Coordination and Cards

Some days ago, I chatted with a colleague (Gabriel Birke, who writes on  Leben++) about a story telling card game in which the players develop a story based on prompt cards (based on the mechanics of “For the Queen”). He was programming a little web-based version of it. I reviewed his implementation’s usability and it made all sense to me. The interaction was simple and mainly based on clicking cards, either to show new cards or to put them on the discard pile. These actions got send to everyone on the game, so everyone saw the same state of the game.

The configuration of the cards; left is a stack from which a click draws a new card; right of it is a scenario card that stays and right of that is a card which, if clicked signals that you are uncomfortable with how the story is developing.

All participants would, at the same time, use some video chat program, so one could take the cues from the cards and develop the story together. This all made sense, however, there were some problems when trying it out. The problems were less in the usability for a single users but it how the game app did fail to help players to coordinate their actions.

My colleague told me that he found out that “… there were frequent hold-ups because it was unclear if the person was finished and who shall ›click away‹ the current card.” since “The physical act of taking a card, reading it, answering the question on the card, putting the card away is communication about whose turn it currently is, effectively, a ›talking stick‹ and a signal for the next person that it is their turn and they can take a card.” thus, “›simplifying‹ of the card mechanic, i.e. the reduction to exposed cards which you can click away instead of simulating a stack of cards – leads astray”

I was fascinated by this little story. When people write about ethnomethodology and sociomateriality it often feels as if such analysis is only possible in highly alienating academic writing, sometimes with time brought to a halt by having the interactions chopped up in a text-ified representation that is meticulously analyzed. But here was a nice example, readily analyzed by my colleague, showing how a situation can be ordered socially/materially and allow a fun collaboration—or not.