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Massively Multi-User (Playful) Interfaces

So I saw the Tigers beat the White Sox on Friday night. Great game. They won. Great company and great seats too. I’d never been to the new Comerica Park. (Incidentally, it’s disturbing to see the remnants of the old stadium down the street all tattered and hanging on amidst its demolition — it’s like a horribly maimed animal that needs to be put down but there’s no gun handy. But I digress. Back to our regularly scheduled geekery…)

A handful of interesting thoughts occurred to me:

  1. As far as The Wave goes, stadiums are essentially the single largest multi-user game interface ever developed: thousands of players interact by enacting one of two chair modes — sitting or standing.
  2. Games often spontaneously emerge from among crowds of people. Said games seem to use rules only as complex as what can be communicated by example. For instance, as already mentioned, The Wave. Or, waiting crowds of people who are given to batting around beach balls like a huge uncoordinated game of volleyball.
  3. Games — analog or digital, board or video, athletic or imaginative — are so very often multi-user.
  4. Most human-computer interfaces (HCI), except for video games, are single user. Even in workplace settings, truly simultaneous multi-user interfaces for collaboration are rare and/or rarely used. I can think of far more examples of multi-user interfaces in electronic games (think Rock Band) than I can in any other realm of human-computer interface.

As computers become more and more embedded and ubiquitous, as displays become larger, and as input means become cheaper, perhaps it will be games and playful interfaces that lead the way to developing effective multi-user interfaces for purposes other than gaming.


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