Analog Interaction

Published April 03, 2018

For this week’s analog interaction exercise, Simon and I decided to replicate a common and emotionally turbulent interaction from schoolyard play: that of waiting to be picked (or not) for teams. We noticed that, at least anecdotally, childhood memories of anticipation, relief and humiliation associated with this interaction remain strong for many people. Choosing teams, creating partnerships and forming relationships remains an important and emotional interaction into adulthood. Indeed, though the process is (hopefully) handled with more civility and tact in a graduate school or professional environment, the interaction remains difficult.

Simon and I took a somewhat cruel approach to this exercise: we created a simple game to induce the anxieties of this interaction in its players. The rules of the game are as follows:

  • an odd number of players face each other in a circle without speaking
  • after a count down from 3, each player says the name of another player in the circle
  • two players who said each other’s names leave the circle
  • last player in the circle loses

We were curious to see how this simple rule structure might lend itself to non-verbal team-building and strategizing. Moreover we were interested in whether there were multiple group dynamics possible within this structure: i.e. could you play this game in a competitive way as well as a cooperative way?

We asked five of our classmates to play test this game. The game was loud. The game was short. And the game was tricky. Two players partnered up very quickly, leaving three players to play each other. At this point, one of the players (player A) made eye contact with another (player B) with (we were told later), the express intention to fake player B out. This player than made eye contact with player C. After the countdown, both B & C choose A, who chose B. While we were expecting explicit team-building before rounds began, we didn’t expect this level of trickery.

Our game lacked the emotional stakes of the ‘source material.’ Externally, it did seem to elicit an emotional response in that our small group of testers seemed enthusiastic and anxious toward the end of the game, but our testers were all ITP students and students who knew each other reasonably well. I am left wondering whether this game might more accurately represent the original interaction – and the associated anxieties – if we got a group of strangers or not-quite-friends to play. Young children on the school yard tend to know one another, however, so there might be some other aspect at play which makes this interaction so frightening as a child.

If I were to explore this type of interaction again, it would be through the lens of how to alleviate these anxieties, rather than how to elicit them. It seems a more interesting and more important area of exploration.