Gene Lu's Portfolio

Learning Over Time

During my years of undergrad, I used to sporadically tap my pencil to the music that my roommate blasted in the apartment as I miserably studied for my engineering exams. At the time, I was aware of basic musical elements such as beat and rhythm, but never had formal training with the exception of playing “Hot Cross Buns” on a recorder back in elementary school. Although most of my tapping was improvised, it rarely matched up to whatever I was listening to.

About a year ago, while taking a break in between sets at the gym, I caught myself tapping differently to the music that was playing overhead. This time, I was mentally breaking the song’s percussion into its basic elements: snare, base, toms, high-hat, crash, and splash. It was a delightful surprise how my hands and feet no longer moved in an unorganized manner as it did back in college and it was all thanks to one video game!

Bangin’ on the Drums All Night Long
In 2007, Harmonix released Rock Band, a video game that enabled players to simulate rock music through various instruments, e.g. guitar, microphone, and drums. With a general interest in drums, I was excited about the release and the next thing I knew, I had the whole game set up in my really small NYC apartment.

4 Players Too Many in a Small NYC apt

4 Players Too Many in a Small NYC apt

After playing for a while, my awareness of percussions within a song had been heightened, which brings us to where we last left off, me at the gym, tapping with hands and feet to a song that was being played overhead.

Drums (Expert) - Panic Attack, 91%

Drums (Expert) - Panic Attack, 91%

How Is This Related to My Thesis and Its Solutions?
There’s a commonality between the solutions that I’ve come up with so far and Rock Band. Both Chalk Walk and the train snowboarding idea all involve following patterns to maximize physical activity, from suggesting steps on the sidewalk to maintaining balance while standing in a moving train. By using games like Rock Band as a model for teaching while engaging users through gameplay, we can further explore and analyze the solutions mentioned above by addressing some of the following questions:

  • How and why does a user engage, interact with, share, recommend, disengage, stop using, forget about my solutions?
  • How might your solutions work, respond, adapt, grow over time?
  • What happens when no people, one person, ten people, a hundred people, thousands of people use it?

Train Snowboarding
Engagement

While taking the subway from one point to another, travelers acquire points by maintaining their balance inside a subway car without the aid of a pole, person, etc. One idea that I’m currently kicking around is that of a pattern that forms on the ground, which delineates the boundaries that a player is restricted to. It provides players with a form of visual feedback and makes the rules transparent for other train passengers nearby.

Users are required to stay within patterns on the floor of the car

Users are required to stay within patterns on the floor of the car

Further Engagement
According to Raph Koster, author of A Theory for Fun for Game Design, “playing video games is fun because it provides experiences of competence, self-efficacy, mastery.” This reason alone is why games like Rock Band have been successful.

A slide from Gamification and Its Discontents

A slide from Gamification and Its Discontents

Like Rock Band, players start off with a simple pattern, e.g. a large circle. As players gradually learn and improve their balance, further engagement is generated through more intricate patterns, providing players with higher levels of difficulty and a greater sense of game mastery. In addition to the patterns on the ground, other variables such as track difficulty and how a train conductor drives a subway car also comes into play.

More patterns, possibly for lo-fi prototyping

More patterns, possibly for lo-fi prototyping

Slide courtesy of Frog Design

Slide courtesy of Frog Design

Share
Besides the obvious strategies, such as pushing one’s scores onto the social web, the fact that this is public lends itself to sharing one’s experience with other people in the train car. Passengers might provide support directly (cheering) or indirectly (social pressure to a degree), which would help to reinforce this new behavioral change. Spectators may even be encouraged to try standing for a portion of their train ride themselves.

Recommend
Like Rock Band, it’s always better when playing with others. Recommendations are made through either word of mouth or by witnessing someone else participate in this activity.

Growth Over Time
Aside from the product itself, I envision this service expanding into other cities equipped with subway systems. Perhaps it becomes a global competition where people visit other major cities in other countries in search of new challenges. On a city level, different subway lines offer different levels of difficulty and may encourage people living within a city to explore new lines.

As for train passengers that take part in this ‘sport’ on a regular basis, they will have a better sense of balance along with reducing the amount of time spent sitting on their butt, which according to some sources “will kill you.”

One to a Thousand
When one person uses it, they are either training in order to improve their skills or they are trying to beat a top score. When two people are using it, the game could be motivated by score or there could be a direct competition between those two passengers. If ten or a thousand people were using this, would we even need seats on a train anymore (except for those that are incapable of standing)?

Plans for lo-fi prototyping on the NQR this weekend

Plans for lo-fi prototyping on the NQR this weekend

What About the Second Idea?
Still trying to figure out if and how Chalk Walk works, which means more prototyping this weekend. Stay tuned!

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  • 24 Nov 2010

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Lead UX Designer on Nike+ Running at R/GA.