Controlling computer games using everyday objects as input devices.

One of Timo Arnall's student at the Oslo School of Design, Are Hovland Nielsen has started a diploma project on the very topic of controlling computer games using toys as input devices.

The initial idea behind my diploma project came about when I was playing around with the idea of controlling computer games using toys as input devices. It seems to me that toys in general have something natural and intuitive to them in regards to the ways we interact with them. (...) After visiting a few toy stores I grew slightly worried that there simply wouldn't be enough toy categories around for creating a broad range of game and controller prototypes. Therefore I tried to expand the initial idea to also include other objects that wasn't necessarily related to toys.

I finally landed on everyday objects as the focus for the project. (...) rior to visiting the hardware stores I had set up a list of criteria that the candidates would have to fulfill in order to be included in the project. The selection criteria were as follows: Not too big / Not electrical / Not harmful / Not expensive

One of the first rough example is this coffee-mug game controller:

One of my assumtions with "homemade" game controllers is that familiarity makes them easier for people to interact with. Secondly I found the circular shape of the coffee mug interesting from an interaction point of view. (...) The interaction with the relocated "buttons" was set up slightly different from one prototype to the next. In the first version (seen in the top image) one only needed to slide a slightly moist finger along the rim where the wires were exposed. When the finger touched two horisontal wires at the same time it would register as a key being pressed . This meant that the interaction was rather gentle, but unfortunately the connection to the keyboard itself was very fragile. (...) The second prototype was much more robust. None of the connections have been lost yet and the prototype has been in relatively heavy use the last couple of days. This prototype was set up by soldering attachment sockets directly onto the keyboard "chip" and then simply placing wires into these sockets.

Why do I blog this? this is an interesting way to define innovative game controllers, based on this notion of 'touch'. I really like the idea of relying on the notion of objects affordance (the cup / the handle) which has a natural physical configuration meant to allow specific interactions; playing with these configurations to allow different game interactions is pertinent. However, the difficult thing is to find objects that has a proper physical affordance to mediate the interactions in the game. The dimension that I miss here (but I am tough the project just started) is how the interaction with this new controller would relate with the gameplay, which is somehow an intriguing issue in the HCI literature about controllers.