Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Adding Fun and Engagement to Purposeful Systems - OzCHI 2007

Putting fun into the design ...

Our keynote, from Blair MacIntyre of Georgia Tech, firmly set the tone for the conference. He's been exploring augmented reality experiences, focusing primarily on the intense computational challenge posed by making the tools for creating the experiences. In his wide-ranging talk, we saw snatches from an augmented reality Alice in Wonderland Tea Party and a guided tour of an Atlanta cemetery. His world of collaboration between artists and technologists is a long way from mine, but we came back firmly to the purposeful when he touched the work of his colleague Ian Bogost who is studying video games as cultural artefacts. Doesn't sound very purposeful? Well, if you have Flash then check out the New York Times which is featuring games from Professor Bogost's 'Persuasive Games' company as part of its editorial (Op Ed), for example the first game (unfortunately flash only) 'Food Import Folly'.

Two key messages came out of his talk for me:

- augmented reality is difficult to program. Professor MacIntyre is working hard on tools that will be accessible to creative types, but there seems to be a long way to go;
- immersive experiences increase the sense of being located in the experience ("presence"), but don't necessarily increase the feeling of engagement. He pointed out that part of game-playing is talking about the game ("meta-play"), which is harder to do if you're in the game.

Usually at conferences I feel obliged to rush from track to track, picking the papers which seem most 'useful'. But this conference had a flight of stairs between the two lecture halls, so my walking difficulties meant that wasn't an option. And serendipity rewarded me: I learned a lot, even from the speakers who are working on ideas that are far, far away from my world of government and non-profit web sites and forms.

For example: augmented reality definitely isn't just about games. To pick just a few examples, we had augmented reality to allow a medical expert in one location to advise, direct and diagnose a team with a patient elsewhere. We had augmented reality for helicopter pilots, where 'mission failure' was equated with being shot down. We had many interesting explorations of the challenges of allowing small groups to collaborate: increasingly important in these days of distributed teams when we're all trying to reduce our travelling times and our carbon footprints. (Note to self: better remember to buy my carbon offset for the long flight to get here).

It also struck me that the researchers were happy to use fun tasks to explore their serious technologies. Participants in experiments built lego sets, solved jigsaw puzzles, shared photos. And why not? Experiments, like interfaces, should be fun. And in general, it seemed to me that there was overall a much greater focus on concepts of enjoyment, satisfaction, and engagement than we used to see a few years ago. As one speaker pointed out: it's not just about whether users can use these technologies, it's also about whether users want to use them."    (Continued via Usability News - Caroline's Corner)    [Usability Resources]


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