The design of fearsome interactions

Theme parks and horror houses are not necessarily the kind of stuff you think about when someone tells you about interaction design... but these artifacts must be carefully thought. And this paper called The Gas Mask: A Probe for Exploring Fearsome Interactions is intriguing for that matter because it describes an interesting design research approach that explore what the authors calls "fearsome interactions".

The papers presents a mask-based interface that is made of breath sensors, WiFi (to wirelessly transmit "breathing data") and a wireless microphone. Two combinations of these are tested as probes in an interactive ride. The field study is quite revealing and the authors highlight "six key dimensions of designing fearsome interactions": cultural, visceral, social, control, performance and engineering. More specifically, I was intrigued by the one they refer to as "control":

"An important aspect of fearsome experiences such as thrill rides or perhaps even watching a horror film is that of giving up control; committing to a scary and unknown experience and not being able to back out, either physically or socially. Our gas mask interface amplifies this because the user cannot disengage from it; the sensor is strapped to their face, emphasising the message that the machine will sense and respond to their every breathing action. (...) Contrary to conventional HCI wisdom which argues that users should be able to gracefully manage their engagement and disengagement with sensing systems, the wider challenge here is to create interfaces that require them to surrender or at least fight for control."

Why do I blog this? First because of my interest towards weird research foci. Second because of the general implications. Although this kind of research looks curious at first, the results discussion is quite important for interaction design/human-computer interaction research. The discussion about control is of particular interest.