Hacking as a playful strategy for designing the artistic and experimental BCI-VR game: ride your mind

Stober, J 2016, Hacking as a playful strategy for designing the artistic and experimental BCI-VR game: ride your mind, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Media and Communication, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Hacking as a playful strategy for designing the artistic and experimental BCI-VR game: ride your mind
Author(s) Stober, J
Year 2016
Abstract Hacking is an ambiguous term. Over the past 50 years, its meaning has been constantly expanded and refined, filtered through several disciplines from divergent fields of application such as, for example, technology, computers, media, art, design, games and more. First used to describe what can be called a playful strategy employed to (creatively) solve a problem (Levy 1986), in public discourse the term hacking now often connotes a form of illicit behaviour in cyberspace. Today, the common perception is that hackers are rule-breakers and system-intruders who seek to do damage or even commit acts of war. In the 1950s, hackers helped transform computers from military devices into entertainment devices. This context swap (military to entertainment) forms the cradle of digital games and functions as the starting point of my research, which will seek to trace the history of hacking as a design strategy and to discover artistic strategies contained within the act of hacking itself. Hacking is, in fact, directly and historically related to computers and particularly to digital games. The first hacks were algorithmic visualisations and interactive programs, specifically interactive games; Spacewar! (1962) is the most famous example. To understand hacking as a strategy for designing games, I will explore historical and artistic approaches that have been used by hackers. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, hackers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – more specifically, the students of the Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC) – were introduced to MIT’s early digital computing machines. The members of TMRC launched a creative examination of this emerging computing technology; they were equipped with neither instructions nor experience, but they were driven by their goal of using the computer to create “art and beauty” (Levy 1986, p.31). Hackers do not have to be passionate computer users. As Eric S. Raymond (2013) asserts in The Jargon File, anyone can become a hacker. Hacking combines several creative strategies that are related to art, design and other creative disciplines. Like a hacker, I will create my own tools for conducting the proposed research, especially methodological ones. My basic methodological approach is to look at hacking in a chronological and historical way, in order to identify recurring design principles that are representative of hacking understood as a form of design practice. Many other fields intersect with the history of hacking, such as, for example, the history of computers and the history of computer games. Each of these three fields is also linked to fields such as philology, art history, the history of science, telecommunications engineering, economics and communication studies. The result is an as-of-yet undefined field of enquiry. This multi-dimensional context in which hacking exists poses a challenge: it is tempting to take detours in all manner of fascinating thematic and historical directions. To avoid straying from my topic, I will concentrate on the origins of hacking by investigating historical records like Steven Levy’s (1986) and Raymond’s (2013) and by comparing these to the broader context of hacking in the spirit of, for example, Claus Pias (2002b; 2002a; 2013) and Stephan Schwingeler (2012; 2014) and others. I will then synthesise the design elements I have identified and use them to outline a strategy for designing artistic games that will serve as the theoretical backbone for my own work as a media artist and, hopefully, for others’ work as well. I will combine the main strategic elements with an artistic approach into a game, which will constitute the practical element of this research. The outcome is based on the concept of an interactive, hackish neurofeedback real-time virtual-reality game art installation, or in brief, an artistic BCI-VR Game, titled Ride Your Mind (RYM). In the spirit of the early hackers, my research project Ride Your Mind (RYM) playfully explores, examines and hacks the possibilities of an emerging consumer technology, Brain-Computer Interfacing (BCI), from the perspective of a game artist and a game designer who is seeking to potentially create a BCI-VR Game. Initially, Brain-Computer Interfacing (BCI) games (games controlled/influenced by BCI) were used in medical and BCI research to successfully treat diseases such as ADHD (Nijholt et al. 2009, p.88). In the last years, hardware manufacturers such as Emotiv or Neurosky have begun producing consumer BCI technology, and the focus group for BCI has shifted to healthy users (Nijholt et al. 2008; Nijholt et al. 2009; Tan & Nijholt 2010; Loup-Escande et al. 2015; Martišius & Damaševičius 2016; Kerous et al. 2017; Chavarriaga et al. 2017; Vourvopoulos et al. 2017). The concept of RYM (Stober 2013) was developed in 2012 and presented in 2013 at the FROG Games Conference (Mitgutsch et al. 2013). RYM integrates various methods from academic and artistic disciplines, such as experimental and artistic game design, artistic practice, game design research, HCI and BCI research, computer science and neuroscience. Therefore, the approach in this PhD by project is quintessentially transdisciplinary. My work primarily links art and science as creative and artistic research and as an approach of research-through-design (Zimmerman et al. 2007; Zimmerman et al. 2010; Batty & Berry 2015; Gaver 2012; Ylirisku et al. 2016; Barab & Squire 2004; Bateson & Martin 2013; Hjelm 2003; Klein 2010; Balkema & Slager 2004; Mäkelä et al. 2011; Busch 2009; Hellström 2010; Lesage 2009; Ladd 1979; Borgdorff 2007). In summary, the aim of RYM as a research project is to (1) expand traditional digital game design with new knowledge on how to design future BCI games with more sophisticated consumer BCI technology; and (2) to test the possibility of designing an experimental BCI-VR game with existing consumer grade BCI hardware based on hacking as a creative and artistic design strategy. Research with respect to gaming and playful characteristics has previously been done in cognitive sciences and in particular human-centred computing; however, research from a game design point of view is limited. Thus far there are no available guidelines or strategies for BCI game design from a game design research perspective. Apart from its merit as a research-practical exercise in hacking, the work on RYM has revealed current and future possibilities and issues related to consumer BCI technology in the gaming context, and as such contributes knowledge to the chosen field of application. Since there is practically no material on BCI game design, I hope that the insights provided by this game art and game design-centred creative research project will be game-changing for an arising research field within game design research (Gürkök et al. 2015; Loup-Escande et al. 2015; Bos et al. 2010; Nijholt 2016).
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Media and Communication
Subjects Computer Gaming and Animation
Interactive Media
Electronic Media Art
Keyword(s) Hacking
BCI gaming
Virtual reality
Game art
BCI-VR
Ride your mind
Game design
Experimental game design
Media art
BCI game design
Game design research
Game installation
BCI game
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