ALT CTRL is a series of work that examines the way we interact with digital systems through the medium of fine art. The series builds on the premise that our relationship to the systems that we use is an fundamental part of who we are and how we understand the world. The focus is on experimental interfaces that attempt to push the boundaries of comfortable interaction by challenging the user with foreign and difficult controls. These interfaces provoke foreign and expressive interactions in hopes of inspiring viewers to question their role as participant.
ALT CTRL questions usability. This series proposes that new systems for interaction can challenge users to learn about themselves and others while engaging and questioning technology.
This series is made up of three pieces: Excitebike, Sympathy for Pacman, and Swap Meet. All three works appropriate an early video game: Excitebike, Pacman and Pro Wrestling or Mike Tyson's Punch-out as the content for system. The controls for each game have been subverted to create new ideas and experiences.
In Excitebike the handheld controller is replaced by a helmet with an embedded microphone. The user must generate sound or noise to move the onscreen character. The gas buttons for Excitebike are triggered by volume. The triggers are scaled to a recent maximum volume reading so that the system adapts to different users. Lane changes are controlled by pitch. Higher pitches move the on screen character up and lower pitches move down.
The helmet provides a semi-private and anonymous space for a user to make noise and express themselves. The piece makes it socially acceptable for users to yell and scream. As this action can be therapeutic and a release, it also makes the user the center of attention and possibly uncomfortable. If a user is uninhibited, loud and willing to experiment with their voice the system responds and gives much more control of the onscreen character. Alternatively, if a user is less engaged it makes controlling the character sluggish and much more difficult.
Sympathy for Pacman
Sympathy for Pacman is an interactive sculpture that seeks to replicate the actions and life of the Pacman character. A television is mounted on a rotating platform which allows the user to turn the onscreen character in the direction the TV is facing. At the same time the user is confronted with an ongoing stream of cheese puffs that they must manage.
Coordinating onscreen actions with those in physical space become mentally difficult to manage. Some of the tension is broken by the physical action required to interact with the system.
Swap Meet is a performance piece that looks to address physicality often lost in digital interfaces. Games from the original Nintendo Entertainment System, Pro Wrestling and Mike Tyson's Punch-out have been appropriated as games that typify sports who in real-life are physical and sweaty, but in game form are far from it. For this interface, the game controller has been taken apart leaving only the naked circuit board. The switches can still be completed, but only with a moist finger. The easiest place to get moisture is a user's mouth.
A cycle from user's mouth to controller an back must be performed. Constant maintenance of moisture must be attained to create a responsive controller. Too little moisture and the switches will not be connected, too much moisture on the controller and switches get stuck on.
This piece addresses both connections to other users of the system and personal connections to the interface.