Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Innovative Interaction Concepts - part 5: thINK

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

The fifth presentation, given by Deividas Djuozulynas and Jill Pearson, was most similar to the second one (I'm seeing a pattern here!) in that it also introduced an actual user interface concept. Also, much like the second presentation, the interface concept is kind of fuzzy, but whereas the second presentation was based on discovery, Deividas and Jill's concept is based on inaccurate control and the idea that just using an interface can be fun, regardless of actual content. So, let's go through the key points of the presentation and proceed from there as usual.

thINK is a blowing based interface, so instead of using physical touching, the interface is instead used with air. The key idea here is that blowing is not an exact science, so it might be fun to just try to navigate around the user interface ("can I get to that icon before I run out of breath?"). Also, creating art in this way can lead to surprising results. Just pick a color and start blowing, then see where it takes you. Deividas and Jill also presented several other ways of using thINK, but for the purposes of this blog, let's see what I can come up with.

Using blowing as a method of control could be easily used as a basis for a game or several. Of course, it's also easy to think of many existing games where this could be used to improve the gameplay experience, or at least make it different. How to use your breath could become another tactical dimension, although perhaps players of blowing instruments might have an unfair advantage here, but then again, maybe they've deserved it (and hey, maybe the game could be used for breathing training!). However, I want to take the discussion up to a more abstract level once again.

The general idea here is uncertainty of control, and the idea that sometimes you may need to put in a little effort to be able to use a certain service. Of course, this would be disastrous for office work and such that needs to be efficient, but for applications that are mostly entertaining in nature, why not? Getting to use some specific applications could be an achievement that requires some practice, which is actually an interesting way to increase the value of services. Again, we can see this in games: many games in various genres have side missions that are much more difficult than what you have to face in the main game, and the reward for beating the ultimate side quest is, in the end, just the feeling of achievement.

Of course, not all people want to master their games to this level. Even I, fanatic fan of difficult side quests, no longer have the time to play all my games thoroughly. I find this sad, but I digress. So, people definitely do play these difficult tasks, train themselves or their avatars in the game world until they are up to the task, then conquer the achievement. So, what if one day we could brag to our friends "hey guys, I mastered that thINK interface, I was able to get to use ReallyCoolApplication!". The application itself need not be even that cool in itself, just the fact that it's rare makes it cool, because not all people have the will to reach it. Of course it also should not be that crucial or important, because then people would feel compelled to practice, or be "left out".

Uncertain control in games has been done here and there (drunk driving in Grand Theft Auto 4 springs to mind immediately), so it's not exactly new but I can't currently recall any game that has a game mechanic solely based on it, but then again, I've been mostly playing very traditional games and kept up with indie games mostly by reading games magazines (which is something my studies force me to change). I think the idea here is mostly that, the game provides an additional challenge. Not only does the player need to reach certain goal, but also constantly put effort so that he retains an acceptable amount of comfort. Some more difficult parts might need more careful focus, while easier parts could be more relaxed. Visiting the blowing concept quickly, imagine running out of breath on a critical moment.

So what I was able to take home from Deividas and Jill's presentation can be summarized as follows: in entertainment interfaces, the ease of use might not always lead to the best user experience, and uncertainty and certain degree of lack of control might actually be great fun. This is another fuzzy concept, meaning I might be involved in researching it further with the II City project.

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