socio-ec(h)o: Ambient Intelligence and Gameplay

Date created: 

The socio-ec(h)o project aims to research a generalized ambient intelligent software platform and design models for responsive environments based on the concept of ambient intelligent "ecologies" and group gameplay. The benefits of the research include a software-architecture, ambient intelligence inference engine, and interaction design models for gameplay and responsive environments. The paper will discuss the results of our prototypes for games in responsive environments. These prototypes will "test" our concept of an ambient intelligence "ecology". Current research in interaction and ambient intelligence is narrowly focused on increasing productivity and communication in the office and home, ignoring more complex social and cultural experiences such as games and play. The concept of "ecologies" is an alternative to thinking of technology as a tool or technology as being socially neutral which is a common understanding of the role of technology today on behalf of many technologists. The focus on the interaction of social groups is unavoidable in the context of social situations and interaction in public spaces since most public interaction is group oriented. In relation to games research the project explores the design and implementation of an ambient intelligent system for sensing and display, user modeling, and interaction models based on game structures. Ambient intelligence computing is the embedding of computer technologies and sensors in architectural environments that combined with artificial intelligence software respond to and "reason" about human actions and behaviour within the environment. In the case of socio-ec(h)o, the term "ecologies" is based on the concept of "information ecologies" by Nardi and O’Day (Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999). Nardi and O’Day describe an ecology to be a system of people, practices, values, and technologies in a local environment. They argue that the ecology metaphor shifts the focus to human activity rather than on technology. For example, a library is an ecology for accessing information. It is a space with books, magazines, tapes, films, computers, databases and librarians to help find information. The technology components of the ecology are balanced to shape the environment around human action in accessing information. The concept of "ambient intelligence ecologies" emerged from findings in the previous ec(h)o research project. We discovered that ec(h)o had successfully balanced incongruent elements to form a dynamic and coherent system. Components such as interaction, intelligence, audio display and technology shaped the ambient intelligent environment around the purpose of a museum visit. It could be said that behind the design and system of ec(h)o is an "ambient intelligence ecology" for a museum visit. We were neither conscious of this approach or had it as a project goal, rather it emerged over the course of the research and became evident in the findings. The aim of socio-ec(h)o is to research and test this concept of an "ambient intelligent ecology" as possible principles in designing such environments. This will result in the development of a platform that can support prototypes in interactive narratives and games. In order to test the concept of "ecologies", we need a wide range of activities that are not as specific an application as the museum project of ec(h)o and are outside of the typical productivity or goal-oriented scenarios of most ambient intelligent and wearable technologies research. The paper will discuss the key investigations in socio-ec(h)o: ecologies, game prototypes, gameplay concepts, and multi-users. Informed by the concepts of Nardi and O’Day, ecologies are applied to ambient intelligence environments, and extend the concept beyond information to include interactive narratives and games. The key components of the ambient intelligent ecologies include interaction, intelligence, response and technology. For example, we investigate the balances between such things as wearable technologies in relation to gesture, inference rules and proprioceptive responses. We expect the prototypes to demonstrate the integration of installations with embedded sensors and display technologies. Asoftware architecture will underpin the prototypes and will support the level of reasoning and processing as determined by the ecology-driven design. The environments themselves will be designed to support group movements and actions involving tangible interfaces and audio/visual displays. The play concepts are drawn from a wide range of sources with the goal of encoding a form of play that is between a directed game and open-ended play. We feel this will best allow us to shape and explore a play environment. We draw on James Carse’s concepts of finite and infinite games (Finite and Infinite Games - A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility. New York: Ballantine Books, 1987), Staffan Björk and Jussi Holopainen’s research in game design patterns, and Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman’s game theory (Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. Cambrdige: MIT Press, 2003). The key challenges in the area of multi-users is the design of interfaces and interaction models to support group interaction in the prototype environments, and to extend the research in user modeling to apply to groups rather than individuals, and to respond to the dynamic and changing formation of groups.

Contact: Ron Wakkary, Interactive Arts and Technology, Simon Fraser University,
Document type: 
Conference presentation
Copyright remains with the author