The Editor’s Spotlight, Part 2 — TOCHI Issue 23:2 — Accessible Play In Everyday Spaces: Mixed Reality Gaming For Adult Powered Wheelchair Users

Without further ado, here is the second of the two articles in issue 23:2 of TOCHI that delves into the issues and challenges raised by mixed-reality spaces — again, from a unique perspective.

 

IN THE SPOTLIGHT, Part 2:

Accessible Play In Everyday Spaces: Mixed Reality Gaming For Adult Powered Wheelchair Users

One of the things that’s all too easy to forget in the excitement about location-sensing and ubiquitous computing is that the mobility of the user is taken for granted.

But for many individuals, simply getting around can be a huge challenge, and the continual status of diverse end-users as an afterthought in design is an unpleasant truth that requires all of us would-be interaction designers to take a very hard look in the mirror indeed.

Something most people don’t know about me is that my first wife died at the age of 29. For about the last six months of her life, she was largely confined to a wheelchair and needed oxygen everywhere she went. Yet she was vivacious and extremely bright, and had just finished her master’s degree. While I was on travel she went on a job interview. She arrived only to discover that from the lobby, a grand staircase led to her interviews on the second floor. The building was in an office park with no elevators.

I still remember vividly how she described that staircase, looming before her like an immense cliff.

Thus I was very happy to see this article run through the gauntlet of the rigorous TOCHI peer-review process and come out the other end as a wonderful contribution that is the first to address the social entertainment needs of adult powered chair users in a social and mobile game setting, namely a mixed reality implementation of capture-the-flag.

The article contains a number of perspectives and insights that really make one stop and take notice. For example, a strong theme that emerged was the desire not only for accessible entertainment, but also inclusive play with non-powered chair users, such as friends and family. The power of the activity to arouse the curiosity of bystanders and make them want to participate, as well, was also noted.

The purposeful moving-about engendered by the game was very freeing for the participants, but what perhaps most struck me in the entire article was a comment from the mother of one participant. While thrilled to see her daughter enjoying herself and engaging with others on this occasion, the mother reported that otherwise her daughter “mostly stays at home by herself.”

Perhaps this article can be the first small step towards righting this injustice.

The article concludes with an informative set of theoretically- and empirically-informed guidelines for includifying (or making inclusive) games originally designed for people without disabilities, through the use of technological augmentations such as mixed reality. And although there is obviously still a very long way to go in these directions, it was heartening to see some concrete progress in the form of this TOCHI contribution.

 

Katie Seaborn, Jamal Edey, Gregory Dolinar, Margot Whitfield, Paula Gardner, Carmen Branje, and Deborah Fels. 2016. Accessible Play in Everyday Spaces: Mixed Reality Gaming for Adult Powered Chair Users. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 23, 2, Article 6 (April 2016), 28 pages.
DOI= http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2893182

 

The Editor’s Spotlight, Part 1 — TOCHI Issue 23:2 — Lions, Impala, and Bigraphs—A Unique Perspective on Modeling Physical / Virtual Spaces

It was a difficult choice deciding which article to spotlight this month. As such, I decided to feature two articles most prominently in my editorial for Issue 23:2, the first of which forms the subject matter of this post.

But as it so happens, both of the articles I spotlighted this month consider the issues and challenges raised by mixed-reality spaces from unique perspectives.

And both take an inter-disciplinary tack on the difficult problems raised by this intriguing class of ubiquitous computing systems.

Nonetheless, as GPS and other sensors indeed live up to the name of this sub-field and become truly ubiquitous, it speaks to experiences (and usability problems) that we have all already likely encountered in one form or another as we fumble about in an unfamiliar city with our smartphones in hand.

Or that we will all likely encounter in the future, as our physical abilities inevitably change or diminish with age.

 

IN THE SPOTLIGHT, Part 1:

Lions, Impala, and Bigraphs—A Unique Perspective on Modeling Physical / Virtual Spaces

They say the three most important things in real estate are location, location, and location—and so it seems with ubiquitous computing systems, and contextual interactions in general.

Yet what is less often recognized is that ‘location’ is, in fact, a social construct every bit as much as it is physical property of the world—and which furthermore can only be sensed through particular technologies that have their own quirks. As the authors of this article make apparent, the result is a many-faceted terrain that offers shifting perspectives as one considers it from the point of view of human, technology, computational representation, and the physical landscape itself.

This article focuses on a particular mixed-reality game that features schoolchildren using handheld computers to join together into small prides of lions and launch attacks on (purely virtual) impalas that had to be discovered by exploring the physical environment. Although extremely simple in conception, difficulties encountered in the realization of this game highlight the devious problems and complexities that arise in many classes of ubiquitous computing systems.

For example, due to noise and the limits of precision, a sensing technology (such as GPS) may interpret a small huddle of schoolchildren as occupying distinct physical areas, even though from the human perspective they are all clearly co-located, and engaged in a common activity, as dictated by the social grammar of proxemics and f-formations (to borrow two constructs from sociology that characterize how people tend to share physical space).

Such problems are well-known in sensing systems, and a great deal of debate has gone back and forth about how to anticipate and design interactive experiences around  these foibles of the technologies at our disposal.

But this paper takes the unique step of recognizing that these perspectives can be codified, through the mathematical formalism of bigraphs. A series of simple production rules—which furthermore afford an intuitive diagrammatic representation—can then model the comings and goings of people, devices, and computational representations on the physical landscape. The result is a set of rules that allows one to model and formally reason about subtle mismatches between the human and technological perspectives.

While the article does not claim to offer a formal grammar of proxemics, the work certainly hints that such a direction may be possible. With the “Internet of Things” colliding at an ever-accelerating pace with the long-established “Social Expectations of Humans,” the tools and insights offered by this ambitious article may comprise a critical lens through which to reason about (if not reconcile) the critical design mismatches that inevitably arise between them.

 

Steve Benford, Muffy Calder, Tom Rodden, and Michele Sevegnani. 2016. On Lions, Impala, and Bigraphs: Modelling Interactions in Physical/Virtual Spaces. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 23, 2, Article 3 (April 2016), 57 pages.
DOI= http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2882784