courts to courts of justice as playgrounds because they are special temporary places within the ordinary world where rules enable specific performances. He calls the temporary play spaces “magic circles.” This definition makes the temporary virtual spaces within our ordinary world especially viable candidates for being considered play spaces. He also believes outlaws and revolutionaries have an element of play in their activities, suggesting that to challenge a tension or an established system is inherently playful since it’s consciously outside of ordinary life, which is one of the formal characteristics of play. He goes on to describe play as being not serious but also fully absorbing for the player. It also exists within it’s own rules of space and time, while promoting the creation of real social communities. Clearly, play’s ability to form communities, while challenging established systems, makes it a very powerful tool for addressing tensions in real life. The New Games Book captures play within a time of conflict. It organizes several of the games that the New Games Foundation created in the 60’s. It also goes into some of the history and philosophies of the foundation. The first game created by Stewart Brand was a way for pacifists and
“peacenicks”, who were opposed to all forms of war and competition, to get back in touch with their bodies and promote intense interaction with each other. He and the rest of the foundation continued to come up with other other alternatives to traditional sports, creating new games that aligned with their particular values. This enabled a wider range of people to engage in play while simultaneously using play as a way to embody and promote larger ideals. 5. Mixed Realities & Responsibilities Looking at how play and games can start to bleed into the ordinary world, I started looking into mixed reality. In Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal proposes several ways to “fix” reality by employing tactics used in games. Analyzing why games make us happy, McGonigal explains that it’s actually the element of doing good hard work. Play is not the opposite of work, in fact a good game actually invites the user to take on unnecessary challenges, in a personally meaningful way. It’s the intrinsic rewards (such as satisfying work, social connection, and building meaning) that make these games appealing. She also defines alternate reality games as “games you play to get more out of your real life, as opposed to games you play to escape it.” These alternate reality games are especially powerful because games give us explicit permission to play outside of social norms within our real life. At the same time she mentions that it’s important to consider not only the structure of the game but also what type of behaviors and habits that structure encourages. Jonathan Harris’ World Builders also notes that people’s behavior is heavily influenced by the context in which they live, and therefore as builders of context we should take responsiblity for the type of behavior our spaces might encourage. He urges young designers, computer scientists, and architects to aim to build worlds that nurture people instead of just generating more page views or ad revenue. 6. Network Culture In Conclusion: The Rise of Network Culture, Kazys Varnelis explores the way our current network culture is a distinctly new phenomenon, defined by the mix of real and virtual space, new forms of participatory media, and debates about access. While the effects this new culture seem minor to each of us as individuals, collectively it’s a radical shift. In the network, individuals become less important than the emergent outcome of the connections between people (and machines). Naturally, the process of remixing from many sources is the dominant form of creation in this highly interconnected culture, dissolving ideas of individual authorship. Identity is also based on the collective identities of others, and as the identity of the self becomes increasingly unclear, concerns about privacy become increasingly irrelevant. Another important aspect of network culture is the ease in which people can broadcast messages and be heard by a large audience.
7. Abstraction & Possibility In Sims, BattleBots, Cellular Automata God and Go, a conversation between Celia Pearce and Will Wright, the two talk about his experience designing games (such as Sim City and The Sims) and his philosophies behind them. Wright specifically mentions the importance of having a large solution space within a game, allowing players to solve problems in ways that are unique to them. By creating this broader space for solving a problem people tend to have stronger feelings of empathy, which leads to a more active engagement with their creations and a more immersive experience of playing. Wright also exposes the limitations of simulations and highlights the power abstraction. While the computer may be poor at simulating specific details, the player’s mind is highly skilled at filling in the details. It turns out abstraction is also a powerful tool for creating new possibilities. A Hacker Manifesto, by McKinzie Wark, outlines the role of the hacker in the creation of new possibility spaces for things to enter the world. Wark explains how hacking is essentially abstracting, and it is through this abstraction that a new space for possibility, beyond necessity, is created. By liberating objects from their designed purpose, it becomes possible to explore new uses. While these new uses may seem strange but soon may become second nature. So it is through creating new forms of abstraction that “the possibility of the future” is produced. Scott Burnham, in Finding the Truth in Systems: in Praise of Design-Hacking, explains how hacking is able to expose tensions between systems, and wonders what might happen if these tensions were to be addressed directly. Hacking then becomes a tool for also raising new questions about our world. 8. Literature Review Synthesis Our pervasively networked communication technologies fundamentally alter our notions of time, space, and the separation between work and play. With the line between fun and function blurred, our new expectations for what we consider “real life” opens up new spaces of possibility. Within these spaces are opportunities for more collaborative, social, exploratory, and playful interactions. At the urban scale we see people are responding to the constraints of the city’s scripted functions by improvising and reclaiming their public space and creating new playful alternatives. Through activating these public spaces with play, these people create communities for both themselves and the unsuspecting by standers. While working within an established system can be fruitful, it’s also important to consider how to intentionally design for play. For instance, it’s important to remember older outdated technologies may be repurposed and redesigned for play. And in a time when our working world lives in an increasingly virtual sphere, the idea of work is particularly ripe for the hacking. From what was once a serious and quantitatively true system a new system can emerge that is open to a wide range of “truths,” especially within the context of our rapidly
advancing technology. Within the ordinary world, both physical and virtual, there are already “magic circles” everywhere. Being subject to rules and constraints, these areas are also subject to new possibilities. Approaching these areas within the ordinary world with a different set of values may create a new range of potential uses, while creating spaces that are more inclusive and meaningful to a broad range of people beyond the marketing department’s “target audience.” Looking at the real world through the lens of a potential game, or a potential opportunity to play, we can find new ways to reframe and reshape it. With this power we also have the responsibility of creating worlds that align with our personal values and not just the corporate values of profitability and efficiency. We also must consider and capitalize on the fact that these worlds will be part of a greater network. But while recreating and reshaping worlds, it’s also important to keep the system open enough for individual agency by intentionally designing in abstraction. Intentionally including abstraction as part of the system is important because it allows people to fill in the gaps with their own imagination. With its ability to leverage the human imagination, abstraction allows new possibilities to emerge and raise new questions about what we currently accept as fact or normalcy, enabling new forms of social & technological progress and evolution. As a designer working with technology, these lenses and principles may be used as a tool for designing systems for people that respects their intelligence and supports their unique potential for creativity as humans.
Process & Experiments
The following is a chronological account of the experiments and explorations created over the course of the term, in conjunction with researching. While the collection may seem slightly disjointed it reflects the process of development, as each experiment (including tangents) often inspired an idea for others later in the term. 1. Early Mockups: Challenging Productivity The first set of experiments, Zombie Mail & Play Slideshow, question the banal digital environments we spend much of our time in. If these environments are entirely virtual couldn’t they too be re-imagined as potentially playful magic circles? Perhaps applications that were purely designed for productivity and efficiency could have something to gain from being more fun and engaging for the user. In Zombie-Mail, the fun came from customizing the metaphors of the interface to better reflect the way one might feel about interacting with email. It also favored for a more discovery based navigation as opposed to a traditional list based navigation. Unlike a mere skin applied over an existing interface, it fundamentally changed how the user interacts with the information and possibly their attitude towards their task. In Play Slideshow the normally mundane task of creating slideshow presentations became more challenging by adding a constraint: elements could only enter the slide by dropping in from above like Tetris. From these I began to think about how much of what we do takes place in a virtual space, where arbitrary interface design decisions have become normalized. I also noticed the lack of animation as part of my work lately, and decided it should certainly be part of my thesis moving forward. At this point it was primarily just a gut feeling but I would dive deeper into that instinct later on. 2. Activating Street View Researching game creation engines & sandbox games, I eventually came across a game called Gary’s Mod. Within the game, a first-person-shooter has been modified to enable the player to create things in the game without having to leave the 3D game world. I also had an interest in the banal every day environments within Google Street View. Combining these two things I created a video sketch for First Person Creator, which challenges the use of Google Street View as a purely static and historically accurate representation of our real world. While Google Earth allows people to contribute 3D models of buildings and monuments, Google’s strict guidelines only accept models which represent real world structures textured with photographs. Therefore it is impossible to contribute innovative new structures to the collective archive. The first person perspective is also a shift from the section, plan, and birds-eye-view of traditional 3D modeling programs. This perspective enables people to feel like they are situated within the space, enabling a sort of spacial play testing. In this sketch I also explained that I could
imagine that you would be able to actually 3D print the objects from this online interface and have them appear in the real world. Continuing to think about the possibilities within Street View I began to imagine a two way view, where instead of only being able to look into Street View like a one way mirror, it could look back at the user through the camera. With this added view, a souvenir postcard could be generated by combining the user’s real-world image with their virtual world location. By manifesting the users virtual sight seeing into a physical object, the souvenir created physical evidence of an alternate reality, further blurring the line between our real and online life. 3. Start Up: Collaboration as Game Taking a slight detour I started thinking about what types of work are elevated to the status of fun and why the idea of entrepreneurship hasn’t been idealized in the form of games, like being a soldier has been in countless numbers of games. So collaborating with Matt I started designing a game to glorify the serial entrepreneur. While this was a quick little design exercise it quickly brought up a few ideas, specifically focusing on the importance of connecting with people as part of the process, and the idea of having in-game achievements generate real world assets. Through designing the game I also began to think more about how to consciously design specific values into the game and what behaviors the game would encourage. 4. Sketches in Street View: Materiality Going back to the world of Street View I began exploring the texture of 3D augmentation. This set of experiments were partially driven by my personal preference of the real-world texture of claymation. Rendered CG often has a polygon based quality of its own, which I feel too clearly shows the computer’s role in creating the imagery. While its true that many high fidelity 3D renderings have reached a point where the simulation is indistinguishable from real life, my rudimentary 3D modeling skills would make achieving that level of polish quite difficult. I also preferred the tangibility of working with physical objects. I felt that the hand sculpted models and inherent imperfections could be one way of showing the human’s influence in the creation of the objects. And since the world of Street View is composed entirely of static images, exploring stop motion animation (which is just a series of static images) also felt like an appropriate time-based media to integrate into Street View. 5. Talking to people: Events & Interviews While venturing out to meet people didn’t directly manifest into a tangible experiment I felt like it was a very important part of the process and helped push my experiments further. Going to Indie Cade in Culver City I was exposed to a wide range of innovative independent games, including card games, video games and alternate reality urban games. As the keynote speaker, Mary Flanagan presented the idea of “critical play” and the importance of setting value goals as part of the design process, as opposed to just focusing on the mechanics of the game. This idea of critical play resonated with me, especially
in relationship to Huizinga’s theory that play has a unique ability to form communities, challenge established systems, and address tensions in real life. I also met with Robin Hunicke and Kellee Santiago of thatgamecompany in Santa Monica. I was particularly interested in meeting them because their games are built around emotions as opposed to just mechanics. They mentioned more collaborative games seemed to be emerging from the edges, and there was a lot to be done in that area still. While I had already been thinking about collaboration as part of the play, after they mentioned it I felt even more driven to ensure a collaboration was a central part of my project. We talked about how the environmental context of virtual worlds really influences people’s behavior, so if you want to change behaviors you really have to focus on the environments. This also reiterates Jonathan Harris’ notion that as builders of context we should take responsibility for the type of behavior our spaces might encourage. There were lots of other insights as well but those two stood out the most to me. I later met Chris Bell, who also works at thatgamecompany. I was really interested in his game called Way which is all about collaboration and non-verbal communication. I’m particularly drawn to the game because each player can see things the other player can’t and therefore they must work together and trust each other to succeed. We started the conversation by playing a collaborative improvisational face drawing game, which I thought was a great modern version of the exquisite corpse drawing game. While exquisite corpse has a more assembly line production, the face drawing game was more about a conversational collaboration. We also talked a bit about the idea of Designing for Friendship. Chris mentioned that one of the important principles when trying to design for friendship is letting people be themselves because the designer’s job is really creating the framework for people to construct meaning through. This notion also underscores Will Wright’s design philosophy which emphasizes the importance of allowing players to solve problems in ways that are unique to them. I felt that going forward this would be an important element to remember when designing interactions in my systems. 6. Sketches in Street View: Multiplicity Dancing in the Street View, takes advantage of the low fidelity image quality and a looping photo based animation. This is still one of my favorite video sketches so far, because in the video there is a point in which the dancers cross the threshold of just being static images to coming alive through the animation. The looping quality of the animation also adds to the effect, making it not quite static but not quite live action. I was also drawn to the synchronization of the multiple people and the idea of having multiple people interact in the space. Next, I began to roughly sketch out Street View: the Massively Multiplayer Online Game. In these sketches, photographic based avatars can meet within the space to create things together. This sketch is perhaps the most like a “traditional” virtual world like Second Life, as many people pointed out during
Science Fair. But I am not particularly interested in the purely fantastical virtual worlds because they are so far removed from our real world. They also seem to just act as a form of escapism as opposed to enhancing our everyday real life. 7. Playing with Code: APIs & Modifcations Having done several rendered video sketches and photoshop mockups I wanted to start exploring some of the actual technology. I began by exploring tools for both online collaboration and working with the Google Maps API. I discovered Union Platform, which showcased a relatively easy to adapt example of a simple collaborative drawing application, Union Draw. I pulled in a background image of a specific Google Street View location so people could draw on top of the scene. I attempted enabling people to drag and drop various objects from a preset collection but with my limited coding abilities I was unable to make it function as I had hoped. I also felt that being unable to see any sign of the other person (for instance, the lack of a secondary cursor) while drawing broke the illusion and as a result took away from the feeling of actually drawing collaboratively. While Union Draw was interesting I wanted to allow modifications to the map to appear not just as a layer on top but integrated into the view spatially. I modified an existing Street View Zombie Game to be Street View Super Happy Friendship Game. Instead of running away from zombies for as long as possible the goal is to make new friends as quickly as possible. This was a quick test as a way to explore the inner workings of the code. The code was a lot more complicated than I thought but I was able to integrate my own artwork into the game. The overall effect was somewhat unsatisfying though, as the simulation was poorly rendered into the scene, looked quite unrealistic, and also broke the immersive experience. 8. Bingo: A Collaborative Alternative Reality Game Having worked on the screen so much for the first part of the semester, while reading about games and play, I felt the need to create something in the real world that people could actually try to play with. I was also interested in designing a game that promoted specific values, such as gratitude and collaboration as opposed say selfishness and competition. Like the New Games of the 60’s I was hoping that modifying these value goals would enable a wider range of people to engage in the game while using play to embody larger ideas. I was also thinking about how to use shared Google Docs in a playful way beyond the standard productivity purpose. So for a week I ran Media Design Bingo in the studio, where people were asked to keep track of the people who had helped them throughout the week and attempt to complete patterns for badges. I was surprised to find that people did actually feel the game increased the level of interaction within the studio that week, and people felt more comfortable approaching people they hadn’t in the past. Clearly, this game had created a sort of magic circle where the rules of the game enabled new types of interactions to occur and actually showed how play could be used to address real life tensions.
The other, somewhat unexpected, result was that in the end, the badges created sort of became a real world manifestation of the power of our networked culture. As Varnelis explained, the individual actions became less important than the emergent outcome resulting from the connections between people. It was also through this system that I was able to create the tool for enabling people to modify a shared board. Customizing the individual boards was explicitly encouraged in the rules of the game, giving people freedom to express themselves. As result, the individual boards were an interesting outcome as well. The ways in which people chose to customize their piece resulted in a collective image that couldn’t have been predicted or generated by an algorithm. 9. Low Fidelity in Physical Form I also felt the need to start making more physical objects and exploring this idea of outputting 3D objects from Street View into the real world. While 8-bit technology of the 80’s has inspired much of the nostalgic pixel art today, how could low-resolution 3D printing inspire a new way of thinking about resolution and construction? With the increase in 3D printing the metaphor of building things with blocks seems increasingly irrelevant since many printers merely squeeze out very thin strands of hot plastic from a spool. With Sausage Print, the idea of the plastic spool was scaled up as I imagined large format 3D prints could look quite similar to stacked sausages in their visual resolution and density. It was also made soft & open to being re-textured, similar to the technique of texture mapping in 3D or applying a veneer on an object in real life. I also looked into using the printed links as a potential tangible interface device. 10. Change Over Space & Time Moving back to the world of Street View I began to play with custom animated panorama tiles. Rolling in the Street View explores what it would be like to actually navigate the panorama with embedded animation. I found myself especially fascinated by this obviously out of place 8-bit kitty and its looping animation embedded within the real backdrop of the street. Playing with time based custom panorama tiles I also began to explore alternate ways to show different points of time within a single space. In Pan, looking around horizontally reveals a different part of time each time the viewer returns to the space. Scrubbing, on the other hand stacks time vertically like a film strip so the viewer could see one slice of a space over time while also being able to look around a space at a specific time. With all of these it seemed the interesting element was the idea of being able to interact with and remix a time-based media, for instance animation or film, within the context of a traditionally static environment. By enabling these extra layers of reality to co-exist with a static representation of reality, the user was able to weave their own non-linear understanding of the space.
Still interested in the idea of enabling people to edit panoramas and thinking more about the power of networked culture & crowd sourcing, I created a HIT (Human Intelligence Task) for Amazon’s Mechanical Turks and paid 20 people $0.25 each to modify a shared Google Doc which had a panorama tile. Checking in on the results periodically, I watched the evolution of the space as various people from all over the world playfully added their modifications and altered the modifications of others. While the individual modifications were minor, collectively it became quite lively. At the same time I started to explore ways to bring the animated rolling kitty into the real world through the form of very basic physical lenticular animation, which I later called a Physical Animation Reality Augmenter. By overlaying 2 frames of the animated gif over the street view image of a real local space I was able to physically take the animation outside and line up the animation to the space. I saw this as a tool for empowering individuals to playfully augment the real world, without the use of a digital screen. 11. Tangible Networked Interfaces Returning to the idea of remixing time and place as tiles I prototyped Roundabout, a modular tangible interface for viewing Street View spaces differently over time. By creating this foam core prototype I also began to wonder how people might be able to edit these views in a tangible way. Initially I had imagined each tile as a sort of cartridge that got loaded into a separate, but still tangible, tile editor. While my early sketches showed a user manipulating objects in front of a screen I started to wonder what might be a more immersive interaction experience. Instead of simply being in front of a screen, why not just get inside of it? Like a scientific glove box in a laboratory, the user would be able to physically manipulate objects with their hands but they would only be able to see them through the glass. In my case the glass was replaced with a monitor, enabling the person to see both the interface as well as their hands manipulating objects. As a result, the users’ hands could interact with the Street View more directly. Meanwhile, the real world objects could take advantage of the screen’s ability to augment and animate, and embracing the inherent affordances of existing in a virtual world. From an interaction standpoint this idea of going inside the screen felt a lot more satisfying than simply thinking about touch screens and gesture based interfaces. While both touch screens and gesture based interactions allowed for more embodied interactions than a keyboard or mouse, the screen still acted like a glass wall between the user and the interface. I also wasn’t necessarily interested in taking away the screen entirely, as much of the fun comes in creatively dealing with the obstacle. Instead, like the parkour traceur, I was interested in finding a fun and fluid way to bypass the obstacle of the screen while taking advantage of what the screen had to offer in terms of illusion and
Human Computer Interaction
Standard Touch Screen
Let’s Get Together
(Second Life) Virtual World Shared Workspace
(G+ Hangouts) Video Chat
(Rovio) Real World
animation. This glovebox mental model provided a more fluid interface for taking something in the real world and adding it to the virtual world. I also enjoy using repurposing technology as old and common as green screens for play, especially within the context of a speculative future prototype. As I developed the prototype further I began thinking about the possibility of simultaneously using the system with other people online. In this way I felt like it also began challenging our standard manifestations of co-presence, or simulating the presence of someone who is not physically near. In completely CG virtual spaces like Second Life the user is reduced to a CG avatar interacting with another CG avatar. While virtual spaces allow complete freedom to move about and interact with other people in the same virtual environment, they also only exist in a completely fantastical dead-end. Relying completely on CG, everything about the world completely disregards reality and acts a more escapist activity as opposed to one which enables the user to benefit from the activity in their real life. On the other hand, while video conferencing allows for a completely realitybased conversational experience, it’s limited in that each person is confined to their own little windows of reality. While visually “real” the experience of video conferencing distinctly lacks the ability to simply co-exist and visually overlap in a shared third space and play together. Simply sharing a desktop screen or using a collaborative white boarding application also isn’t quite as satisfying as the human element is still stuck on the other side of the screen, with the only hint of a human’s influence on the system is reduced to a wiggly mouse cursor on the screen. 12. Kickstarter: Public Networked Collaboration With this grounding, I felt like I had a reasonably good starting point to release the idea to the public in the form of a Kickstarter project as a way to both test the idea and the potential uses of Kickstarter. Kickstarter is also inherently game-like given its goals and constraints, and playing “networked fundraising” seemed like both a fun (and financially rewarding) game to play. Funding would specifically go towards building two improved boxes and developing the project further from an interaction standpoint. Launching a Kickstarter project seemed like a good project in itself in that it gave me an opportunity to think about how to “sell the idea” in a succinct way to a global audience outside of the department. Although, it was difficult to decide whether to categorize the project under art, design, or technology. In the end I chose to list it as a technology project because choosing only either art or design didn’t seem to describe my intentions, while technology sounded abstract all encompassing. Strategy wise, the technology category is also significantly less crowded with projects, enabling greater visibility to potential Kickstarter backers.
I decided to market the boxes as speculative Portals because they essentially serve as gateways to another place in the world, at a different point in time. I specifically worked to craft a description which was both true and potentially fantastical. While many of the successful projects on Kickstarter result in tangible products, goods, or even art, I wanted to explore it as a potential space for speculative design. So given the honor ecosystem of Kickstarter, I find it especially interesting that this clearly fictional idea of making portals to another dimension is an acceptably honest and authentic description of the project to backers. Like P.T. Barnum, I feel it’s important to respect the backers’ intelligence by inviting them to knowingly play along with me in crafting the projects story. As a result, various blogs continued the story with factual-sounding headlines like “Media Design Student Reaches Into Another Dimension” (Art Center Dotted Line) and “Portal Becomes A Reality--Sort of--With This Kickstarter Project” (PC World). Participating in Kickstarter also serves another form of public research into our current networked culture and the power of the internet. As of Dec. 4th 2011, the project is 100% funded though it can still continue to accept pledges until Dec. 25th, so it has potential to go beyond its initial goal. I also consider the process of creating rewards for backers and analyzing the backer data as an extension of the greater project research as well.
Reflecting on the Projects Overall
When I looked back through the various experiments from this term a few overlapping ideas and common themes seemed to emerge. Some were clearly tied to the earlier research interests while others seemed to naturally develop through the process of making the work. The most obvious interest that arose was a fascination with working in Google Street View as a kind of virtual public space frozen in time, with untapped potential. I’m specifically looking at ways to bring it to life and activate the space so it can be more like a real public space, subject to fiction, mutability and idiosyncratic uses. At the same time I am attempting to complete the loop from the real world to the virtual world and back to the real world again. At the core of most of the experiments was the idea that any machine-formed space or activity was inherently a magic circle which could have its own set of rules. Working with this amorphous space of possibility many other themes emerged. For instance, remixing and looping time mashed up “reality” and raised questions about our experiences with simulations and representations of truth. The projects also embraced technologically mediated illusions. Many played with our expectations by highlighting the uncanny tension between the static and animated within the context of the real world. Animation, especially stop motion, is also particularly interesting to me because it it has a realness in terms of its materiality and motion, but it can still be stylized beyond what is possible in reality. It is a medium that is inherently about illusions caused by playing with time. Illusions are also important because they trigger this feeling of authenticity which can be manipulated and reshaped. While I’m not specifically interested in just making a game, it’s clear that since I’m designing with play in mind many game design principles are applicable. For instance, instead of simply designing for efficiency or productivity by removing all obstacles, allowing people to work with constraints and creatively surmounting obstacles may be a more engaging way to achieve a personally meaningful goal. The experiments also play with our networked culture and modern forms of collaboration as a tool for creation, celebrating the low resolution remix culture as the dominant form of creation. On another level I think some of the experiments, especially Portal, challenge our traditional ideas of co-presence in space by suggesting alternate illusions of being together.
Plans for Spring
I plan to continue exploring several experiments while working towards some particular goals. I would specifically like to create: a way to collaboratively “spawn” things (or experiences) in the physical realm inspired by or created in an online realm, a fully online interface for modifying and interacting within Street View, and a tangible interface for interacting with our intangible representation of the real world. I hope to work towards these goals simultaneously to create systems that address the full range of experiences we have within the spectrum of our modern real and virtual lives. These will most likely be a different objects or systems, but I believe that they will all be related to my interest in further blurring the lines between our physical and digital lives. Some of the possible outcomes to achieve this blurring may include an alternate reality urban game, media installations, or apps. I hope these outcomes could also result in more playful visions of the future as opposed to the standard future visions of merely increased productivity and easier living through technology. I also intend to continue developing and exploring the possibilities for Portal, from both an interaction, object and conceptual standpoint as I feel it still has quite a bit of potential for being adapted for multiple uses. At the very least I would like to have the system highly refined by the end of spring. I would also like to continue some form of a written publication, either in the form of small booklets or comics, as a way to communicate the project intentions in an easily accessible way to people outside of the department.
Bavinton, Nathaniel. “From Obstacle to Opportunity: Parkour, Leisure, and the Reinterpretation of Constraints.” Annals of Leisure Research. 10.3. (2007): 391. PDF File. Bell, Chris. Personal Interview. 25 Oct. 2011. Burnham, Scott. Finding the Truth in Systems: in Praise of Design-Hacking. RSA Design & Society (24 Oct. 2009): 16. PDF File. Crawford, Margaret. “Contesting the Public Realm: Struggles Over Public Space in LA.” Journal of Architectural Education. 49.1. (1995): 4-9. PDF File. Dattner, Richard. Design for Play. New York, NY: Reinhold Book Corporation, 1969. Print. Dennett, Andrea. Weird and Wonderful: The Dime Museum in America. NYU Press, 1997. Print. Flanagan, Mary. “Values at Play.” IndieCade 2011. Culver City, CA. 8 Oct. 2011. Fluegelman, Andrew. The New Games Book. Tiburon, California: The Headlands Press, Inc., 1976. Print Harris, Jonathan. World Building in a Crazy World. 2009. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. Harris, Neil. Humbug: The Art of P. T. Barnum. Phoenix ed. University Of Chicago Press, 1981. Print. Hilbrecht, Margo. “Changing Perspectives on the Work–Leisure Relationship.” Annals of Leisure Research. 10.3. (2007): 368-384. PDF File. Huizinga, Johan. Homo Ludens: The Play Element in Culture. Boston, Massachusetts: Roy Publishers, 1950. Print. Hunicke, Robin. Personal Interview. 12 Oct. 2011. Jolley, James. Entyrely Fun Playgrounds. 3-5. PDF File. McGonigal, Jane. Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2011. Print. Merker, Blaine. “Taking Place: Rebar’s Absurd Tactics in Generous Urbanism.” Insurgent Public Space: Guerrilla Urbanism and the Remaking of Contemporary Cities. Ed. Jeffery Hou. New York, NY: Routledge, 2010. 45-57. Print.
Santiago, Kellee. Personal Interview. 12 Oct. 2011. Slavin, Kevin. “Kevin Slavin: How Algorithms Shape Our World.” Ted Talks, Jul. 2011. Web. 4 Dec. 2011. Varnelis, Kazys. “Conclusion: The Rise of Network Culture.” Networked Publics. Web. 4 Dec. 2011. Wark, McKinzie. A Hacker Manifesto. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004. Print. Wright, Will. Interviewed by Celia Pearce. “Sims, BattleBots, Cellular Automata God and Go.” Game Studies, 2001. Web. 10 Oct. 2011.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.