A Techie's Valentines Day: Holding Hands and Wearing Video Game Fashions

NYU School of Engineering Researchers Urge Game Designers to Follow their ‘Odd Couple’ Path to Developing Wearable Controllers and Cooperative Computer Games

NEW YORK—As Fashion Week closes in Manhattan, New York’s outer boroughs are offering a glimpse of what the best-dressed techies will be wearing this Valentines Day: electronic-embedded costumes for a video game that demands hand-holding.

There’s serious human science and engineering behind the game and wearable technology developed in Brooklyn by a team led by Resident Artist Kaho Abe at the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering’s Game Innovation Lab and the Lab’s Research Director Katherine Isbister. Today, February 14, 2014, the two will urge game developers and academics to embrace this same collaboration between art and engineering during their talk at IndiCade East, an international games conference and festival in Astoria, Queens, at the Museum of the Moving Image.

“At the Game Innovation Lab, we have found that the combination of an indie game designer and a human computer interaction researcher results in a powerful ability to create amazing emotional and social experiences,” said Isbister, who is also associate professor in the School of Engineering’s Computer Science and Engineering Department. “There is tremendous overlap in our aims and insights, and our approaches are complementary. We believe strongly that advances in interface technology, such as wearable game controllers, require partnerships between art and science like ours. In our talk we will offer suggestions for how collaborators can help develop and fund games.  We’ll also talk about how indie explorations might inform and inspire better technology for everyday life.”

Isbister and Abe will preview the Lightning Bug game, in which players represent the last remaining lightning bugs in a world consumed by pollution. They must cooperate with each other in order to fight against a virtual enemy of darkness. Like much of the games research undertaken by Isbister and Abe during their two-year collaboration, this game emphasizes direct human interaction—as opposed to focusing on the screen—while it explores the potential of video games to affect emotions. Certain stances and physical activities are well documented for impacting emotions; the team expects that its wearable game controllers for Lightning Bug will provide an immersive video game experience that generates cooperation.

“When we play video games, we often play through characters in a story. We control the avatars, create a relationship with them, and experience the game through them,” explained Abe. “Will costumes make us play the role of the avatar? And what happens when we then embed technology into the costumes? Will it provide a more compelling, fully-realized world? I believe costumes will prove powerful tools that can help players take on roles with characteristics and behavior that they normally would not possess.”

The game was funded by Eyebeam, the country’s leading non-profit arts and technology center, based in Manhattan, with support from the Rockefeller Cultural Innovation Fund. Jack Langerman, NYU School of Engineering Computer Science undergraduate, developed the projection mapping and computer vision. NYU Game Center graduate students Toni Pizza, Sebastian Teesdale, and Shoshana Kessock also helped with the project.

“Costumes as Game Controllers: An Indie/Research Collaboration,” begins at 5:30 p.m. on February 14 at the Bartos Theater. For more information, visit http://www.indiecade.com/east/schedule_friday/.

Learn more about: Katherine Isbister