XXV.2 March-April 2018
Page: 68
Digital Citation

Game-inspired architecture and architecture-inspired games

Charlotte Wiberg

back to top 

Let me start with a question: Why should we turn to the gaming industry for understanding the interplay between architecture and interaction design? Well, it's true that interaction design and architecture are increasingly intertwined [1]. So we cannot really turn to only one or the other for answers. Instead, we should turn to an area that has already worked across the physical and the digital, and that has done so successfully for some time. Thus, my turn to the gaming industry.

back to top  Insights


If we review the history of human-computer interaction (HCI), we can see how over the past few decades, games have been a driving force for, and model of, how HCI has developed [2]. One example is game simulators in the military. One could also argue that the driving motivation for buying a personal computer (PC) was initially games, and that in mobile computing, games clearly showed the way forward while pushing for the development of better devices. Later, online gaming forced the telecom industry and Internet operators to boost bandwidth through better network solutions. The demand from gamers was, and still is, strong.

Now, with society so digitized, we should once again turn to games to understand how our surroundings are being developed. In this article, I highlight a shift—from how digital games have taken form as architectonical elements to express themselves in a room, to a situation where digital games are now completely integrated and embedded in the architecture of the city.

back to top  From Architecture-Driven to Interaction-Driven Design

Initially, when games were designed, architecture inspired the game design. For instance, arcade rooms were full of games where the console itself was inseparable from the game design. For instance, a car game was played in a car-like space—with wheel, stick, brake, and even a car seat. In the "shoot 'em up" games, the controller was shaped like a gun. In short, the architecture was built into the games, and, accordingly, the physical manifestation of the game reflected the game design.

But then came the shift to the situation we have today. Computer games are now built into the architecture. Recently, when I was flying across the Atlantic, the plane included inflight gaming in every seat—inseparable from the architecture. It is even called inflight gaming, evidence of a vocabulary forming around this new way of integrating interactive technologies into architecture. Further, one could argue that the so-called pervasive games, such as Pokémon GO, are inseparable from their physical context, as the city—including parks, buildings, and streets—is also the game environment. Even further, and from an interaction design point of view, the games are becoming natural aspects of today's architecture, as gaming is more and more a natural component of people's lives. Today most people don't find it odd to see someone chasing Pokémon through a park with their mobile phone. Only 10 years ago, that scenario would have been widely considered extreme.

back to top  Looking Back in Order to Move Forward

Interactive digital games started to spread during the 1970s. Initially they were found in arcade rooms, where they were tightly coupled with the machines displaying them. For example, as described earlier, car games included controls similar to those of actual cars. The interaction was very physical. In many cases the interaction modality imitated the real activity mimicked in the game. The screen was only for displaying the result of the interaction—the rest can be seen as an interplay between a person and a physical manifestation of the game [3,4,5]

After some years, computer games moved out of arcades and into people's homes. The first step of this development was game consoles, such as Atari 2600, with computer-like hardware that only played games. Interaction was via game controllers and the graphics were very simple. This was followed by games distributed for PCs. Here, interaction was mainly via keyboard and the game play was rudimentary. However, gamers were excited by these developments, as they could now play games in the comfort of their homes.

ins02.gif Example of portable game console (Donkey Kong II).

As the technology was further refined and developed, so were the game consoles. Eventually they became smaller, cheaper, and also available in mobile formats. For instance, the Nintendo Donkey Kong mobile game was a hit. It initially had only a monochrome screen but in the mid 1980s was enhanced to include a multicolor screen.

Other platforms included the Game Boy, which provided the ability to play different games on the same console. This was a real differentiator for mobile gaming [4].

In the mid 1990s, the home gaming console market became huge, with popular systems such as Nintendo 64 and the GameCube. Not only were companies benefiting from selling the consoles themselves, but also from selling the games separately—a great aftermarket. It was also during this period that the game industry divided into hardware/platform providers, such as Nintendo, and game companies, such as Electronic Arts.

Initially, when games were designed, architecture inspired the game design.

The next trend in gaming was online gaming on a global scale with the expansion of the Internet. Until then, games had been played as one- or two-player or locally distributed. With the growth of the Internet, players around the world battled each other online. The social aspect was a completely new layer on the gaming cake.

While consoles developed and became much more like standard computers, computers in general also moved toward game consoles and game interaction during this period. The design language was in many cases similar—probably because the market asked for platforms and hardware that would support both a high-level gaming experience and more work-related activities.

Starting in 2007, when the first iPhone was launched, the gaming industry changed again. Smartphones were a natural platform for launching games. New interaction techniques and game ideas were designed, with the App Store and Google Play acting as huge distribution platforms for downloadable content. Huge technical opportunities were opening up.

ins03.gif Gaming in Pokémon GO.
ins04.gif Example of inflight gaming.

Throughout this evolving story of games, cross-media productions emerged [6]. Examples here include The Matrix, released in 1999. Initially the film was the main story and platform, but as the film turned into a trilogy, it also included one-player games on different consoles, as well as online versions of games based on the Matrix theme. Interestingly the stories complemented each other—the experience of one game plot was richer if you also played other games, since many details of the story and the characters were revealed on only one of the platforms. That incentivized people to experience the content on all platforms—they wanted to get the full story.

Games have now found their way almost everywhere. For instance, in addition to the inflight gaming example mentioned earlier, they can be found in car entertainment systems, in waiting areas, and even (once again) in childrens' play areas at gallerias and malls, closing the circle with the arcade rooms of the 1980s.

back to top  Learning From The Past—And Moving Forward!

What can we learn from the history of computer games? Well, let us say that it is more likely that interaction will be embedded with existing architecture than the other way around. We will most likely see elegant integrations of interactive technologies built into existing buildings and cities rather than futuristic, yet-to-be-built smart homes or smart cities. We will always have a history; I advocate that we acknowledge where we are coming from in order to see where we are going. Gaming can teach us a few things here, as it has already been through various stages of exploring the relationship between physical and digital design.

Future smart buildings or smart cities can never escape their own history. Existing buildings and cities are their own heritage, and it is likely that we need to consider the careful integration of interactive technologies and novel interaction design in some existing architecture rather than seek opportunities for adjusting the architecture only in relation to the latest interactive technology. This interplay might be the most important lesson to learn from the history of computer games. Finally, and what we can be sure of: Game elements as well as game-inspired design will increasingly be included in our environments, buildings, and cities. These things have become such a natural part of how we interact—with our surrounding context and with each other—so games are, and will continue to be, inseparable from the architecture and a continuous driving force moving forward.

back to top  References

1. Wiberg, M. Interaction design meets architectural thinking, Interactions 22, 2 (Mar.–Apr. 2015), 60–63.

2. Pagulayan, R., Keeker, K., Wixon, D., Romero, R., and Fuller, T. User-centered design in games. In The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook: Fundamentals, Evolving Techniques and Emerging Applications. J.A. Jacko and A. Sears, eds. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ, 2003, 883–905.

3. Newman, J. Videogames. Routledge. Taylor & Francis Group. London and New York, 2004.

4. Provenzo, E.F. Video Kids:Making Sense of Nintendo. Harvard Univ. Press. Cambridge, MA/London, England, 1991.

5. Salen, K. and Zimmerman, E. Rules of Play. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA/London, England, 2004.

6. Wiberg, C., Jegers, K., and Bodén, J. Crossmedia interaction design. CHI'07 Workshop. HCI and New Media Arts: Technology and Evaluation. April 28 – May 3, San Jose, CA, USA, 2007.

back to top  Author

Charlotte Wiberg is a full professor in informatics at Umeå University, Sweden. Her research interests include user experience design, with a specific focus on games and the development of methods for game studies. Her work is also concerned with game studies—including theoretical and methodological work—in close collaboration with the gaming industry.

back to top 

©2018 ACM  1072-5520/18/03  $15.00

Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. To copy otherwise, to republish, to post on servers or to redistribute to lists, requires prior specific permission and/or a fee.

The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2018 ACM, Inc.

Post Comment

No Comments Found