Photo via Gamasutra
Photo via Gamasutra

What Can an Octopus Teach Us About Emotion?

Some of the most innovative thinking at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco every spring comes from alt.control.GDC, where finalists are invited to show off their games and interactive experiences that use alternative controls and interaction schemes.

Chris Bennett had a chance to demo some of this work and talk to the people who created them. Some highlights were:

Hello, Operator! used an actual 1930s telephone switchboard as the control layout as you are challenged to connect people together for phone calls using actual patch cables and switches. A fun throwback that was quite a challenge when everyone wanted to talk to their friend at the same time!

The Von Neumann Personality Test simply gave the user an old phone and a number to call to talk to a deranged automated phone tree while a secretly connected TV helped guide the narrative. Utterly strange and delightful.

Crank Tank was an arcade game that forced the players to actually crank a custom-build wooden controller to move and turn their vehicles. The fun part came when two people were on each controller and had to somehow coordinate their physical movements. It created very much of an improv acting experience where the most efficient way to “win” was by listening closely to your partner.

But perhaps a favorite was OCTOBO, an interactive plush octopus with a touch screen and haptic controllers that responded to touch and interacted with a storyboard. Chris spoke to Yuting Su, the project’s Creative Director from the Game Innovation Lab at USC about her work and came away impressed with the groundwork that had gone into creating this.

The interaction between the octopus, the user and the book was simple and worked well for the younger age range that it was designed for. But sliding an iPad into the plush to give not only a touch screen, but to add to the control scheme was clever. And the OCTOBO was at its best when the user interacted directly with the plush octopus, squeezing its tentacles and getting a reaction out of players and even casual observers. We hope the designers can spend some more design time investigating this direct interaction, as it might have the greatest potential for a true emotional and empathetic experience. Nice work!