An Interactive Design Approach to Play through Collaboration with Living Media
Advising Faculty: Mirela Alistar PhD
Medium: Living Computing Interface, Escape Room Installation
Nurturing Light is an escape room where a singular player navigates a pitch-black puzzle environment, while solely depending on dinoflagellates (bioluminescent algae) for visual information and navigation. The escape room is segmented into three puzzles to be solved sequentially. We designed the game mechanics around the unique characteristics of the algae (e.g., bioluminescence triggered by vibration, limited glow endurance), as well as consideration for their health and limitations (e.g., oxygen and light intake for vitality). All three puzzles require the player to interact with the algae through physical movement, inducing oxygen flow to the algae.
The game is designed such that each puzzle is playful in nature, being music and/or rhythm based. Thus, Nurturing Light is an interactive experience that elicits emotional nurture and comfort for the player, from the algae, in an otherwise uncomfortable, pitch-dark environment. At the same time, the player provides vital nurture and resources for the algae during play. With this, we establish a reciprocally beneficial collaboration between player and living media—an experience that we also hope will help the player better understand the survival needs of the living organisms.
Utilizing living media (i.e., made of live organisms) within computing interfaces is a novel approach to interaction design that opens an array of possibilities for play. However, not considering the well-being of the organisms can lead to insensitive use and harm toward them by both designer and player. We explore an alternative approach to designing with living media through Nurturing Light, an escape room with bioluminescent algae embedded in the space and interaction. Here, we implement living media into a computing interface and explore a post-anthropocentric, or more-than-human centered lens on the game design process, mitigating harm toward the algae. We evaluated our work with an informal playtest, focusing on player engagement, vitality of the living media, and the designer’s understanding and care of them. Along with the finalized escape room, future work will include tools to inspire other researchers to work with living media through this more considerate approach.