Collective Play

Week 12: Word Ninja

Playtesting was a blast, and playing the game, which went quite fast for some groups, nodded towards familiar themes from the class, such as who leads and who follows? There's an awkwardness to negotiate as players try to authentically contribute to the conversation while sneaking in their words. Successful strategies included talking fast, first, and often, as well as responding to everything. Overall it forced us to consider what makes for good conversation.

Problem to Solve 1: Increase the Challenge
As always we received useful feedback to consider for our next iteration and final presentation. A key takeaway from in-class playtesting was it was too easy to cheat. As Hadar mentioned, we needed to develop an “element of danger around the saying words.” 

In our post-class meetings, we considered many options, but in the end, incorporated the following constraints: 

Converse naturally but keep the conversation focused a randomly-provided topic, now displaying once the game starts. Options include: career, politics, money, food, religion, music, hobbies, family and relationships, travel, school, and environment. We feel the topics are balanced between easy-going and possibly-more sensitive areas of discussion. Word lists, unrelated to the topics, were randomly generated and hard-coded into the JSON file. 

Players can catch others sneaking words, but at the risk of a penalty if they’re wrong. If one player challenges another, the challenged player must reveal their previous word, now programmed to appear in gray at the top of their screen (they can cover their current word with their hand). If the challenger is right, then they tap to their next word. If wrong however, then the other player taps to their next word.

Problem to Solve 2: Duplicate Words on Mobile Devices
Fortunately a few fellow ITPers were ready for a game break after we implemented the new conditions. It was quite successful, in that instead of racing through each round, participants took their time conversing. On several occasions, however, Dan reported that after a word tap, his new word would appear twice on his phone: once at the bottom AND also at the top, now reserved for the previous word. After nearly an hour and half of troubleshooting, we confirmed that the issue was on the input side; the server was indeed sending out one word at a time as intended. Not only that, but we were only able to reproduce the problem on mobile devices. We eventually determined (thanks to this recall from ICM to debug mobile Safari) that screen locking was forcing a disconnect from server and upon reconnect, any new words were duplicating in the input device's word array. The solution? For now, just tell players to disable auto-lock on their phones before the game start. 

For Future Development: Consider implementing a dictionary API to call for random words. Currently our game can be played for as many times as we have separate word lists, which right now is eleven. 

Go ahead, be a Word Ninja!
Play and remix on Glitch

A quick demo: output screen above with two inputs below. Imagine each input is a mobile device and hidden from other other players. Try to sneak the word in white into the conversation. Once accomplished, tap for your next word. 

A quick demo: output screen above with two inputs below. Imagine each input is a mobile device and hidden from other other players. Try to sneak the word in white into the conversation. Once accomplished, tap for your next word. 

Feedback from guests and classmates during final critique: 
Reminded our visitors of Taboo and activities in the party game genre. Jellyvision Games also mentioned.

The instructions to get up and running (especially for our class visitors) could be more clear. It was suggested to put them on the "Play" screen.

There is confusion if a word challenge issued before the challengee taps to their next word. Players wanted to know how that person could "go back" or pick up a penalty word. We assumed that users would have already tapped to their next word and did not foresee this situation.

The conversation felt forced and awkward (oooh, but we like this aspect!), even with a topic. More constraints were suggested to structure the discussion. Maybe everyone tells a story together, each person adding on a sentence? Maybe the game is to say a sentence and have everyone guess the word.

The content of the conversation was inconsequential. It was also suggested to pose more specific, perhaps polarizing topics to encourage folks to express their opinions. 

Consider increasing the difficulty of the words as the game continues. 

Users reported feeling no pressure to say their words. Perhaps include a timer or add words after a certain amount of time. Perhaps provide feedback on the output screen indicating when a player (maybe anonymously) has one word remaining. Also refresh screen every 10-15 seconds to publish the already-spoken words.

Anthony mentioned that calling out someone on their word disrupted the flow of the conversation. Maybe there is a way to do this through the mobile interface instead?

Thank you, everyone!

Week 11: Final Project Progress

Sometimes you work really head only discover that you need to take a hard left and veer from your current course. That’s what happened this week for our Collective Play final project. 

Immediately after our previous class we got to work. We realized that it was not an intimate relationship that were were necessarily interested in cultivating through our human-only interaction tests. Instead we were curious as to how the uninterrupted gaze (usually reserved for significant people in our lives) seemed to evoke stronger feelings of connection. This felt like an important point to articulate. 

We then playtested with ourselves and folks on the floor to work out some questions. We compared looking at one another in person versus over FaceTime in different rooms. Over the computer never fully delivered in the same way. Not a surprise after the fact, but it was useful to run the experiment and dissect why. (Sometimes when you're so zoomed into a problem to solve, you miss the obvious.) First, it was a struggle to line up the camera angles to align your gaze with the other person, and we never quite achieved an exact match. Second, aside from the missing sensory sensations, you’re not fully there for the other person when most of your body is hidden. Overall it lacked the nervousness or excitement of the IRL activity. From two folks from the floor who had never spoken in person, one participant reported that she felt like she was looking at a picture. The other mentioned that he saw eye contact as an invitation to converse if you don’t know the other person well. But if you do know them, then extended contact carries other meanings. Also, it just wasn’t…well, fun. 

All of this helped us to remember our core ideas: we’re interested in cultivating connection between people, and to this end, we deemed it useful to design an activity that included a goal and the inability to hide over an extended amount of time.

And then we took a break for a few days to reevaluate our next steps.

Totally stuck and uninspired by our current direction, I decided to focus on the missing verbal conversation. For our next iteration, I’m somehow stumbled upon and/or remembered The Tonight Show’s Word Sneak game. The idea is to sneak your words (unknown to other players) into the conversation as “as casually and seamlessly as possible.”  We played it ourselves (with words from a random generator) during our next group meeting, and then riffed off of it, giving it our own twists. In our current version, the first person to use their words wins. I’ve only seen the game played between two people on the show. We wondered what might happen to the conversation dynamics if more people played. Would people be civil and take turns or dominate the conversations with their interjections? Would they draw from personal experience and/or just make it up as they went along? The television show version makes use of random words, but what if we provided participants with words from a charged theme that might push against people's boundaries--we thought of many topics: money, religion, politics, job/career, family relationships, stereotypes, death, and dreams/hopes/disappointments.  

With it’s open-ended nature, you never know where the conversation will take you. After we built the underlying socket framework to play on our phones (once the game starts you tap for your word), we played several times with themed and random word lists and learned more about each other each time. In a way it relates to our previous work in that it requires players to be fully present and engaged, attentively looking and listening to one another to keep up with the conversation. When we played with a topic-themed list, family relationships, the conversation got personal very quickly. As I became invested in what my group member shared, I got concerned that my contributions might appear disingenuous because of the incentive to use my next words. 

During our playtesting session this week, we hope groups get through two rounds: the random list and a then a "serious" topic list. We expect quite different feedback from both.

Week 10: Human-Only Playtesting (Part 2)

In our playful but intense in-class improv activities this week with a local Tisch experimental theater professor, we engaged in lengthy non-verbal eye-gazing sessions with three different people. Lin and I paired for one of those, and I can certainly report having a much better sense of her now than before the exercise. It’s difficult to pinpoint how exactly, but there is a difference. I feel I “know” her better. This puzzling experience inspired a lengthy conversation after class with both Lin and another classmate, Maria, and we decided to team up to further explore eye communication as a possible entryway into our final project.

Lin and I designed a human-only interaction (Maria ran a separate one due to her schedule) that turned out to address some of my lingering questions from last week and present some new ones. We structured the new interaction with  time limits and specified goals. Unlike last week, however, it included (a couple) more participants and directed participants differently depending on their role. 

Here’s how it went. First, we found four people. One person was seated across from the other three and given a description of game with two parts. In the first part, they could choose to look at any of the folks across them for a certain amount of time that we, the observers, did not disclose. A ringing bell would mark the end of that time and a transition into the second part of the game, during which they could choose to do and look at or whomever they decided—whatever made them feel comfortable, again for a undisclosed amount of time. The other three players, clueless to what the fourth person was told, were instructed to compete for attention of that individual during part one. In part two, they were instructed to not look at anyone at all. All participants were asked to refrain from talking. When the “game” started Lin set a timer for 20 seconds only after the two people (in this case, Lu and Roland) commenced into their extended gaze; the second part lasted for around three minutes. We were curious about several areas: What happens when the attention you just received is denied? What happens when you do not receive any attention? And of course, what happens to you during a longer-than-normal non-verbal eye chat? 

We specifically chose classmates from the floor who we thought might be open to try a vaguely-explained staring contest experience. While we recognize that different players might have provided very different accounts, our post-game discussion with and without the participants nevertheless yielded useful questions for further consideration. Roland reported that though it’s not socially-acceptable to stare at people, especially women, and that at the beginning of his stare with Lu felt long, at a certain point it was quite pleasant. Lu agreed and noted that eye contact acquires different meaning when accompanying verbal conversation. Shreiya and Steven both missed out on Lu’s attention and mentioned feeling confused and defeated…although Steven felt a brief sense of comfort when he and Roland momentarily glanced at each other during part two. I honestly did not expect our non-Collective Play classmates to accept the task we gave them so well, and their amiable reactions post-play impressed on us the significance of making connections with others.

I’m simplifying a lot here, but it led to a much longer discussion between Lin and myself about how to intimacy is forged between strangers. Aside from staring into someone’s eyes, what other norms might we disrupt/reverse/challenge? What if people fed one another during dinner? What if we investigated prolonged invasions into personal spaces? What if we encouraged lengthy periods of touch (hand-to-hand, hand-to-should, etc.)? Keys to all of these scenarios are extended durations of time and the inability to hide.

We ultimately wondered if it was possible to design a digital space to foster sustained connections or intimacy between those who are otherwise unfamiliar with one another. Keeping it simple, we envisioned a scenario in which two people in different physical spaces each sit in front a computer screen that initially displays a crop of the other's eyes. Continuous looking at the screen causes small sections to fade away and uncover each person's face. If either turns away, all that was revealed is hidden again for both participants. Would curiosity to fully see the other keep folks seated, attentive, and engaged in "slow looking" until the both faces are fully unveiled? It's a case that potentially rewards being with someone in the moment, something that we usually do not equate with technology-mediated spaces.