Encouraging Playful Touch

Touch Lubricates Sports — and every other interaction
(Yeah, I think so too — slightly awkward title, huh?)

The latest study, by Michael W. Kraus, Cassy Huang, analyzed how much pro basketball players touched each other. They found that, mostly, the teams that touched each other the most were better teams…

Scientists and psychologists have long known that touch is important in families and between lovers or mates. This is another example of how that oxytocin boost that comes with warm and friendly touch can improve all kinds of human interactions.

One of my primary interests in play is in the intimacy it can engender among those who play together. I am of the opinion that fostering this is the greatest and most rewarding challenge of creating playful technologies. It’s fairly easy to design technologies that consume a player’s attention (even in a multi-player game) or are singularly focused on the amusement of only an individual. It’s difficult to create something that draws people’s attention to one another.

So here’s a compelling question. How do we create playful technologies that encourage people to play socially, form connections, and even to touch each other? (Keep it clean, people.) There’s not a simple answer. But touch-centric technologies that could enable such play do exist. And I don’t mean a touch screen; I mean good old-fashioned human contact.

NTT, the Japanese communications company, has developed a technology that could prove to be an interesting ingredient in this recipe:

New technology uses human body for broadband networking

By sending data over the surface of the skin, it may soon be possible to trade music files by dancing cheek to cheek, or to swap phone numbers by kissing.

And then, there’s also Skinput: Appropriating the Body as an Input Surface [video]

We present Skinput, a technology that appropriates the human body for acoustic transmission, allowing the skin to be used as a finger input surface. In particular, we resolve the location of finger taps on the arm and hand by analyzing mechanical vibrations that propagate through the body.

I can imagine a number of scenarios where a human-contact-based play system could achieve ends few other things can. When we play, it’s okay to invade personal space (think of wrestling on the floor with your sibling or child or just playing any of a variety of organized sports). In cultures that shy away from touch (whether at the macro level — like an entire nation — or at the micro level — like a family), playful touch might be the only avenue to relating and bonding through human contact that exists.

Maybe corporate “ice breaking” exercises don’t have to be so lame. Imagine what could come from touching a family member with whom expressing physical affection has not previously been possible. Or consider a foster child with an attachment disorder; bonding through playful touch might be one excellent way to reach him or her.


Neurosonics Audiomedical Laboratories

Step 1. Watch the original Neurosonics Audiomedical Laboratories short film.
Step 2. Watch Step 1 brought to life in a live stage performance using holograms.
Step 3. Pick up jaw from floor and replace knocked off socks.

This is what you’d see if the singing ghosts from Disney’s Haunted Mansion went on tour.


Pacman vs. the Real World

Had a flashback to an article I read some years ago and had to look it up…

Pacman Comes to Life Virtually (includes photos)

Back in 2005, the Mixed Reality Lab at the National University of Singapore created a game of Pacman that was mapped onto the real world. Students got to play both Pacman and the ghosts while running around a “game board” that was the real school campus. Video goggles superimposed game information and floating pellets over a player’s view through augmented reality. The ghosts ate up Pacman by tapping him or her on their real shoulder while Pacman ate up the pellets just by walking through them.

I’m not much of a video game kinda guy, but I am totally excited by this. This game setup had its shortcomings — namely accurate positioning and high cost (5 years later and I’m fairly certain these hurdles are easier to clear). Nevertheless, I find this video gaming concept really compelling. I suspect it has something to do with playing in the real world and not only a virtual one. I also suspect that as mobile technologies improve, we’ll see more of this type of play out in reality in a simpler but more affordable form.


Ruins of Electric Train Turned into Terribly Cool Amusement Park in Lima

I’ve talked about the role of play in urban economic development before. I really have no idea what economic impact this project will have. In fact, this is surely more of a reaction to waste and an effort to combat decay rather than economic development (especially given Basurama’s aims). No matter the economics, how fantastic is this? You see it and the lightbulb goes on. It works on so many levels.

Ruins of Electric Train Turned into Terribly Cool Amusement Park in Lima (Photos).

This is the work of well known Spanish group Basurama, which has turned the ruins of an abandoned project for an electric train in Lima, Peru, into an amusement park.

It’s one of Lima’s most unusual spaces: a set of structures that were going to be the railways of an electric train. In 1986, the project was dropped and the construction was left as-it-was.

For years, these concrete columns and pass ways ‘adorned’ Lima’s landscape with no purpose, until this February.

Spanish group Basurama, known for projects like the ‘You are what you drop’ installation, thought this was an amazing place to make an urban intervention and came up with an amusement park.

The Ghost Train park features amazing bright colors and games made with recycled materials such as car tires, a canopy line, swings and climbing structures. All free of charge for kids, young people, and adults.

Is this the fancy-pants sort of technology that I usually talk about here? Nope. But what these people have accomplished says a great deal about the inter-relationship of humans, play, technology, and the cityscape.

Simple as it may be, this technology is put to excellent use. There’s probably a certain irony here in that the much more advanced technology of the never-completed transit system has become an amusement park (by no means Disney World, of course — maybe a very large playground better characterizes this development).

The land use jumps out at me here. This tract of land is essentially unusable for anything other than an elevated transit system (save for, perhaps, urban farming filling the strip with crops). Yet, this amusement park clearly works in this space. Perhaps play-oriented developments could help address a variety of problems in urban environments.

(via TreeHugger)


Kulula Airlines: Fun on Airplanes

I Just Flew In. And Boy Are My Arms Tired.

When I say fun on airplanes, I really mean on airplanes.

Kulula Airlines (a South African low-fare airline) clearly gets the idea of playful design. Take a gander.

Highlights (see more photos):

  • “fuel tanks (the go-go juice)”
  • “the big cheese (‘captain, my captain’)”
  • “jump seat (for wannabe pilots)”
  • loo (or mile-high club initiation chamber)”
  • “rudder (the steering thingy)”
  • “landing gear (comes standard with supa-fly mags)”
  • black box (which is actually orange)”

Forget Shamu airplanes or special edition tails painted like the American Southwest. This is way better.

Playful Design. A New Design Movement?

It’s common to differntiate historical movements in design — Art Deco, Bauhaus, Neo Classicism, Modernism, etc. I’ve noticed in recent history (especially the past decade) that there’s been a general trend in advertising, architecture, art, music, etc. toward something that is on the whole much more playful than that which came before. Case in point? This Kulula jet’s jokey neon green livery (or even note the smile’s about page).

Think about it. What are the things you pass around online with your friends and family and coworkers? What are your favorite commercials? What style of marketing communication on packages or billboards best draws your attention? I argue that a significant portion of those things we most respond to — at least at this point in history — are rooted in playfulness. So, why not embrace playfulness as a defined component of the design process?

(via Chris Rawlinson: The Gentleman’s Log)

Addendum: I suspect there’s a correlation between this trend I note above and the incorporation of the Internet into mainstream culture. I’ll leave the relationship of the two and the accompanying cultural dynamics for way smarter people to comment upon.