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Chasing the Buzz; Exploring Sense Deprivation in Bodily Play


Abstract and Figures

Physical games involving blindfolded players have a timeless appeal and the restricting of perceptual channels can be insightful for players and observers regarding embodied experience. Wireless, mobile and wearable technologies open up further opportunities for designing bodily play experiences through exploiting sensory deprivation. To better understand the potential for movement-based games in which vision and/or audio is restricted, we iteratively developed and play-tested a series of three to four player chasing games. Based on our tests, we suggest the importance of ambiguity, proximity, and freedom of movement to support designing sensory deprivation games.
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Chasing The Buzz; Exploring Sense
Deprivation In Bodily Play
Physical games involving blindfolded players have a
timeless appeal and the restricting of perceptual
channels can be insightful for players and observers
regarding embodied experience. Wireless, mobile and
wearable technologies open up further opportunities for
designing bodily play experiences through exploiting
sensory deprivation. To b etter understand the potential
for movement-based games in which vision and/or
audio is restricted, we iteratively developed and play-
tested a series of three to four player chasing games.
Based on our tests, we suggest the importance of
ambiguity, proximity, and freedom of movement to
support de signing sensory deprivation games.
Author Keywords
Sense deprivation; embodied interaction; bodily play;
CSS Concepts
Bodily games are rich multi-sensory experiences. For
instance, in the classic game, tag, we see the other
players when we are chasing them, we hear the other
players, we touch them when we ‘tag’ them and if it is
fun, we hear their la ughter. Bodily games may also rely
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TEI '19, March 1720, 2019, Tempe, AZ, USA
© 2019 Copyright is held by the owner/author(s).
ACM ISBN 978-1-4503-6196-5/19/03.
Katrine Løck Worm
Department of Design and
Uni of Southern Denmark
Kolding, 6000, Denmark
Christina Fyh n Nielsen
Department of Design and
University of Southern Denmark
Kolding, 6000, Denmark
Robb Mitchell
Department of Design and
University of Southern Denmark
Kolding, 6000, Denmark
Figure 1 – Two participants testing
game version 4
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TEI '19, March 17–20, 2019, Tempe, AZ, USA
on the deprivation of senses, as is the case with Marco
Polo. Besides challenging those who are part of the
game, sensory deprivation games have also been used
to provide unconventional challenges. In traditional
schoolyard games, such as soccer and dodgeball, it is
not uncommon for the fastest player to dominate the
game. Sensory deprivation is one way to even out the
skills of the different players.
In this paper, we will take you through our iterative
process of exploring how sight deprivation affects
movement and how we designed a sense deprivation
game based on those explorations. We emphasize the
aspect of balancing player skills - meaning
‘handicapping’ all players through sensory deprivation
to create a different play experience. The paper is
based on a three-week project in which we conducted
several exploration and testing phases, each with the
goal of getting new insights into how sense deprivation
affects players and how to improve gameplay. We end
this paper with three design considerations rooted in
our work and tested in our latest version of the game.
Related Works
How engag ed players are in a competitive experience
rely heavily on the skill level of that individual player
and the skill levels of the other players. According to
Altimira et al. [1], the level of engagement is influenced
by whether the right amount of challenge is provided.
Balancing physical games can be seen in classical
games like golf, where players have a ‘handicap’ or by
imposing levelling rules, such as leading players should
throw with their non-dominant arm. Levelling player
skills, whether by putting up obstacles for leading
players or enhancing less dominant players, has been
done through restricting or manipulating the senses.
Using sensory substitution, Winoto & Tang [15] created
a wearable mobile game that substituted vision for
hearing to engage visually impaired players. Olickel et
al. [11] on the other hand, created a game for all
players, which substituted sight for haptic feedback
through a wearable device.
A different path is sense deprivation, and a common
sense to deprive players of is sight. Finnegan et al. [3]
created the competitive, multiplayer, team-based game
‘Reindeer & W olves’, where blindfolded wolves must
catch seeing reindeer. The deprivation of sight can also
be used as a factor in one-on-one competitive games,
as was the case with ‘Boy and Wolf’ by Tiab et al. [13],
where a blindfolded boy must catch a seeing wolf
(another player) with a loudspeaker on their head.
Sensory deprivation has also been used in collaborative
games like Audio Arc [8]. In Audio Arc players must, in
pairs, find each other based on a unique sound emitted
from their phones, while blindfolded. Lade and
Duckworth [8] found that players experienced surpri se,
especially mentioning their “heightened experience of
acoustic awareness and the challenge of spatial
orientation whilst blindfolded”.
Common for the aforementioned three games, is that
they are played with at least one blindfolded player.
This begs the question of what is gained from playing
sense deprivation games? According to Vongsathorn et
al. [14] removing “the visual sense (e.g. through
shutting your eyes) is a well-established practice in
somatics for heightening senses and focusing on an
internal awareness of body movement that can
encourage contemplation and reflection”. Lade and
Duckworth [8] also found that disabling players’ visual
senses resulted in responses that were more embodied,
In addition to the research
team, 8 participants were
recruited. 5 of the se were
master students within
Design and 3 master students
within Psychology. The age of
the participants ranged from
24 to 32. The participants in
each group were acquainted.
The participants were
informally recruited via the
university’s master programs.
Figure 2 - First exploration and setup
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rather than inhibited, which might not be what we
would normally expect when a sense is deprived of us.
Sense deprivation allows for levelling of player abilities,
by putting players in a new situation, which their body
and senses are not used to, forcing them to think, act
and move in new ways [13].
Relating to bodily interactions in games, we see people
pushing, pulling, and strategically moving [9]. This can
be conditioned by the type of bodily interplay intended
in the game.
This project follows the concept of research through
design [16]. By actively reframing and iterating on the
notion of sense deprivation games, we focused on
designing the right thing based on knowledge and
insights gained along the way. Our methodology
included semi-structured group interview s [12], several
tests with different participants and test analysis. For
each semi-structured interview, an interview guide was
created, and the session was video recorded. The
testing was conducted in an approximately 60 m2 room
with tables and chairs moved to the walls to ensure as
much space as possible and to lower the risk of
blindfolded participants bumping into furniture and
hurting themselves.
The tests were conducted using a Wizard of Oz method
[2]. For version 3 and 4 (Gameplay Testing 1.0 and
2.0) (Figure 4 & 7), a ball that emits sound when it is
held by a player was created. Through using LittleBits
(electronic, magnetic building blocks) to create circuits,
which have the option of operating wirelessly, it was
possible for the observer and scorekeeper to manually
press a button, which would enable and disable the
sound as needed.
All testing sessions were video recorded, and all videos
were analyzed, first with a focus on general patterns of
movement and reactions between the different
participants. Then the videos were analyzed with
specific emphasis on the soundtrack and exclamations
made throughout the games by participants, to get a
different perspective on the footage and the
experiences of the participants. This analysis and the
results from the interviews were compared to gain a
deeper insight into what worked and what did not.
Our project had four phases, which we call 1)
Exploration, 2) Early Gameplay Testing, 3) Gameplay
Testing 1.0 and 4) Gameplay Testing 2.0.
To comprehend the importance of senses in gameplay,
the research team (P1, P2, P3) - explored the
possibilities and difficulties of being deprived of sight
(Figure 2). The research team switched roles between
being blindfolded or seeing in tasks involving locating
the other participants solely based on different sounds.
For each test round, the sounds varied, e.g. clapping or
vocalizing. The aim was to understand whether the
blindfolded participant would change tactics of locating
the other participants.
As the initial explorations focused mainly on sight
deprivation and working alone, the second step was to
deprive more than one sense and to work in teams
(Figure 3). In the Early Gameplay Testing, the
participants tried abbreviated versions of the same
exercises as was done in Exploration. Afterwards, the
participants worked in teams of two (P4 & P5 + P6 &
P7), P4 and P6 were blindfolded, while P5 and P7 were
both deprived of their sight and hearing. So,
participants were now deprived of two perceptual
Figure 4 - Gameplay Testing 1.0 and
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channels but similar to the first test, there we no rules
concerning how players should locate ea ch other. This
was done with the aim of gaining insights into how the
senses and the deprivation of senses influence
participants in play.
The key findings from Exploration and Early Gameplay
Testing showed patterns and tendencies. Firstly, the
longer a participant was ‘blind’, the more they started
to rely on their other senses and became more daring.
Secondly, it quickly became clear that proximity is a
factor. Participants seemed to know when they were
close to someone, prompting more hand movements as
well as laughter when close to or bumping into others.
Thirdly, locating strategies seemed to emerge, as the
participants who were locating the others positioned
themselves in zombielikeposes with arms
outstretched in front of them (see Figure 5). Though
participants afterwards said they enjoyed parts of the
tests and laughed, the video analysis showed that
participants seemed nervous, uncomfortable and less
inclined to engage, when deprived of two senses rather
than just one. Therefore, subsequent versions only
deprived participants of one sense, sight.
We base our subsequent gameplays on the two initial
versions and tendencies discovered so far. The initial
explorations give us a point of comparison concerning
the number of participants along with familiarity
amongst the participants and how this might affect the
Gameplay Testing 1.0
Participants P8, P9, P10 & P11 tested a gameplay i n
which all participants were blindfolded and had to get
hold of a ball making sounds (Figure 6). Once a
participant got the ball, they had to keep it for the
longest time possible before other players ‘stole’ the
Similar to the Early Gameplay Testing, it became
evident that players tend to position themselves in a
zombielikepose, with both arms outstretched in front
of their body in the approximate height of their
shoulders. Little to no talking occurred once the game
had begun, which might have contributed to players
listening for the position of the ball. After playing the
game for a while, one player employed a strategy of
‘tricking’ the other players by using the sound emitted
by the ball to confuse the other players of its
whereabouts. By holding the ball in one hand,
extending his arm away from his body, he could quickly
switch the position of the sound source and thus
confuse his opponents. He succeeded in occupying the
ball for a significantly longer time than his fellow
players had done.
Compared to the first two versions (Exploration and
Early Gameplay Testing), the players’ skills became
more equal, at least in the beginning, when all players
were blindfolded. After playing the game for a while,
player strategies began to emerge, allowing one player
to keep the ball for an extended period of time. There
were no patterns of a dominant player, who were
keener to win, due to his/her athletic skills. But
participants could gain an edge by using his/her other
senses in strategic ways, for instance by listening to
footsteps. Therefore, we chose to continue with all
players being blindfolded in the following version.
Gameplay Testing 2.0
The latest game version has participants chasing the
Buzz. The game is intended for three to six player s. All
players are blindfolded, and the aim is to catch a ball
Figure 6 - Movement strategy
Figure 5 - Participants chasing
each other in a 'zombielike' pose
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(the Buzz) and keep it for 15 seconds without being
caught by t he other players. Whe n one player achieves
this three times, the player wins. The ball makes a
constant beep, and when a player is caught, it buzzes,
which tells the player to pass the ball. When the ball is
passed, it is quiet for five seconds allowing the player
with the ball to move away from the other players, who
are standing still. Time and score were kept by the
Findings from Gameplay Testing 2.0 showed three main
themes: Ambiguity in rules, importance of proximity
and concern of safety. The research team gave
instructions as above on how the gameplay was to be
carried out. Noticeable, the instructions did not include
how the players should handle, catch, or handover the
ball, which allowed players to create their own
strategies on how to play. This ensured that players
had freedom to (somewhat) adjust the game to how
they wanted to play. As the players had to ‘steal’ the
ball from each other, the gameplay involved a lot of
proximity. This resulted in both laughing as players
bumped into one another, and a diverse use of other
senses than sight, as they had to rely on their hearing
and proprioception (which is the posture and the
movement of parts of the body [4]). Lastly, safety was
key to the players. They had to be sure that running
around blindfolded, would not injure them. Therefore,
safe surroundings, meaning nothing to fall over or run
into, was crucial for the players to be comfortable
playing the game.
This paper presents different iterations of a sense
deprivation game and shows opportunities of levelling
out players’ skills in a competitive game by depriving
them of one sense. We found that levelling out all
players’ skills by removing the same sense was key, as
it prohibited one player to have advantages over the
Though proximity proved to be an important part of
sensory deprivation games, we had concerns whether
the participants would overstep each other’s personal
boundaries as it would be mixed gender groups, and
the risk of touching inappropriately was high due to the
blindfolding. To our surprise it did not concern the
participants. In Gameplay Testing 2.0, which only
involved women, the personal boundaries were
mentioned, and one participant commented that it was
nice that the test group only consisted of ‘girls’. The
issue had not been raised earlier in the mixed gender
test groups. This could be an implication, but further
testing will be necessary to assess whether it is an
issue or not.
In Gameplay Testing 1.0 & 2.0, all participants had the
same disadvantage, not being able to see, to av oid
players having different advantages and whenever a
new player caught the ball, a head start was given.
Once the ball had been caught, it would go silent for
five seconds, w hile the player could move around, and
the other players had to remain still. However, the
other participants would still listen to the footsteps of
the moving player with the ball, because two
participants chose to wear shoes. Thereby players could
rather quickly position other players. A similar strategy
also appears in The Early Gameplay Testing. This
implication allows for further development either by
having the game played in socks and on a smooth floor
or by actively using it as a game factor.
Figure 8 - Game ball 'the Buzz'
with LittleBits' Wireless
Transmitter, Wireless Receiver,
Button, Bu zzer and Vibration Motor
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Designing for Sight Deprivation
Taking the insights gained in the Exploration version,
the Early Gameplay Testing version and Gameplay
Testing 1.0 & 2.0 into consideration, three design
considerations have been formulated to aid designers
wanting to create sight deprivation games. The
considerations are as follows.
Ambiguity: Utilizing ambiguity as a resource for
designing, grants the designers the opportunity to
investigate different possibilities and implications of the
game without giving the answer [6]. Though Gaver
proposed three type of ambiguity; ambiguity of
information, ambiguity of context and ambiguity of
relationship [6], we simply conveyed the use of
ambiguity of information in our gameplay. Giving
ambiguous information on how to play, supported the
play by enabling the participant to apply the strategy
they found useful, and not being dictated by strict rules
of how to play. This is supported by the following
statement on ambiguity from Isbister and Mueller [7]
players enjoy surfing uncertainty and trying to figure
out optimal strategies in a somewhat messy system.
Strategies, such as dodging, deceptions, and
manipulation in different ways occurred during the
games (Figure 9). This allowed participants to go
beyond what was intended for the game, for instance,
by allowing players to ‘trick’ other players. Permitting
ambiguity in gameplay can enable new ways of
engagement in games [5].
Involve proximity: It was clear, that whenever
participants came in contact with or close proximity to
other players, laughter and exclamations increased
significantly. In all versions, laughter was prompted by
players crashing into one another, touching one
another and when someone was almost caught. As
discovered through our tests, incorporating proximity
into the game, as a game factor, increased player
engagement. Similar to Mueller et al. [10], we propose
the conscious decision of applying proximity in sense
deprivation games, as it facilitates new experiences of
Freedom to move: Participants are more likely to move
freely, when they know the possibility of hitting or
falling over things is minimal. Designers should ensure
that participants are in a safe space when playing the
game. This also allows participants the opportunity to
move independently throughout the game.
As the design considerations are based on a tag-like
game, the extent to which the considerations can be
applied in a broader context, for instance in relation to
other game s, require further work and testing.
In this paper, we have presented our iterative process
through which different versions of a sight deprivation
game was explored. Based on this, we contribute with
three design considerations for developing sense
deprivation games. These are: allow ambiguity, involve
proximity and give players the freedom to move. The
next steps would be to use the design considerations in
the creation of a new sense deprivation game to verify
the validity of the suggestions. Furthermore, it would
be interesting to test the latest gameplay version with
different groups of players as well as test with players
who are disabled, for instance, blind.
We are grateful for the participants’ involvement in the
project and would to thank our re search department for
their support.
Figure 9 - P10 dodging the other
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