design ethicist. Thrive Global. 2016;
5. Hunicke, R., LeBlanc, M., and Zubek, R.
MDA: A formal approach to game design
and game research. Proc. of the Challenges
in Games AI Workshop, Nineteenth National
Conference of Artificial Intelligence. 2004;
6. Isbister, K., Abe, K., and Karlesky, M.
Interdependent wearables (for play): A
strong concept for design. Proc. of CHI
Katherine Isbister is professor of
computational media at the University of
California, Santa Cruz, and director of the
Center for Games and Playable Media. Her
research is at the intersection of games and
HCI. She is the author of How Games Move Us:
Emotion by Design from MI T Press.
clever avatar affordances, to get people
to deeply enjoy working together and
feeling co-present. For example, the
console game Little Big Planet gives
players the ability to puppet exaggerated
vaudeville-esque facial expressions and
gestures in their avatars, leading people
to use the avatars to communicate, even
when in the same room. Here’s a player’s
Helen calls them the “Hurrah!” buttons.
L2 + R2 + both analog sticks held upwards.
Whenever she wins the most points on a
Little Big Planet level, she presses these
buttons, and her grinning Sackgirl lifts both
arms in the air in wordless celebration.
My Sackboy, meanwhile, tends to scowl
and storm off the side of the screen, fists
clenched. Or, after a particularly stressful
level, he might pull out a frying pan and hit
Helen’s Sackgirl over the head. Helen tends
to take losing slightly better. She will drag
my Sackboy away from the camera, mid-disco dance, in a vain attempt to take the
spotlight. Either way, nigh every level ends
in a comical scuffle between our characters
without a word spoken between us in the
real world ( https://killscreen.com/
These avatars heighten the social
experience for the players, adding to the
pleasure of playing together.
But let’s move beyond the screen
and into the realm of wearables and
ubiquitous computing. Experimental
game designers are currently taking
up the aesthetic aims of connection
and mutual presence, and producing
imaginative prototypes for how we might
support these goals with technology.
For example, I collaborated with
indie game designer Kaho Abe, who
created a wearables-based game called
Hotaru. Abe built two unique and
interdependent wearables for the game
that required close physical coordination
and collaboration from players [ 6].
Playing Hotaru brings players closer
together both literally and figuratively.
This is a very different experience to
many current-generation functional
wearables, which support personal data
monitoring and keeping track of social
networks, rather than heightening in-person interaction.
If we value social connection as a
social good, we need to ensure it isn’t lost
as we move toward a highly technology-
infused, networked world. We don’t have
to sacrifice quality of shared presence,
but we do have to value it and work hard
to achieve it. We can learn a great deal
from game designers.
1. Khullar, D. How social isolation is killing
us. New York Times. Dec. 22, 2016;
2. Ilardi, S. Social isolation: A modern
plague. Psychology Today. Jul. 13, 2009;
3. Twenge, J.M. Have smartphones destroyed
a generation? The Atlantic. (Sept. 2017);
4. Harris, T. How Technology is hijacking
your mind: From a magician and Google
DOI: 10.1145/3137109 COP YRIGH T HELD B Y AU THOR
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