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Some Like It Hot: Friction in Interaction Design

Abstract: In the field of Human-Computer Interaction, onscreen digital interfaces continue to evolve as a primary means of interacting with digital artifacts. In many ways, however, the development of meaningful and compelling onscreen interactions has been sparse. In this paper, formal qualities of interactions in video games, referred to as “frictions” by Tim Rogers, will first be examined through the lens aesthetic theory for their potential to create a compelling and meaningful interaction. Afterwards, friction’s usefulness outside of the arena of video games will be considered.


Thanks for your help, everyone!


if anyone who was linked here from kotaku wants to see my other work, feel free to check it out and comment!



I’ve come across this guy in my research, Tim Rogers. He’s a video game director that also reviews games in his spare time, and he may be insane. He’s known for being obsessed with what he refers to as “friction,” which I could try to describe as the types of conflicts, reinforcements, rewards, and feedback a player receives while playing a game.

He’s created a huge vocabulary of the different types of frictions he’s encountered in games. However, he doesn’t typically use these terms in his reviews. Instead, he tends to use creative metaphors and analogies to describe the feeling that these frictions give a person playing the game.

This is the second paragraph from a review he did, which can be read in its entirety at action button dot net.

The goal of God Hand is to extinct the tar out of any moving human body, be it male, female, transvestite, or wearing a gorilla costume. God Hand is a videogame based both on the film “Frailty” (in which the “god’s hand” killer intones, “I don’t kill people; I destroy demons“) and the idea of throwing bucketsful of baseballs, one at a time, hard as you can, at a barn-side-sized cube of maple-syrup-sticky Styrofoam.God Hand is alternatingly the friction of repeatedly dropping a bowling ball into a massive cardboard box full of delicious bubble wrap, its sweet vinyl scent like Jesus’s kid sister, and the frustration of bending at the knees to pick that bowling ball up again, thirsting only for the next sticky drop. God Hand is the friction of an electric knife through a frozen ham. God Hand is the friction of a baseball bat against an oncoming Toyota Prius. God Hand is the friction of a cricket bat against an oncoming Harley Davidson. God Hand is, occasionally, a NASCAR broadsiding a freight train. God Hand is a stick of butter so hard it will break your teeth if you think it’s a candy bar. God Hand is the Pringles of videogames. Though God Hand is usually like poking holes in a watermelon with a chopstick for the best reason (“no good reason”),God Hand is sometimes like using a pizza cutter to eat ice cream. At its best, God Hand allows you to indulge in your curiosity re: how hard you would have to flex to break a Canada goose’s neck.

If that was enough for you, believe me when I tell you that the rest of the review reads exactly like that. If that wasn’t enough for you, check out this tome he wrote on Kotaku, in which he details every kind of friction he can recall, where his obsession came from, and why it’s so damn important.

So, this is flat-out fascinating to me. He’s only concerned with reviewing the game’s ability to illicit a physical reaction in the player, and what that feeling is.

I’m including this guy in my final paper. I’d like some insights from others, regarding how his style of criticism maps to the schools of thought we’ve discussed.

I’m thinking of situations where someone may consider something art that was not (evidently) a deliberate product of an artistic process. For instance, someone viewing something like the Grand Canyon my gain deep meaning and insight from the experience, and many of the qualities we talked about today (play, festival, etc) exist there.

Would Gadamer say that this event is artistic? Does this seem like a fair application of the theory, or is this application a little too thin?

In the readings we are asked to consider “play” as an important aspect of art:

Gadamer has in mind the actual phenomenon of play in its endless variety, including metaphorical senses: ‘ the play of light , the play of the waves, the play of gears or parts of machinery, the interplay of limbs, the play of forces, the play of gnats, even a play on words’ (TM, p. 103). Despite their differences, what these aspects of play all share in common is a ‘to-and-fro movement that is not tied to any goal that would bring it to an end ‘ (TM, p. 103). Play is an activity that is not random and yet has no obvious goal or teleological endpoint; purposeful and yet witho ut some grand overarching purpose.

I thought of this terminal after reading this passage. It was interesting because of its somewhat random interactions with those who move through it. People would go through it several times. It is unclear to me personally if this is actually an interactive display, or if it simply uses different animations based on some estimate of the amount of people on the walkway. One thing that is certain is that people interact with it. I’ve seen people try to trick it, initiate it, (generally try to illicit reactions from it) by jumping, running, turning around, moonwalking, whatever.

This seems like a fun embodiment of play. It seems to meet criteria above. One interesting aspect is that people attach meaning to the play that is taking place. Since it is not apparent how the interaction works, they play as a way of understanding it. They attach meaning and analogy through the play that takes place, although this may not be totally deliberate.

Csicsery-Ronay talks about the concept of science-fictionality:

“This widespread normalization of what is essentially a style of estrangement and dislocation has stimulated the development of science-fictional habits of mind, so that we no longer treat sf as purely a genre engine producing formulaic events, rather as a kind of awareness we might call science-fictionality, a mode of response that frames and tests experiences as if they were aspects of a work of science fiction.”

I tried to think of a few places in interaction design where the user is called upon to use science-fictionality in their experience with a design. Many video games that require problem solving skills do this, by setting up a set of rules in a reality that doesn’t necessarily mirror ours precisely, and asking us to solve problems by following the alternate reality’s rules. I know there must be other examples, maybe in our day to day life.

I am having trouble finding where Bell, or others from this school of thought, actually define art. Without it, their argument for excluding certain contextual relationships in favor of others becomes kind of… irrelevant. I mean, if it’s not proper to view the painting in context of my past experience, then I have no choice but to frame it through my current experience only.

However, what parts of that current experience am I expected to ignore? In the case of a painting, would it be everything outside of a canvas frame that that isn’t specifically intended to visually stimulate my senses? Even when locked into a current experience, the amount of information I’m processing at that moment in order to make sense of the thing I’m concentrating on is monumental. For that matter, what is considered the current experience is completely convoluted, since I have to draw on my past experience of .234 seconds ago to make sense of the thing I just moved my eye to.

I’m wondering if these issues are worked out anywhere, and I just blurred over them. Completely possible. Either way, any thoughts about it from you guys?

I couldn’t help but notice a headline today, in respects to Apple’s new thing-you-didn’t-need-until-now, Apple TV:

“Apple TV Review 2010: Critics Go Hands On With Steve Jobs’ ‘Hobby.'”

I was struck by the notion that so many of Apple’s products are viewed as a product of Steve Jobs. There are some obvious reasons for this, mostly related to his massively bloated ego, which cause people to equate Apple to Steve. However, the way that this then finds its way into our interaction with apple products is sort of intriguing, when you compare it to Dell, Sony, or one of the other major manufacturers.

I do see this sort of public acceptance of Apple = Steve affecting my own behavior with Apple products. For instance, I know logically that there are several thousand people employed by this company, but I only really get mad at one of them when something doesn’t work right. On some level, I’ve accepted the premise that this machine I’m typing on was his invention.

It’s interesting, in that now I’m looking at product reviews with these lenses from class in mind. Most of these reviews are extremely feature-centric. While it doesn’t scale completely, I get the feeling that there is frequently a tone in these types of reviews that is similar to this formal-structuralism we are starting to read about now. Most of the time, the intention of the creator isn’t really considered, nor is the larger social context or affect of devices. Its not to say these issues don’t exist, but they certainly aren’t considered.

Is there a way to edit comments? I hate double posting.

<I posted this on my tumblr account, and decided to post it here for a couple of reasons (in addition to just being lazy.) For one, I’m probably ripping this idea off from Jeff and Shaowen and not even realizing it. Other reason, this is a sort of critique of the social context in which we use and view live-action role playing.>

I spent some time today with a student in one of my labs. We talked about an upcoming project in which the student will need to compare a digital and analogue version of some thing in society. He wanted to focus on the RPG “Second Life” for his digital component, but did not know what would appropriately compare to it in analogue.

I introduced him to Live-Action Role Playing, or LARPing, as a comparable social exercise. Found a couple of videos online, such as this gem:

It’s a quick and dirty way to spell out the differences between just living life in analogue and living a second life in analogue, so I used it with the student so he could understand what I was talking about. However, even though we laughed (pretty hard) at this example, it’s important to remember that we’re possibly less removed from this type of behavior than we’ve ever been in the past (facebook, twitter, etc.) The feeling I have is that we have all moved into a era where we deliberately construct an external representation of ourselves which highlights what we choose to highlight, and subdues that which we wish to suppress.

One could say that this is just the same as it’s always been, and I’d be inclined to agree. However, this tendency to exhibit a certain perspective of ourselves has evolved into a representation which is completely physically separate from physical bodies. I believe this separation is significant.

This separate form of ourselves is a living thing. It lives and breathes. It interacts with other beings like it. It speaks its own language (ever try saying LMAO to someone in person?) If this separate form stops functioning, the community moves on without it. It essentially dies, like my myspace profile. There are times when some of us have “friended” or “followed” someone we’ve never met (in “real” life,) and they’ve done it back, in turn. At this point, this is one external representation of ourselves accepting another, and choosing to interact with it. How different is this from “Second Life?”

I personally believe that we are in a stage of era in which external representations of ourselves are not only accepted, but considered a social norm. I believe that while these external representations (avatars) only slightly deviate from what we consider our “real” selves now, they will deviate more as we continue into this era. We will be just as attached to these future representations of ourselves as we are to our current ones.

So as I was saying before: when we laugh at LARPers throwing lightning bolts at ogres, we’re essentially laughing at our own behavior. Which is awesome, as long as we know that’s what we’re doing.