Greinasafn fyrir flokkinn: likes.play

likes.play is no game

It seems like our concept of the Game of Likes is moving towards becoming no game at all.  Though we’ve had quite a few ideas for games to be played with liked and posted media items, we’re leaning towards a focus on exclusively offering playful exploration of the history of online activity in the form of interaction with multimedia on the various social websites, leading to digital introspection – a term coined by Edda which I really like.

Before our last meeting with our supervisor, Edda literally woke up with the vision of creating an interactive installation based on this project for an art gallery, where exhibition guests could form cubes based on their media likes and have them displayed on a large screen, along with cubes created by other guests.  Later we’ve learned that this idea could be compared to projects like Listening Post and the event of a thread.  This idea Edda presented in our last meeting and I discussed the possible, proper games that could be created in this context; the simplest one being a quiz where two participants would receive challenges involving questions like which one of three multimedia items the opponent likes best, or what order of preference the opponent chose for the given items – an interaction similar to for example the Big Web Quiz.

Our supervisor really liked the interactive installation idea.  He also pointed out that those games I described could in fact be created by analog means, while an interactive installation based on online multimedia items collected from personal activity databases would be unique and exclusive to the digital domain.  Yes, I must agree and in fact I referenced already existing paper versions of some of our game ideas in the last Game of Likes post.  And I also like the idea of an interactive installation, though it doesn’t have to be in an art gallery for what I’m concerned, it can be just as well in the app stores and on the web, or it can be in both contexts (I’m flexible like that ;) .

Though we will most likely keep the current focus for the coming weeks, on the playful exploration, I do still cling to the idea of offering simple games to play within this environment, for those interested to participate in.  In any case those ideas will have a low priority for now and the remaining time for our thesis project will probably not allow any such implementation.

Thinking inside the box

While tying my shoelaces in the mens room at a local swimming hall, the small shoe lockers in front of me caught my attention.  Each locker was box shaped and it reminded me of the like-cubes we have been thinking about.  One of the lockers was open, so I could see inside of that box and that lead to thoughts about the possibility not only allowing the like-cube creator to marvel at its exterior, but also allow her to look inside the cube, where she could write a note on why the cube is decorated with the selected multimedia items, what significance they hold for her.  When I came home and told Edda about this idea, she immediately connected it to a message in a bottle; the act of writing a message inside the cube, before sending it off into the ether, could be compared to the act of placing a message in a bottle, before throwing it into the sea.  Of course!

This message would be written one side of the cube inside, like personal graffiti on one wall of a bathroom stall, and the other sides would be free for other types of communication, like location, tags and general profile information.

Sketch of entry inside a like-cube, where a personal message can be written describing the motivation for the choice of exterior multimedia decoration.
Sketch of entry inside a like-cube, where a personal message can be written describing the motivation for the choice of exterior multimedia decoration.
Shoe locker causing thoughts inside the box.  Using phones and cameras inside this men's room is strictly prohibited and I have to admit that the heart pace a little faster while using a phone-camera to document this sight.
Shoe locker causing thoughts inside the box. Using phones and cameras inside this men’s room is strictly prohibited and I have to admit that the heart paced a little faster while using a phone-camera to document this sight.

Automatic exploration for the people

Being annoyed by the buttons that I had designed into the user interface, thinking they rather reminded of a tax return interface than anything playful, I’ve thought about how to get rid of buttons in a fixed place as much as possible.  In the so called breeding interface, where media item selection is performed by requesting random new or related items, I was thinking about allowing the user to tap each surface, to exchange it for a new one, instead of pressing the fixed Roll button that swaps out all items at once, that are not held.  This could be an interesting form of interaction, but the tapping gesture on each surface is reserved for showing the media item in full size, as the screen allows.  Showing the media items in full size, with a reference to their origin, I think is important for allowing both full detail to be viewed and giving due credit to the source of the content.

When discussing with Edda how this particular interaction could do without a fixed button, she came up with the idea of having the media surfaces flow automatically in and out, each time showing new items from your online activity, instead of requiring you to manually press the Roll button. The only required interaction would be to press the lock on each item that you’d like to keep, while allowing the other free items to keep flowing. Only when all items had been locked would they gather into a cube, instead of when the Create button would be pressed.

This method of user interaction could offer a more relaxed, hands off exploration of the self, in the spirit of Slow Technology, where one can’t click through the content as fast as possible but rather has to sit back and watch the flow, only interacting when sees fit – this interface could even be left unattended as a decoration „in the periphery of our attention, continuously providing us with contextual information without demanding a conscious effort on out behalf“.  Furthermore, this idea has led to thoughts about an interface where there are no fixed buttons, but rather with options that would flow into view at random moments.

For rotating the cube insides, I had thought about navigation buttons in a footer toolbar, either one button for each direction or one single button that would cycle through all possible movements.  While the exterior view of the cube can be rotated by simply touching its sides, the touch gestures for the surfaces on the insides of the cube might be reserved for the content being displayed, like scroll and map views, thus those thoughts about navigation buttons.  In an effort to be rid of fixed buttons altogether, I’ve now implemented grip surfaces of sorts for the insides, represented by a dotted pattern, which can be reserved for navigation inside the cube, while the rest of the surfaces are free for other kinds of touch movements.

State of play

The implementation has reached to this navigation of the cube insides, which are still to be decorated with facilities for content entry, like areas for text input and a map for location placement.  A screen recording of a walk through the current state of implementation can be seen in this video:

 

Update:  The above text was written four weeks ago, one sleepless night, then saved as a draft and forgotten.  Since then I’ve uploaded a couple more screen recordings, which aren’t either entirely new, but show some other aspects of the project progress:

 

 

 

As the implementation stands now, it is possible to click the cubes as they rain down like in the above video – in an area which we like to call the Corral – bringing them into the foreground and entering their insides, to view what message their creator has written.

This behaviour of the cubes falling down is inspired by raindrops sliding down a window sporadically, which is quite common in Iceland where the rainfall can often be more horizontal rather than vertical.  That sporadic behaviour is also chosen of performance reasons, as older mobile devices can’t handle smoothly animating multiple objects at once – at least not as I’m currently implementing it using Famo.us, which might well be reviewed with performance in mind – so now there is an animation dispatcher that chooses one cube at a time to animate.

One aesthetic suggestion our supervisor gave us (in a Skype-meeting after the one mentioned above), is that the cubes falling down, as under the force of gravity, doesn’t seem to make much sense in the context of the star-field background, which suggests weightlessness the vacuum of space.  I’m thinking about giving that a quick fix by changing to a background image of the Earth seen from the Moon.  It might also give the interesting effect of the cubes appearing to be shot from the Earth, where their creators live.

Currently I’m looking into connecting this to an online database, so users will be able to authenticate and save their cubes, for others to see.  For that I’ll begin by using Firebase and their AngularFire library.

Alright, now I’ll publish this post already and get back to coding so there’ll soon be something to try out on likesplay.com !

Game of Likes

The Internet is full of social web sites, offering media of various kinds and the ability to show our appreciation in some way or another; liking, hearting, starring and so on.  The reason we interact with content in that way may be to show our appreciation to the content provider, bookmark it for further reference or generally serve our compulsive collecting need.  But otherwise we may not do much with all those likes and hearts and stars because we’re constantly exposed to so much new content that we continue responding to, with our stars, likes and hearts.

What if we were given the opportunity to play with the content we’ve liked in the past, interacting with people who like similar things, across our usual social connections, discovering new things we may like and by the way learning more about ourselves?

Game of Likes is an idea that has been brewing for over two years.  The initial idea is of a game that offers the ability to connect the various social (media) networks a player may use – Tumblr, We Heart It, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, YouTube, SoundCloud, Hype Machine, Spotify, 8tracks, deviantART, 9gag and so on – and play mini games based on the liked or posted media items from those networks, alone or against opponents that are friends or total strangers. The idea has then evolved into an environment where you gradually specify your interests and are assigned into groups of anonymous players that are regularly split up and reformed with progressively like-minded players, where you share your likes, with your likes(TM), as we like (!) to put it.   As a new player, or when the game has only a few players, you may not find yourself among like-minded people, but as you progress through the different  groups and deep-dive through the network of players, you may find yourself increasingly exposed to content that you find agreeable and along the way make connections with people sharing that content.

Later the idea has further evolved from this concept of assigning players into groups, to simply offering the ability for each player to propose a particular game to play, where others can jump into any of the proposed, open and active games, which catches their fancy.  The concept of assigned groups is still appealing, so the idea evolution may take a few more rounds or shift towards something entirely different.  I’m going to work on this with my wife, Edda Lára Kaaber, as a Masters Thesis project in the Games track at the IT University of Copenhagen.  We have written a thesis proposal, which can be read at:

http://itu.dk/people/bjrr/thesis-preparation/GameOfLikes-final-thesis-proposal.pdf

Phillip Prager has agreed to be our supervisor for this project, which we are very grateful for.  He has connected well to the Game of Likes concept and has already provided us with a variety of interesting reading material.

In the coming weeks I’ll focus on the initial implementation steps towards realising this idea, along with a couple of other projects.  The most basic feature to implement will be the ability to connect to the various social media networks and incorporate media items from them as objects for play in the game of likes.  We envision the media items being arranged on one side of a cube each, in three dimensions.  Such cubes we call like-cubes.  Initial steps along that path have already been taken as a final project in a Procedural Content Generation (PCG) course at ITU, where along with Kasper Fryland Appeldorff, I implemented a prototype that collects media items from a given Tumblr account and presents four of them at a time. The mechanics of the interaction is supposed to resemble that of slot machines or so called bandits. The user can freeze any of the items and choose to roll the free, non-frozen items, where they are either replaced with random selection from the items associated with the specified accounts, or replaced with a selection influenced by the tags (if any) of the items that have been held / frozen.  More details can be read in the report we wrote on this project:

http://itu.dk/people/bjrr/pcg/bjrr-kfap–PCG-report–likeBreeder.pdf

and the prototype can be tried out at:

http://likesplay.com/breeder/

This process of collecting media items into sets, that will be used to decorate sides of cubes, can be viewed as playful in itself.  Beyond that, we have brainstormed various games to play with such cubes.  One of the most simple games, and possibly the most relatable, is a quiz where two participants are presented with three like-cubes, one of which has been created by their opponent and the aim is to guess which of the three it is.  Points are given for correct guesses and as the quiz progresses, the participants could gain a better idea of their opponents’ likes; they could increasingly become experts in each others likes.

Another idea is to have the players arrange the cubes into narratives by connecting them with text fragments.  When presented with this idea, some have received it with skepticism, but while shopping in Copenhagen before last Christmas, I came across the the game Rory’s Story Cubes, in the bookstore Bog & idé, which is based on pretty much the same idea; the main difference being that the story cubes offer a predefined set of images, or icons, while our like-cubes will have dynamically generated sets of images drawn from each user’s social media accounts.  In the same bookstore I also found a series of games that involve the discovery and expression of the players personality, which will also be a goal with the Game of Likes, as discussed in more detail in the thesis proposal linked above.  Those findings I think further validate that we are on to something with this Game of Likes concept.

Initially the idea has been to have these games playable online, with the players usually in different locations, interacting over the internet.  After seeing the possibilities of developing console-like games for the Chromecast device, where players are located at the same place at the same time, in front of a television set and using their smartphones as game controllers, I’ve also become interested in exploring the possibilities of using that technology for some playful activities within the Game of Likes.

Flúðum, janúar 2015.