Sometimes you work really head only discover that you need to take a hard left and veer from your current course. That’s what happened this week for our Collective Play final project.
Immediately after our previous class we got to work. We realized that it was not an intimate relationship that were were necessarily interested in cultivating through our human-only interaction tests. Instead we were curious as to how the uninterrupted gaze (usually reserved for significant people in our lives) seemed to evoke stronger feelings of connection. This felt like an important point to articulate.
We then playtested with ourselves and folks on the floor to work out some questions. We compared looking at one another in person versus over FaceTime in different rooms. Over the computer never fully delivered in the same way. Not a surprise after the fact, but it was useful to run the experiment and dissect why. (Sometimes when you're so zoomed into a problem to solve, you miss the obvious.) First, it was a struggle to line up the camera angles to align your gaze with the other person, and we never quite achieved an exact match. Second, aside from the missing sensory sensations, you’re not fully there for the other person when most of your body is hidden. Overall it lacked the nervousness or excitement of the IRL activity. From two folks from the floor who had never spoken in person, one participant reported that she felt like she was looking at a picture. The other mentioned that he saw eye contact as an invitation to converse if you don’t know the other person well. But if you do know them, then extended contact carries other meanings. Also, it just wasn’t…well, fun.
All of this helped us to remember our core ideas: we’re interested in cultivating connection between people, and to this end, we deemed it useful to design an activity that included a goal and the inability to hide over an extended amount of time.
And then we took a break for a few days to reevaluate our next steps.
Totally stuck and uninspired by our current direction, I decided to focus on the missing verbal conversation. For our next iteration, I’m somehow stumbled upon and/or remembered The Tonight Show’s Word Sneak game. The idea is to sneak your words (unknown to other players) into the conversation as “as casually and seamlessly as possible.” We played it ourselves (with words from a random generator) during our next group meeting, and then riffed off of it, giving it our own twists. In our current version, the first person to use their words wins. I’ve only seen the game played between two people on the show. We wondered what might happen to the conversation dynamics if more people played. Would people be civil and take turns or dominate the conversations with their interjections? Would they draw from personal experience and/or just make it up as they went along? The television show version makes use of random words, but what if we provided participants with words from a charged theme that might push against people's boundaries--we thought of many topics: money, religion, politics, job/career, family relationships, stereotypes, death, and dreams/hopes/disappointments.
With it’s open-ended nature, you never know where the conversation will take you. After we built the underlying socket framework to play on our phones (once the game starts you tap for your word), we played several times with themed and random word lists and learned more about each other each time. In a way it relates to our previous work in that it requires players to be fully present and engaged, attentively looking and listening to one another to keep up with the conversation. When we played with a topic-themed list, family relationships, the conversation got personal very quickly. As I became invested in what my group member shared, I got concerned that my contributions might appear disingenuous because of the incentive to use my next words.
During our playtesting session this week, we hope groups get through two rounds: the random list and a then a "serious" topic list. We expect quite different feedback from both.