Three CHI 2016 Papers That Will Change the Way you Think About Game Design

Written by Lennart Nacke of the HCI Games Group.

The CHI 2016 Technical Program Overview.

If you work in the field of human-computer interaction, you are probably familiar with the field’s flagship conference: The Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems also known as CHI. The conference attracts between 3,500–4,000 attendees every year (this year 3,876 people attended [2016]) and moves across different international locations. Last year CHI was in Seoul, South Korea, and this year the conference was in the heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose, California, USA. CHI is an amazing conference that stimulates and moves people who work on the edge of technology innovation. While many of the CHI crowd are returning attendees, this year 50% of people attended for the first time. In addition, the keynotes and important talks were finally archived and live-streamed by SIGCHI.

Topics of CHI 2016 in a Wordle.
CHI introduced 10 robots this year that allowed 42 people to attend and drive around the conference in robot form from their home, thanks to a somewhat stable Internet connection.

I remember how my first CHI conference made a profound difference in my professional life. I finally found my research community. People were open to mixed methods and really cared about human factors in technology research, but were also rigorous and strict in their research assessment. I wanted to write papers just for this conference, because everything about it felt great and galvanising (and the diversity of people was amazing, too). Since then, I have started my own research group, as well as a fully ACM SIGCHI-sponsored conference games/play spinoff of CHI (called CHI PLAY), and things feel a bit different now. My focus has shifted to networking and community building. I go to less talks than I used to, but CHI is still an experience that I look forward to most of the year. It always feels good to attend the conference with my graduate students. There are plenty of networking opportunities for them (mostly during the parties and reception events), and my students always return invigorated.

A photo posted by Hemant (@hemantsurale) on Instagram.

I really enjoyed the innovations that both Allison Druin and Jofish Kaye championed this year as conference chairs. They made some awesome changes to CHI, which were nicely documented leading up to the conference on the SIGCHI Tumblr. As an aside, the conference bag looked better than ever, and this is the first time I think I could use it for something other than groceries now that the conference is over.

This is the conference bag that I am talking about.

Another highlight for me this year was Marissa Mayer’s fireside chat with Terry Winograd, where she gave some very interesting information pieces (see below) about her work at Yahoo and Google, but enough about some of these great CHI 2016 events.

What three CHI 2016 game research papers stuck with me? How do they change the way we think about game design?

From the proceedings, you can see that there were lots of game-related papers at CHI this year. Most of them were great. I chose my three highlights based on what I considered to be very memorable presentations. These three papers stuck out to me since they were inspirational, and somewhat unconventional with their presentations and topics:

1. Designing Brutal Multiplayer Games

This was quite an unusual paper and presentation within the CHI games research area. I found it quite refreshing to incentivise physically exerting activities with different in-game feedback, for example displaying points and player projections on a large screen behind the players. In the study, people played physically interactive sports-rugby-something-style games that were modulated by on-screen feedback. Maybe this idea is too advanced and not as compatible to mass-markets as Wii Fit or Fitbit scales, but I would definitely like to see more games exploit real physical work as part of their mechanics. Now, we just need to wait for someone like Kojima to fall in love with this idea, to see physical activity games embedded in compelling narratives and engaging storylines.

2. Destructive Games: Creating Value by Destroying Valuable Physical Objects

Although this was a note and its presentation was shorter than a full paper, I liked the execution and presentation of this work. The ideas were definitely disruptive in terms of destroying objects of actual value to players with physically harmful devices (a laser cutter in this case). What will happen in the future when we have robot-enhanced games and we are not just playing in front of our computers anymore? Along these lines, this paper sparked some ideas for me, and I think game designers could learn a lot from reading this paper.

3. “I Love All the Bits”: The Materiality of Boardgames

This talk was beautifully done and was not one you would usually see at CHI. The talk focused more the tangible aspects of board games and evaluated how the experience of players was influenced by the physical aspects of these games. The author broke down the enjoyment of board games into four dimensions: materiality, sociality, challenge, and variety. These dimensions could be quite helpful for people looking to design their own physical games.

Poster presentations are an essential part of CHI as well. Stefan and his student presented a Minecraft study poster.

This year has shown some amazing game research that is being done in the community. I believe CHI will remain a place for publishing innovative game research and that we will see even more fulgurant works appear there in the future. I am also looking forward to seeing many of these works appear in the CHI PLAY conference as our community continues to grow.