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The creative challenge of finding the best games for new technology

Staffan Björk is a games researcher within the field of interaction design. It is a relatively new field, which means that Staffan is pursuing research to develop an essential common terminology for this field. But naturally he is also involved in finding the best games opportunities adapted for new technology.

“I’m conducting games research,” says Staffan Björk. “This means that one of the things I’m doing is developing terminology for the actual game experience. It may sound surprisingly theoretical, but if you for example compare it with the theory of film studies, then there are several terms to describe the structure and techniques involved in film-making and their impact on the film experience. When we began researching into computer games we realised that the terminology did not exist and this led to the formation of a whole new field of research.

“My other field of research is focused on the games opportunities presented by new technology. When mobile phones arrived on the scene, people quickly discovered the potential for using them to play games on, but the first mobile phone games were actually transferred direct from home computers. This meant that the functionality was fairly poor; the games were not adapted to mobile phones and the possibilities that entailed.”

Right game for the right medium

For example, Staffan’s interaction design research team is examining the circumstances in which people play games on their mobiles – often when they are standing and waiting, or on their way somewhere. This means that games should not demand a great deal of immediate attention, to the extent that a person may lose awareness of their surroundings and get run over or have an accident. Then there is GPS, which is an example of an exciting function that can be used as the basis for many interesting games. And on Facebook you can find games that are adapted to exactly that medium, such as Farmville or Maffiawars.

EU projects within “pervasive games”

From 2004-2008, Staffan’s team was involved in an EU project within “pervasive games”, i.e. games that can be played absolutely anywhere. Ten different partners were involved in the project, including Sony and Nokia. The project continued for three and a half years and had a budget of EUR 12 million.

One of the games that was developed was Insectopia, in which every insect you collect is associated with a bluetooth device in real life. There are bluetooth devices in a vast number of technical gadgets today: in most mobiles, in many laptops, in cars, printers and headsets. In Insectopia, the player has one week in which to identify which bluetooth device in their vicinity corresponds to which insect. If the player fails, then the insect disappears from their collection. Staffan Björk explains that the game makes the player very aware of their surroundings; it is like detective work, where you are trying to identify which of your fellow passengers usually travels at the same time as you do, for example: “Could it be that person in particular who is carrying the bluetooth device that represents one of my most valuable insects?”.

Games that require players to use devices interchangeably

Staffan also has colleagues in Germany and other places, who are involved in totally different types of games, such as Epidemic Menace where you need access to a number of different devices in order to play the game. Some parts of the game are played online, some using a mobile, where you have to run around outside, and other parts of the game are played using the Aibo the robot dog. The players must switch between the various devices in order to advance through the game as it progresses to new levels.

Project on social interaction and children with disabilities

One major EU project that is currently underway is called TA2, which stands for Together Anywhere, Together Anytime. The project is looking at how households in future can retain their social interaction, despite the fact that perhaps not everyone lives in the same place. The idea is to get equipment that people have at home in their living rooms to interact, allowing people to have video conferences, photo displays and suchlike with friends and relatives that perhaps do not live nearby. Another example is the school concert, where everyone who was there taking video can share clips and create an entire film with the help of contributions from others. You can also play board games together and do other social activities. It will be a bit like Skype, online games and web cameras etc. combined in a single interface.

“We’re currently looking for funding to examine different ways for children with some form of disability to use games for training purposes,” says Staffan Björk. “It could be a matter of adapting games to various kinds of disability, but also games that simply encourage children to take the plunge and break down barriers.”
The projects for which the research team has received EU funding are partly about the EU’s desire to support research that in some way aims to improve the lives of EU citizens, and partly about boosting the EU’s competitive edge within the games industry and creating jobs.

Background within information visualisation

Staffan explains that he first got involved in the field of games research through the Viktoria Institute, where he was a member of the group PLAY, which was looking at entertainment and games of the future. Staffan worked within the field of information visualisation, which was also the subject of his PhD, completed in 2000.

It was also in 2000 that Staffan and his colleagues began to take an interest in what kind of games they could create for new technology, for example in mobile phones. The interaction design research team entered into a partnership with Nokia Research, in which they created the game “Pirates!”. It became the springboard for investigating new forms of games and also for how to discuss the theory behind a game; they then discovered that there were no established concepts to describe the theory.

“The best part about it is discovering new games opportunities”

“The most enjoyable aspect of my field is the fact that we’re constantly discovering exciting new games and games opportunities,” says Staffan Björk. “You get to use your brain in a very creative way. Most people find it fairly easy to understand what I do when I say that I develop games. Games are now a major aspect of our daily lives and they are part of contemporary popular culture. Many children and young people today know more about characters from games than they do about film roles. Games mean a great deal to a lot of people.”

 

January 2011

Interview: Catharina Jerkbrant
Photo: Johan Wingborg

 


Contact information:
Staffan Björk, Associate professor
Department of Applied IT
Tel: +46 (0)31-772 10 39

Staffan Björk

Staffan BjörkStaffan Björk is involved in games research. Staffan’s research is partly about creating terminology for this field of research, but naturally it is also about finding the best games for new technology.

Page Manager: Catharina Jerkbrant|Last update: 3/3/2011
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