May 22, 2017

CHI2017 at a Glance:

There were a ton of great talks at CHI this year. I highlighted a few that really stuck with me,

Material Ecology (Neri Oxman, link to project site) - Neri's talk was the opening plenary, and it was definitely inspiring. One of the main ideas of the talk is that HCI can learn from natural forms, materials, and structures. Neri's work uses biological materials (e.g. silk worm fibres, and repurposed shrimp shells) to create various items, such as architectural forms, clothing, and technology.

"Whatsapp is for Family: Messenger is for Friends": Communication Places in App Ecosystems (Nouwens et al.,) - This talk looked at several different messenger platforms. Essentially these platforms are very similar in terms of design and affordances, but the participants of the study used them in vastly different ways - with use often be figured by different social networks that the apps were used to communicate with. I liked this talk a lot, since it points to an approach where apps are thought of using a "place" metaphor for individuals.

Is Difficulty Overrated? The Effects of Choice, Novelty, and Suspense on Intrinsic Motivation in Educational Games (Lomas et al.) - This talk was part of a larger trend I saw in some of the other game-centered panels at the conference: rethinking our conceptions of difficulty in game design. Using a purpose built game, the authors used various controls in an experimental model to see how difficulty was tweaked by players who were given that option. I think that their findings might be extremely worthwhile for future ed. game designers who often have to deal with exactly how difficult to make their games in order to serve as teaching tools. They also complicated the idea of "flow", which is a useful concept, but has always seemed a little too neat and tidy for my liking.

Understanding Gaming Perceptions and Experiences in a Women's College Community (Shaer et al.) - The paper is about an effort to understand personal and group conceptions of gaming as a cultural practice within a delimited, all women's college environment. This is really great mixed methods work that combines large-scale survey methods with individual low N qualitative methods. Apart from the awesome study design, I think that the findings are very important in building on similar work by Shaw, Consalvo, and Gray. I was especially interested in the way that gamer identity is adopted to varying degrees across the study's sample.

Examining Adult-Child Interactions in Intergenerational Participatory Design (Yip et al.) - This reports on a long-term study of using intergenerational teams for participatory design. One of the major contributions of the paper, is the awesome graphical model that they build, which is one of the clearest descriptions of co-design as a spectrum of methods. As an approach, it can be sort of hard to wrap your head around in terms of implementation, design, and execution. This paper does a great job of clearly explaining different levels of participatory design through research data.

Share First, Save Later: Performance of the Self through Snapchat Stories (Mcroberts et al.) - This paper looked at the performativity of a group of undergraduate Snapchat users. One of the big findings that's interesting for my own work was that the live, and ephemeral nature of the platform (Snapchat stories disappear after 24 hours) allowed users to operate in a way that's unique to Snapchat as a platform: they would use 'live' performances on their story (and in individual snaps) to experiment with different forms, genres, and styles, and then (if they received positive feedback) save those performances to more permanent artifacts, such as photo and video files.

My Talk:

I presented at Wednesday's session about digitally mediated performativity. My talk, The Game of Performing Play: Cultural Production on, covered the first phase of my dissertation research, where I used a grounded theory analysis to understand how broadcasted game-play is understood as a practice in a text forum devoted to live-streaming on Twitch. I also advanced my larger theoretical concept of 'performed play', referring to the specific way that play is turned into an artifact of game culture through live and recorded performance.

I think that my talk went really well! I had a lot of great questions that helped me to think more deeply about various aspects of my research, which is usually one of my goals in presenting. Here are a few paraphrases of those questions, and my own thoughts on expanding my current research:

How do official structures of the game industry interact w/ performed play? - The game industry seems to be adopting streaming and pre-recorded gameplay in a variety of ways - one of the biggest is advertising. Give-aways to popular streamers who fit with your game's brand are now pretty commonplace on Twitch. To the extent that games like the Player Unknown series of games now seemed designed in large part as partnerships with popular streamers. Currently, games have begun to incorporate streaming interactivity (beyond things like spectator mode in LoL), such as audience features in Jackbox games, or games like Streamline that are all about audience interaction. I'm wondering if we might not see a similar tension to the early days of modding, where game companies have to struggle with the freedom of letting fans use their IP against the benefits that accrue from that?

How do the quantified metrics offered by Twitch compare to other intangible metrics, like fun and enjoyment? - One major finding of my paper is that there's a tension between the metrics that are quantified and displayed for streamers (mostly audience metrics), and what was put forward in my focal space as being important: being natural, fun, and enjoying yourself. I think that a big design challenge for future streaming systems (and maybe just for socio-technical systems generally). A question I've been asking myself as I've been wrapping up my dissertation, is how the products and artifacts of Twitch might change if we could find a way to conceptualize and visualize these intangible aspects of the practice.

How do individuals conceptualize performance on Twitch? - This is something that I've been looking at in the second phase of my study, which draws on the ethnographic perspectives of seven individual streamers. A really preliminary finding is that the background, gaming identity, and outside communities that an individual is involved with all play into how they imagine and enact the stream as a performance. Some streamers in that second study were very direct in saying that they didn't see their stream as a performance. For others, the stream was the chance to try out a different version of their identity. That attitude is largely directed by how they use their stream. For some, the stream was (as it's typically considered) a way to entertain a larger audience, for others it was just a convenient way to hang out with friends.