Thursday, April 29, 2010

Innovative Interaction Concepts - part 1: Energy Exchange

This is the first post in a series describing student presentations that we were invited to see and comment during the II City project meeting.

The first presentation was given by Henna Ahonen and Glen Forde. Their idea was built around the concept of doing something that is interesting and fun (or funteresting, as they liked to call it, and because it's such a nice word, I will too) and storing the energy spent for the benefit of someone else. Their more concrete example of this concept, sharemotion, involved citybikes - bicycles that anyone in the city can pick up and use - and bicycle stations (where users return the bikes). The user gains the immediate benefit of being able to move around the city, and while he's doing that, the bike produces energy. Once the bike is returned to the station, the energy is stored so that the station can produce some small gift for the next user.

The user can also see what kind of gift will be produced for the next user, so he can feel good about not just having done something funteresting but also for giving someone else a pleasant surprise. And for that someone else, well, allow me to sidetrack to a tv series quote: "Harry, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don't plan it. Don't wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men's store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee." Seeing how positive take on life agent Cooper has just by giving these presents to himself, it cannot be bad for a person to receive small surprises out of the blue.

The concept is very thought-provoking. Everyone talks about sharing and helping others as good things to do, but real world applications almost never do this concretely. When designing things, we always focus on the user and his goals. The reward systems in games are just like this as well: you do something, you gain the benefits. Henna and Glen's project raises a very solid point: doing the funteresting thing is indeed a benefit in itself, and becomes just more rewarding when someone else's day might improve as a result. It's not like we haven't known this, but have we really thought about this? I can admit that I haven't. So allow me to try:

The immediate thought when taking the game design viewpoint, is that the funteresting thing could be a game that requires the player to produce some energy with physical activity. Or, taken to a more abstract level, the produced benefit could be something else than actual energy, as long as it's something that can make another person happier. The key idea of this point of view is that the game is the attraction, the fun, that the user wants to do. For example, the above example concept could include a pervasive game that involves moving around the city with the bikes (perhaps the game terminal is integrated to the bike's display).

Of course, the general idea can be applied to game design as well. Maybe not in single player games (although, with today's Xbox Live, PlayStation Network etc this is also possible), but in online games the concept of "I have fun playing, and someone else is positively surprised thanks to it" is definitely applicable. Of course, in order to keep faithful to the idea of producing positive emotions, the present cannot be too significant in-game - this would lead to the concept becoming just another type of economy. So, definitely, it should be mostly symbolic and have some personality (most likely decorative items or similar).

Another short example: in an online role-playing game there would be quests that are designed to be especially funteresting to go through (so people would undertake them because the quest itself looks attractive, not its reward). Now, this isn't advertised to the player beforehand, but once the quest is completed he can give a present to a friend. The receiver on the other hand would feel good because someone cared about her (yeahyeah, using classic man-giving-gift-to-woman scenario here, sue me) enough to spend time to get that present.

Now someone might point out that you can already give presents in social medias and online games, and of course real life. But in real life, I definitely think there is a huge emotional difference between receiving a store-bought item, and between receiving something the giver made himself.

I'm hardly scraping the tip of the iceberg on this subject, and there are far more creative people around than me I'm sure (for example, the people who created this project), so I think Henna and Glen are really on to something here. At least these kinds of high level concepts could provide some food for thought when thinking about the future concepts within the II City project.

1 comment:

  1. Your gaming point of view here is interesting - we had game/reward structures in mind when developing it, but kept away from making it overtly game-like. It's good to see that the core idea can be applied in different contexts without losing its essential character.