My program, Out of Control: Playful Technocultures and Video Games, will offer an analysis of the latest generation of console-based video games and players as critical locations for understanding the play or ludic element in our everyday social engagement with digital technologies.
Techniques and applications for interfacing with digital media are rapidly expanding. The innovation of tangible, mixed reality and ubiquitous computing technologies in the marketplace and new kinds of interface controllers for popular entertainment raises new questions about the cultural meanings of technology, mediated human interaction and social patterns of technology use. One recent and especially intriguing development is the motion sensing video game controller technology of the Nintendo Wii. The Wii platform has surpassed all expectations in the commercial marketplace through the implementation of lower cost and less advanced graphics hardware in conjunction with motion sensing controllers that introduce a broader gestural repertoire for interfacing with game media. This has direct implications on how we understand the use, meaning and design of video games with broad implications for understanding digital media in general.
Informed by theory and methodology in social studies of science and technology, the sociology of culture, and digital game studies, this program will extend existing research on digital games to specifically examine the social dynamics and meanings of our increasingly gesturally-based interface with digital technologies and environments. This project has three components:
- a synthetic account of the history and role of gestural interfaces in human social engagements with digital technology
- an observationally based comparative study of the everyday situated use of different controller interfaces in the latest generation of video game consoles with special emphasis on the Nintendo Wii and
- the utilization of design methods in digital arts to develop new prototype interfaces for video games as a means of exploring and testing the interface models from the first sections of the project.
To accomplish this I have brought together a unique interdisciplinary team of researchers in the Departments of Sociology and Anthropology (Bart Simon) and Studio Arts (Lynn Hughes) at Concordia University, in the Play Research Group (Helen Kennedy) at the University of Western England, Bristol, and at the School of Interactive Arts and Technology (Jim Bizzocchi) at Simon Fraser University. Under the auspices of the newly formed Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG) research initiative at Concordia University, our goal is to describe and analyze the use of existing video game controller interfaces in the everyday spaces of their use and then implement new prototype designs. Thus, an important interdisciplinary element of the project is to integrate cultural contextual analysis of situated gameplay from a social science perspective with the methods and practice of arts based interface design. We will focus this effort by developing a coherent design analytic which is based on an analysis of the meaning of bodily gesture and corporality in video game play.
The results of our collaborative research program will not only contribute to social scientific knowledge about our playful and embodied social and cultural engagement with digital technologies, but our work will be of direct relevance to digital games and interface designers, digital artists, and policy makers and community groups concerned with social, psychological and physical impacts of video games.