X.1 January + February 2003
Page: 4
Digital Citation

That old Janx Spirit

Steven Pemberton

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If you have ever read Douglas Adam's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you will know who Ford Prefect is, why he has such an odd name, and of an old drinking game that he used to play:

Two contestants would sit either side of a table, with a glass in front of each of them. Between them would be placed a bottle of Janx Spirit. Each of the two contestants would then concentrate their will on the bottle and attempt to tip it and pour spirit into the glass of his opponent—who would then have to drink it. The bottle would then be refilled. The game would be played again. And again. Once you started to lose you would probably keep losing, because one of the effects of Janx spirit is to depress telepsychic power.

To my delight I recently saw people playing a game that instantly made me think of that drinking game. Two contestants were sitting at either end of a long table, with a metal ball between them. Each of the contestants would then concentrate on getting the ball to move towards their opponent. However, rather than having to use telepsychic power, they did the next best thing: They had sensors strapped to their heads to measure their brain activity, and the way to get the ball moving towards the opponent was to be the more relaxed of the two (why did that also make me think of The Hitchhiker's Guide?); the great thing was that once the ball started rolling towards someone, they had to relax even more, where in a normal game it is exactly at the point that you are losing that you have to stop relaxing.

You might imagine that watching two people attempting to out-relax each other would be as interesting as watching paint dry, but on the contrary it was fascinating, and it attracted large crowds (who all of course also wanted to try it).

In this issue one of the designers of this game describes how they went about designing it, what they expected from the game and how it developed, and meditates on what their methods imply for research, and on the difficulties of describing interactive experiences with words.

Sit down, relax, and enjoy!

Goaaal! (Oops, sorry)

Steven Pemberton

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©2003 ACM  1072-5220/03/0100  $5.00

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