Exploring social play in a shared hybrid space enabled by handheld augmented reality
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Reality-based interfaces bring new design opportunities to social games. These novel game interfaces, exemplified by Wii, Kinect, and Smart phones, leverage players' existing physics, bodily, environmental, and social skills. Moreover, they enable a shared hybrid physical-digital space in which the players' co-presence can be enhanced by their physical and digital co-location. However, many digital social games occupy players' attention with the digital display and content, reducing their attention spent on one another and limiting the synchronization of actions and emotions among players. How do we design technologies that do not interfere with social play but enhance and innovate it? In this thesis work, I focus on one particular kind of reality-based interfaces, Handheld Augmented Reality (HAR), to extend players' interaction from the small mobile devices to the shared hybrid space around a computationally trackable surface. This thesis explores how to encourage social play with HAR interfaces, which brings in challenges of designing with the affordances and constraints of the HAR interface, understanding the complicated phenomenon of social play, and integrating these understandings in multiplayer HAR game design. Adopting Research-through Design as the overarching research method, I collaborate with multiple teams, design and study three multiplayer HAR game prototypes. I present four main contributions. First, this work yields design artifacts and examples of social games with HAR interfaces. I communicate to the game design and Augmented Reality communities through these prototypes, including BragFish, ARt of Defense, and NerdHerder. Second, I provide empirical findings on social play in a shared hybrid space. Through lab-based user studies, observation, video analysis, interviews, and surveys, I collect and analyze interpersonal play behaviors and emotions in the shared hybrid space enabled by the HAR interface. Third, I adopt and adapt sociological theories to the domain of social games. I generate a list of theory-based design guidelines for co-located social games, especially HAR games. I prove its usefulness through the user study on an HAR game that embodies a subset of these design guidelines. Fourth, this thesis work is a case study that bridges Human Computer Interaction knowledge and methods with game design practices. It shows the outcome and benefits of multidisciplinary research, calling for more effort in integrating reality-based interfaces, as playful and experimental design materials, into different phases of game design process.