Playful Interactions at CHI PLAY 2015

The HCI Games Group attended and presented several works at CHI PLAY 2015, the second edition of the ACM SIGCHI Annual Symposium on Computer-Human Interaction in Play. CHI PLAY is an international and interdisciplinary conference for researchers and professionals of all areas of play, games, and human-computer interaction, which fosters discussion of current high quality research in games and HCI as foundations for the future of digital play. This year the conference took place in London, UK, from the 5th to the 7th of October.

Continue reading to hear about the experience of our researchers during CHI PLAY 2015.

Dr. Lennart Nacke

Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo and Director of the HCI Games Group

Having started CHI PLAY together with a couple of senior human-computer interaction and games researchers in 2014, it was great to see the conference move to Europe and grow in popularity and size. We had a 28% increase in full paper submissions, which led to 144 full papers submissions for CHI PLAY 2015. That’s a much higher number of submissions than what you usually see at games research conferences and we kept the acceptance rate low to ensure a CHI-like quality standard for the conference, accepting 40 full papers (i.e., acceptance rate: 27.8%).

This resulted in my opinion in lots of high quality talks at the conference. I honestly could not pick a single session that I was not interested in. It was also great that we could still maintain the familiarity of the community by keeping it a single-track conference. The conference organizers Anna Cox and Paul Cairns did an amazing job in organizing this year’s conference in London, UK, which is not the easiest location for the budget of a still young conference. However, the increased attendance at CHI PLAY and the almost even breakdown of North American and European researchers, shows that there are strong research communities in both areas. For me, CHI PLAY has become the go-to place to meet with the community and see young talents present their starting research.

Overall, the atmosphere at the conference was so positive that I hope many people will return and continue to submit their high-quality research to the conference. Lastly, it was a really great and special conference for me, because all of my Ph.D. students attended the conference together for the first time. I hope that going forward CHI PLAY will continue and grow to be the best place to present your HCI research on games. In addition, I hope the community will remain as positive and encouraging as it has been in the past two years.

Lennart Nacke opening the Notes section
Lennart Nacke opening the Notes section

Dennis Kappen

Ph.D. Student, Game Design and User Interaction for Older Adults

I was extremely excited to attend the CHI PLAY 2015 conference as a Doctoral Consortium (DC) participant.  The DC was held on Sunday, 4th October. A few of my colleagues and I reached the conference venue direct from London Heathrow Airport, tired and weary from a 7 hour flight from Toronto, Canada. In retrospect, the next time around, getting into a hotel a day earlier would have been advantageous from a rest and relaxation perspective as opposed to saving on the cost of accommodation for a day in expensive London. My participation in the DC led to insightful conversations with my peers and diligent feedback from the DC chairs: Dr. Floyd Mueller (RMIT University, Australia), and Dr. Mike Christel (Carnegie Mellon University, USA).  Dr. Anna Cox (University College London, UK) and Dr. Lennart Nacke (University of Waterloo, Canada) stepped in for Mike who had been delayed due to challenges with his flight schedules. Floyd, Anna and Lennart were extremely helpful in dissecting each DC presenters work, provided their review of our work and suggested changes based on their expertise. I was extremely touched when Mike sought us out individually and provided feedback on our work to make up for missing out on our main DC presentation.

Dennis Kappen at the Doctoral Consortium
Dennis Kappen at the Doctoral Consortium

Being a 3rd year Ph.D. student, the conference held special significance for me because of my interest in assimilating paper writing styles, presentation techniques and the process of fielding one’s research standpoint during the Question and Answer sessions. A few vital statistics of the paper submissions as presented by Dr. Cox (@DrAnnaLCox) were as follows: Papers and notes=144 submitted, 40 accepted (27.8%); WIPS =77 submitted, 54 accepted (70%). While many presentations focused on the technicality of their research, some presentations were bold and brash.

Mike Barlet (Able Gamers) interjected yet another “ification” word into twitter-sphere with his “includification” mantra in his keynote, projecting the value of inclusivity in game design from the perspective of players with disability (mental and physical). His presentation was bold and was in tune with his statement which I quote: “I am a bully”; however, from my standpoint nothing is gained from bullying the world into acceptance of “includification” when empathy and critical dialogue within the community could contribute to the greater good of inclusivity in gaming technologies.

Mike Barlet’s keynote
Mike Barlet’s keynote

In the session on player experience and well-being, a notable slide presentation was from Max Birk (How Self-Esteem Shapes our Interactions with Play Technologies: Max V. Birk, Regan L. Mandryk, Matthew K. Miller, Kathrin M. Gerling). Each slide represented inspirational images anchoring specific sections of the paper while Max detailed his research methodology and findings to the audience.  This was not a typical research paper presentation as was evident from the minimal text and high power images represented on each slide. This made for an engaging presentation while differentiating the slide presentation itself from generic research slide presentations.  This presentation strategy was also similar to the slide presentation by Jason T. Bowey (Manipulating Leaderboards to Induce Player Experience: Jason T. Bowey Max V. Birk Regan L. Mandryk), a paper which won the prize for the Best Note. This leads me to believe that the “secret ingredient” from the University of Saskatchewan in creating winning paper submissions is creating slide presentations with inspirational images, structured paper writing and Dr. Regan Mandryk!

In the session on Exert Yourself, I found the paper presentation by Gayani Samaraweera (Get off the Couch: An Approach to Utilize Sedentary Commercial Games as Exergames: Anjana Chatta, Tyler Hurst, Gayani Samaraweera, Rongkai Guo John) to be relevant to my area of research in that they used Microsoft Kinect to measure improvements in participants over time while using negative feedback to induce excitement when playing commercial exergames. Another fantastic visual presentation in this session was from Perttu Hämäläinen (Utilizing Gravity in Movement-Based Games and Play: Perttu Hämäläinen, Joe Marshall, Raine Kajastila, Richard Byrne, Florian “Floyd” Mueller) which interspaced a hypermedia presentation on mixed-reality games while exploring the concept of gravity in movement based games.

Another action packed excitement was in the presentation by Eduardo Velloso (Arcade+: A Platform for Public Deployment and Evaluation of Multi-Modal Games: Eduardo Velloso, Carl Oechsner, Katharina Sachmann, Markus Wirth, Hans Gellersen),  where he ran through almost 40+ slides in 10 minutes of compressed  presentation time.

Personally, a paper presentation which packed confidence was by Sharon T. Steinman who presented the paper titled Increasing Donating Behavior Through a Game for Change: The Role of Interactivity and Appreciation (Sharon Steinemann, Elisa Mekler, and Klaus Opwis from the University of Basel). Furthermore, she fielded every question with poise and tact and was able to defend her research standpoint.

Yvonne Rogers (Professor of Interaction Design, Director of UCL Interaction Centre) and co-author of the book Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction (Preece et al., 2015) presented amazing insights into her experimentations into tangible playfulness in public spaces. IMHO, her work was inspirational and represented a paradigm shift in the conceptualization of playful interactions in public. After this keynote address, I disappeared and embarked on a London tour blitz for a few hours to embrace the visual imagery of this amazing city.

I was particularly intrigued by Kam Star’s (@playgen) job title which read “Chief Play Officer” and was impressed by his talk on: Gamification, the elixir of performance? He emphasized and I quote: “points which have no points are pointless”. He used Scott Nicholson’s framework on meaningful gamification, to which I send him a tweet in jest, about our Kaleidoscope paper on effective gamification, in the hope of some feedback from him.  

After this presentation, as all good excitement must come to an end; I had to leave for the airport to prepare for my departure from London, a city of multifaceted historical connotations, which cradled CHI PLAY 2015 for four “delightful” days.  The networking action packed lunches and coffee breaks at this conference, gave me an opportunity to connect with researchers (peers and experts) from around the world. CHI PLAY 2015 was my second experience with bridging the gap between research and design, which truly gave me an insight into mindful play, research strategy and the usage of methods to support my quest for answers to my research interests.

Rina Wehbe

Ph.D. Student, E.E.G. Analysis of Gameplay Comprehension

For me, the 2015 CHI PLAY Conference kicked off with the GUR Tool Design Jam organized by Chek Tien Tan, Pejman Mirza-Babaei, Veronica Zammitto, Alessandro Canossa, Genevieve Conley, and Günter Wallner. At the Jam, I presented my thoughts on the importance of synchronization during data collection: Data Synchronization in Games User Research.

Rina Wehbe at the Tool Design Jam
Rina Wehbe at the Tool Design Jam

GUR Tool Design Jam participants brought similar problems to the table, as well, specific problems in their own company’s data collection process. Later, we designed an ideal tool for collecting data based on our requirements. The workshop put into perspective the challenges faced by industry and stressed the differences in the overall timeline; however, during the design Jam it became obvious that regardless of process data collection with multiple devices is not yet perfected. All researchers stressed a need for data which is synchronized, accurate, and meaningful. I feel that the insights gained by participating in the workshop will be helpful when I am planning and designing my own studies.

The conference itself was a great experience! Excellent keynotes gave talks on including people with special needs, understanding the importance of games to culture, and making surveys and data fun and accessible to the public. I particularly was inspired by Vox Box. I really appreciated the way small, often frustrating or monotonous tasks were made fun, resulting in the increase in participation. I hope to apply these principles to my own research.

The research talks were also very insightful and inspired a lot of new questions for future research. I am particularly curious about multiplayer couch co-op after a talk which revealed that there may be an under use of this mode (Get off the Couch: An Approach to Utilize Sedentary Commercial Games as Exergames, by Anjana Chatta, Tyler Hurst, Gayani Samaraweera, Rongkai Guo, and John Quarles).

For the first time our lab presented a game at the conference. We presented CHI Playgue, a social networking game designed to get people to interact. The game require that each person have their own QR code, scanning codes give you points, but you were also at risk of infection if you scan codes from somebody who has caught the CHI Playgue then you may find yourself playing for the enemy faction. I found it particularly enjoyable to watch all the emergent gameplay techniques. Players would sneak to scan each other’s barcode, ask for proof of faction membership, and my personal favorite, trick people by making them scan someone else’s badge in order to get more people infected. Presenting our game also gave us the opportunity to receive great feedback from some of the great minds in game research. I hope to use this information in the next iteration of the game.

We also presented some of our latest research at the conference as works in progress:

In my poster, I investigated the difference between co-presence and co-located play when measuring participant’s enjoyment when playing a game with a person cooperatively or competitively versus playing with a computer with a person present and attending the same stimulus. Discussion with other attendees is also a great way to share ideas and learn about new up and coming research. I look forward to presenting my follow-up study in the coming year.

This year I was very fortunate to be able to volunteer at the conference. This gave me a behind the scenes look at organization. I was able to work with the wonderful team of organizers, leaders, and other volunteers. Through this experience I was able to be of service, as well as, meet a lot of new people. I definitely recommend this experience and would volunteer again if given the opportunity.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the conference and look forward to seeing all of you next November for CHI Play 2016 Texas, USA!

Gustavo Tondello

Ph.D. Student, Gamification and Wearable Health Gaming

It was a great opportunity to attend the CHI PLAY 2015 Conference in London!

Some participants, myself including, arrived a day early for the Workshops or the Doctoral Consortium that occurred on the day prior to the main conference. I took part of the Workshop on Personalization of Serious and Persuasive Games and Gamified Interactions. It was a great opportunity to discuss the implications of building generic serious games or gamified applications, a practice that usually leads to the exclusion of a portion of the intended audience, as not all individuals are motivated by the same kind of interactions. At the Workshop I contributed with the presentation of two papers: Towards a Personalized Playful Digital Wellness Assistant, which describes ideas for personalization of gamified health systems that I am investigating as part of my Ph.D. research, and The HEXAD Gamification User Types Questionnaire : Background and Development Process, a collaboration with the Austrian Institute of Technology and with Gamified UK to develop a questionnaire for evaluating different user behaviours towards gamified systems.

Gustavo Tondello at the Workshop on Personalization of Serious and Persuasive Games and Gamified Interactions
Gustavo Tondello at the Workshop on Personalization of Serious and Persuasive Games and Gamified Interactions

The CHI PLAY 2015 Conference began officially on October 5th, with the Opening Keynote by Mark Barlet, Founder & Executive Director of Able Gamers, about the inclusion of disabled players into game design. The first technical section presented a few research papers on player experience and wellbeing. A paper that was specially interesting to me was The Placebo Effect in Digital Games: Phantom Perception of Adaptive Artificial Intelligence, by Alena Denisova and Paul Cairns from the University of Work, in which the authors investigated how the expectancy of a game feature by players changes their perception and enjoyment of the game even if the feature is not really there.

In a conference about games, of course we needed to have some games to play! On Monday evening, there was a reception where the authors displayed their posters for their Works-In-Progress and the Doctoral Consortium. At the same time all the participants had the opportunity to play the 10 games that were selected as finalists of the Student Game Design Competition (SGDC). Our team presented the game CHI PLAYGUE: A Networking Game of Emergent Sociality, which aimed to facilitate social interaction and networking between the conference’s attendees.


In the second day, a paper that I found very interesting was “After All the Time I Put Into This”: Co-Creation and the End-of-life of Social Network Games, by Alexandra Samper-Martinez and Ercilia Garcia-Alvarez from University Rovira i Virgili, and Kathrin Gerling, Ben J Kirman, and Shaun Lawson from the University of Lincoln, in which the authors studied what happens when a social network game ends, and the conflicts that may arise when the company claims ownership over the content created by the users, while the users feel that they have rights to keep everything that they built with a great effort.

The last day began with an interesting, albeit short, presentation by Kam Star from PlayGen, entitled Gamification, the elixir of performance? The speaker presented a few interesting insights about what to do and what not to do when designing gamified interactions, from his years of experience in important gamification projects. From the technical sessions of this day, the highlight goes to the Best Paper of the conference, Increasing Donating Behavior Through a Game for Change: The Role of Interactivity and Appreciation, by Sharon Steinemann, Elisa Mekler, and Klaus Opwis from the University of Basel, which showed the importance of interactivity for the effectiveness of games for change aimed at increasing donation for an humanitarian cause, and the role of appreciation as mediator of the relationship between interaction and donating, hinting at its relevance for the evaluation of the effectiveness of games for change.

Before the very end, the results of the Student Game Design Competition were announced, and the great winner took both the prizes from the Expert Panel and the General Public: “Beam Me ‘Round, Scotty!” by John Harris, Mark Hancock, and Stacey Scott from the Games Institute at the University of Waterloo. Congratulations!

The official conference program can be visited here, and all the publications are available through the ACM Digital Library here. At last, the next CHI PLAY was announced to occur in 2016 in Texas, USA. I am certain it will be even better than it was this year!

Some parts of Gustavo’s account were also published as part of the ACM XRDS blog insider’s view of CHI PLAY 2015.

Playful Interactions at CHI PLAY 2015

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