Digital/Physical: PLAY event at Mother, London: thoughts and insights

On the 4th May 2017, I was invited to participate in a very insightful discussion at Mother, in London. The event was organised by Derek Yates, from WSA, Mother and Sennep. Dr. Seth Gidings was chairing the sessions and the panel was composed of: Derek Yates, Jaygo Bloom, Adam Procter, Vanissa Wanick (me! yay!), Carleigh Morgan, Bobbie Allsop, Mink Ette, Sennep. All super designers and thinkers! We received an email with some really difficult questions and I would like to share with you my thoughts and ideas :) Here it goes!

1.  Ask each speaker to introduce her or himself, and to succinctly complete the following phrase: ‘Exploring the playful relationship between the physical and the digital is important to me because….’
I’m Vanissa Wanick, Brazilian UX designer and now PhD in games design from Winchester School of Art, with a thesis in advergames across cultures. And ‘Exploring the playful relationship between the physical and the digital is important to me because….’Because the physical and the digital are always in conversation and it is very difficult to find boundaries between each other. It is important because we are changing our relationship with both physical and digital and they are becoming one thing. Thus, imagine that as a child you could play with spaces and anything could become a “toy”. Now this extends to the digital; children swipe paper thinking that it would function just like a tablet. I’ve seen kinds swiping a TV thinking that it was a huge iPad.

2.  Communication design is generally understood as underpinned by storytelling. What are the implications for your ideas and practice in a digital environment in which narrative is opened up and transformed by games and play? What is the role of the creative practitioner in designing or managing the open-ended, social, collaborative and emergent possibilities of playful user experience? What kinds of control do you want to keep, and what are you willing to cede to the player?
A vey huge question. I think it is hard to keep control – or maybe we need to define control in this digital environment. In the case of games, as designers, we have a huge responsibility, since people could change their behaviours by interacting with games. However, there is another side of the coin – games function like a conversation. It is difficult to predict how the player will react, since we are not designing an experience, but we are creating interactions, possibilities. However, since we started the conversation, it is possible that as designers we could function as guides, or as scientists. Who knows? As for the narrative, I think it is all transmedia, it is everywhere and it is how we communicate anyway.

3.  Play is celebrated for its creative potential – it is seen as open, free, social, imaginative, emergent, and even subversive or transgressive. What are the ethical and political implications of deploying games and playful digital technologies for commercial ends: to attract and retain consumers’ attention, to data mine and track movement on and offline, to gamify everyday life?
Wow, that’s a big challenge. First, can we gamify everything? If so, do we need to gamify everything? Why transforming everything into a game? Playing a game is not trivial – it is hard and that’s why it is fun. So it is not because it is easy that it is fun. Another thing is the data mining and data economy. This is everywhere and people can’t hide. Of course, brands can access all these data, which could emerge from interactions with playful and gameful environments and influence people’s minds. One thing to think again is the responsibility that we have as designers. Research has shown that children can’t identify a persuasive content (e.g. advertising) in games. Thus, they think it is fun playing with M&Ms or whatever the product – but in that case they can’t see as advertising strategy. Also, games can function as transgressive and subversive. I’m quite interested in subversive mechanics, in which you actually don’t win – you never win and you keep playing – or you use other political elements in the game to make people question some aspects. Newsgames and critical play are there. I think there is a lot to think. I also think that we should consider values in games and this should be one topic to take into account while designing games.

And that was it! Not sure if you agree with me or if you have anything else to add, but please feel free! :)
Until the next event!

Digital/ Physical: PLAY
The Internet of Toys: Implications of increased connectivity and convergence of physical and digital play in young children

Digital/ Physical: Play from Curtis Rayment on Vimeo.

Sustainable actions through Design: 6 insights and ideas [#sdc17]

On the 18th February 2017, I’ve attended and helped to promote the Sustainable Development Conference, hosted by the Southampton Hub and supported by the University of Southampton – very cool partnership – all created by students from different levels, undergrads, postgrads, PhDs, etc. It was a very good experience (I was a volunteer) and I’ve learnt so much that I would like to share with you. The conference had two themes at the same time: the sustainability and the international development. I was full time in the sustainability side and I will post some notes from my perceptions as a designer (and game designer) from the sustainable side of things – and how can we promote “small actions” to perform a “big impact”.

1. Community design

We live in a community – and this is not only about “society” itself; it is about local communities, people-oriented, people helping others, people making things – PEOPLE. As Seb Mayfield mentioned in his talk, sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the many actions we could take to be more sustainable, but the feeling that we are part of something bigger could help to decrease this “anxiety”. He mentioned about the Circle of Control and the Circle of Concern, in which we can influence people based on where we live, what we do, etc; instead of worrying too much about the natural disasters for example, which is something difficult to control. This shows that being part of a community makes sense and could reduce this “anxiety” of changing the world with just our hands. That is, looking at your surroundings can help you not to feel too overwhelmed.

The idea of community is a key aspect in sustainable living. For example, there is the Repair Cafe, organised here at Southampton, in which people can take their broken things and there will be people in this cafe that could help you to fix broken things: electronics, clothes, anything. In the cafe, people give advices if it’s worth repairing or throwing away. Also there are many activities involved. For example, sewing it’s another form of repairing. That is, knowledge is shared among the community and it becomes something like people helping people, giving value to the “social capital“. Food has also a big impact in communities.

Another example is from Friends of the Earth. They are working with schools in order to raise awareness about the Bee cause. Children grow many different flowers around their schools or hospitals. In the end is all about aesthetics and pollination! They also had a limited gardening for people recovering from stroke.

2. Tiny habits

We should be also thinking about doing small steps. Seb Mayfield said that it is good to grow our own food and in fact, growing our own food can bring many benefits to our mental health (see image below). Thus, growing our own food is more than just having a healthy diet. Seb mentioned that it gives us back “control” over our diet, over our body and over the environment. Thus, when we think about habits, we should start small, like growing pea shoots and in 4 weeks, it is possible to see the results!

Another thing to think: Did you know that even having a shower, you can be more sustainable? Choices of shampoo and even drying your hair could influence the environment. Soooo many things! In the talk about Eco Hair, shampoo choice and other things were very interesting to think. If we put in the paper, there are many things we can do for the environment and perhaps, the way advertising shows shampoo products and our habit of cleaning our hair might change. Sometimes, we learn from our parents – perhaps other lessons can be taught in that level.

3. Storytelling

The talk about Transition Southampton started with an important perspective about what it means to do a transition towards a sustainable life. For Clare and Angela, “Transition is about telling stories”. There were many concerns about clean air and super homes. For example, in the Super Home project, people can visit homes that are very sustainable and “green”, in order to feel more inspired. You can book to visit homes like that. Super cool. It is a way to tell stories about how people do things and feel inspired by them. In this Super Home project, people can also see the heat map from the homes to see if there is any heat coming from different parts of the house. Another example is the action of free books. TheTransition Southampton team showed that we can leave free books in different places like a train station for example – and people could help themselves to read while they commute. Simple as that! Storytelling can be also present in clothing. Do you know where your clothes are from? You might. But do you know ho made it? How was it made? No. Asking for information crucial! Products should tell these type of stories as well! Have a look at the Labour behind the Label website for more stories around clothing and fair working conditions.

In the talk from Friends of the Earth, Gill showed many examples of community engagement in schools. For example, they invited children to write post card for the world! They had in total 1600 postcards in the end and they’ve presented that in the London climate march. What a beautiful way to engage children and tell stories to the world. Gill also showed the example from Oswaldo bikes to Paris, using social media to raise awareness about the environment!

4. Designing Choices

The UK is still behind the Netherlands in terms of the use of bikes to commute or transport. As mentioned in the talk from Sustrans, 65% of people use cars for trips that are less than 5 miles. Another important message is that we need to first empower, then make people aware and then promote activities. That is, if there are no choices or if people can’t have access to the choices, then the action failed. See the photo below!

Seb Mayfield also mentioned that food poverty is not because of lack of food, it is how we are providing food. That is, things for us to think as people and communities on how do we grow our food and how do we share it. Also, it is possible to grow food everywhere. This guy here has built many vertical gardens! Thus, we can apply this to big cities as well. But I can imagine that in terms of design, this might be difficult. But in some cities they are already planting food on the top of buildings. It is like a combination of current possibilities with adaptations in order to become more sustainable. That is, we can do things in small spaces that would have a big impact.

5. Experience Design

Things should last longer than they do. This would increase the level of experience that people have with things and bring more value to them. In her talk, Dr. Emma Waight talked about being materialistic, in a way to value things and not replace them every time – things should last longer! And we might create more emotional links with things, giving them more value. This shows that experience design is key when looking for sustainable actions. What Emma said is that materialistic values are all about measurements: it’s all about more and we put responsibility on stuff. She also mentioned that second hand shopping is one example of people giving value to things that will last longer, but still the main reason why people buy it is because of the price. In the end, people buy second hand goods to save money. However, there is a movement towards vintage shopping as a style and people creating an identity around vintage look. 

6. Calling people to action

Interestingly, in many of the actions showed in the talks, there is an element of “fun” and humour involved in the message. For example, in the talk from Sustrans, a campaign called for “Tax your thighs instead” and “Love handles”. Creativity here seems to be the strategy – together with fun aspects. I can see that there is room for a little bit of game actions here. The movement towards vintage shopping as a trend could be one way to call people for action. It is a way to combine sustainability with style or sustainability with identity. If we can send the message as identity through sustainability, perhaps it will last longer. People might adopt sustainability as a lifestyle and influence others around them. Another aspect to think about is clothing. When talking about fair conditions and fast fashion, Nicola from Labour Behind the Label mentioned that there is a lack of information and lack of transparency  and we should ask brands to give more information. Also, we need to place more value in the clothes, instead of just changing our clothes because of fashion trends. Someone also said that we need to “Change the red carpet to the green carpet”! Why not? Another thing mentioned by Gill from Friends of the Earth is about showing signs around the campus or around places. She said that when there are eyes, people want to take the action! Signs need to be friendly!

Imagine the amount of things that we can do! Each city has a different problem. In the case of Southampton, I believe that the issue is engaging more and more people to have a sustainable life. Many students from the University are here just for their courses and they don’t create a bond with the environment – sometimes it lacks of a link. It is our role as designers to not only engage these people but to also engage everyone around us. We can start small, design our own choices, plan properly our meals and transport, for example, and then help others. But as designers we also need to make sure that we empower people – we need to make the choices available. And then we need to make people more aware of the options. Can we redesign packages and add new information that was missing? Can we create games that will promote a conversation between people and brands? Can we promote games that are critical and will change people’s behaviour? Can we influence people’s habits by designing new choices? What can we do? Reflection time.

15 Lessons from #gamesUR conference

It’s been more than 1 year since last Games User Research conference that I’ve attended in London. I was looking forward to this year’s edition! Last Friday, 30th September 2016, was a very special day. During the GUR conference we had the opportunity to meet professionals and academics from the games user research industry and academia. The conference was in the same place in London, near Holborn station. I had to wake up at 4h in the morning to be there on time! :)

The conference was organised in several sessions that addressed different aspects of Games User Research. I think that the best thing this year is that they brought more aspects from the industry, as for example, communications within teams and how to build your career as a GUR professional. On the other side, we had talks about including games user research in the University as a module of games design and the differences between GUR in the industry and in the academia. Different methods, such as the use of eye-tracking and diary studies for games user research were also discussed. We also had topics around accessibility and cutting-edge technologies like virtual reality.

In this post I will try to briefly explore, explain and mention the 15 main points and lessons that I’ve taken from this conference.
1. Eye tracking is a window to attention dynamic. We have different ways to process information in time. Shape, size, colour, motion, and emotional content are attractive factors and the position of these elements also influence attention. We need to think strategically while analysing eye tracking data in games user research, particularly because each visual element transmits a message.

2. “Is the player looking at how the designer expected?”. By using eye tracking in games user research we could try to map these dynamics. This is very similar to the lesson number 1. The research question here is about expectations, positioning and design.
3. Games User Research as a module in BA education. With a module that explores theory and research, it is possible to include GUR at Universities in the Undergraduation level. Theories like fun and flow, engagement, challenge and difficulty are a few examples. Students can learn research tools so they can test their own games.

4. Transferable skills are crucial for GUR. Yes, students and professionals should have good transferable skills as, for example, communication, cooperation and interpersonal skills. Empathy, leadership, collaboration and oral and written communication are also a few skills in this list.
5. What makes a good games user researcher? When looking for a career in GUR, it is crucial that you know that games user research means and what it really means to be a good games user researcher. You should be able to review games, use the right vocabulary and communicate a clear message to your audience.
6. Communicating with everyone is crucial. Communication is definitely a key aspect in GUR. For example, stakeholders need to be aligned in order to avoid invalid research questions.
7. Write clear and concise reports. Think about your audience. Developers could misinterpret the reports and take the wrong actions, due to the lack of consideration of the whole report, including the solutions and suggestions.
8. Academic GUR vs. Industry GUR. In the academic world, games user research usually summarise the findings and it utilises “finished” games, whereas in the Industry is more “formative”, influencing the development stage.

9. Indie studios need training to be able to do games user research by themselves. Indie studios could playtest their games in their own houses as one way to address GUR in a more viable way.
10. Never underestimate diary studies! You need time to analyse and write your report. Giving support to players is also necessary.

11. Need for haptics! Clothing, hardware, lights, vibration – make use of haptics to replace or reinforce the audio cues that gamers depend on, while designing for deaf audiences.
12. “Designing for a specific group doesn’t mean that it only has benefits for that group”. Look at your core audiences when you’re testing your game.

13. There is a need for a new grammar for interaction design in virtual reality. This could be undertaken by creating conventions and affordances.
14. Cyber sickness and comfort play are the main concerns in terms of VR. Make sure to recognise the symptoms of sickness in VR: opening mouth, heaving breathing, replacing chair, doing nothing in the game, moving at slow pace.

15. Network. Doing networking and playing games after the conference was great. I really had the opportunity to know more the people involved in the conference. Always make sure to network. :)

I believe that the main points from this day just highlighted the importance and the role of Games User Research as an activity and as a mindset. GUR is not about finding bugs. GUR is about people. GUR is about understanding what people do in games and why they do this – and how the games (developers and designers) provide such interactions. GUR is about a conversation. It is about communication and it does not happen in a vacuum! We need to know how to communicate the research findings in a quick and easy way.

I will definitely share my notes from each talk in further posts. See you all in 2017!

For the full conference, please watch:

And if you want to know more about GamesUR, here is a nice video:

#EWIGCONF 2016 – Design challenges in Virtual Reality games

VR and player comfort
In early September this year (2016) we had the opportunity to attend to the European Women in Games Conference 2016 at the Greenwich University. It was a very good conference, lots of great people from both industry and academia, asking questions about the games industry, diversity and cutting-edge technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR).
In this post I will try to bring a little bit from 1 session that I’ve attended: the VR workshop.

The main topic of the workshop was “Presenting the main issues while implementing Virtual Reality”. In this talk, Laura Dilloway from Guerrilla Cambridge introduced us challenges and possible guidelines for the creation of games in VR environments. I might say that most of the content in the talk was new to me. Laura showed the case of the RIGS Mechanized Combat League, the new game from Playstation that features a combat with robots in different arenas.
First of all, VR is quite new, so we could ask questions like if there are different rules and possible different gameplay in games that use VR, for example. Some of the design challenges are related to player immersion and presence like:

  • Giving the player a body
  • Correct the placement of camera
  • Physical body motion
  • Enduring that everything is in the right place

In fact, as designers we have to review the way the player perceive the world as the position of the camera is crucial.
There is also a challenge related to the sense of scale, which could be conveyed by other elements in the game environment. Crowds and doors are a few examples. The assets need to be in realistic sizes.
Another aspect mentioned by Laura is that when creating in virtual reality you need to test it all the time. We should not underestimate VR! The relationship between 360 movement and fixed point should also be considered.
In the end of the day, interface design is the main strategy when dealing with VR games and player comfort. As a designer you can use optic flow and brightness in order to bring comfort to the player. Try not to use absolute black and white for example. Materials could be used in the same way. For example, when you walk the character you could leave footprints in the sand. For ground rush, the choice for material should be strategic. Designers should also bear in mind that sometimes some details are not rendered with enough pixels.
One point raised by Laura was that everybody’s eyes are different so we need to test with a wider audience. This shows that testing is crucial. Thus, one way to solve this problem of diversity is to bring more choices in the game. Yet, it is still a big challenge. One strategy mentioned in the talk was the use of blinkers in order to avoid peripheral vision by the players.
The biggest question about virtual reality is still player comfort. Don’t take away the camera from the player. One advice is to avoid placing things directly in front of the player. As Laura mentioned, performance is king, and I totally agree. As designers we could use defaults like 60fps and mart usage of dynamic lights and correction of player view camera. By using horizontal lines we could also help the player to situate the camera correctly. It is all about the position of the camera.

Another strategy presented by Laura was that designers tend to “climatize” people through tutorials until they get used to it while playing the game. I think this could be a very successful way to bring people inside the game and provide them all the support and guidance required to proceed in the game. Players should be able to customise their settings according to their preference (always, if possible).

I think that the lessons to take home are that in VR and games we need to test a lot with fresh eyes and we should not be afraid, just because it is new. Using defaults and providing these defaults to the design community could also be one way to make it easier. As it is a cutting-edge technology, we need to share, test and publish as much as we can. We will get there! Thanks, Laura!

Follow Laura here: @GuerrillaLaura

Read more:
On-device motion tracking for immersive VR: Freedom from wires
New RIGS Mechanized Combat League trailer shows off Dubai arena