Media Lab I – Day 2

Posted on 13/03/2012

The past week has been dedicated to the Media and Performance Lab. After conducting my first experiment here, I wanted to try different approach. In the first experiment I wanted to evoke playful behavior by presenting a context, an environment an audience could relate to, that implied ludic behavior.  It was successful to a certain extent, it worked, people showed playful behavior and engaged in the implied ludic activity. By conducting this experiment I came to a deeper understanding of Salen and Zimmerman's definition of play: 'free movement within a rigid structure'. As said before the ludic activity was implied: 'kick the football into the goal'. This resulted in superficial playful behavior, conforming to the implied interaction, rather than stimulating spontaneous playful behavior. As a side note: this conditioned behavior was emphasised by the context of 'experiment', inviting a test-subject into a space where 'something is supposed to happen'. Making an audience realise that anything out-of-the-ordinary is happening at all will prove another challenge to overcome when conducting experiments in public space. In the next experiment I wanted to create an environment that evokes 'free movement', spontaneous interaction with the (presented) environment. The Performance Engine functioned as a reactive space, by using fiducials (shapes that can be recognised by the sofware) the audience can influence the music composition that is playing. By showing or hiding the fiducials, different elements of the music could be activated. Buy placing the fiducials on different locations in the space the volume could be influenced. The possibilities of interactions were limited, I was curious as to how the audience would interact with the system: Will they show spontaneous interaction? How long will it take for them to figure out the system? and most importantly, will they have fun doing it? The implied interaction, or code, was clear:  move around the fiducials to manipulate the music.  As the only parameter the audience could influence was volume, most of the spontaneous behavior, like waving around a fiducial, dancing or sudden movements, was not 'rewarded', that is to say, there was no feedback of they're (inter)action. This lack of feedback seemed to be demotivating to continue showing any spontaneous behavior. Half-way trough the video, another element is added. Instead of controlling another element of the music, this fiducial manipulated the overall speed of the music. This proved futile for the audience to understand the system. However, it did trigger further spontaneous behaviour, as the new 'tool' required a re-evaluation of the reactive environment. I think this curious spirit of exploring the possibilities within a  (rigid) structure is quite important for evoking playful behavior. It is, for example, what children do all the time: test their environment for it's usefulness. I'm still thought wrestling the dilemma of how to design free movement.