Patrick Love is a PhD Student in Rhetoric and Composition at Purdue University. In addition to researching Augmented Reality, Information Virality, and Online Education, he teaches Technical and Business writing, mentors and supports composition instructors with technology concerns, and does technical writing for the NSF Science of Information Center based out of Purdue. He’s tired sometimes but happy to be doing what he loves.
Much has been made of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the Nintendo Switch’s standout launch title. Much less has been made of 1-2-Switch, the ‘other’ launch title for Nintendo’s Switch. Like Wii Sports and (to a lesser extent) Nintendoland, 1-2-Switch offers a tech-demo-as-party-game experience: a simple set of mini games communicating the relationship between software and hardware Nintendo has created for its new console. What is different about 1-2-Switch is that the affordances of these mini games transcend the virtual realm more than perhaps any console up to this point, making the advances of the Switch more subtle, though no less important. The Nintendo Switch advances more of a ubiquitous computing (UbiComp), or calm computing, paradigm wherein computing happens in the background without making intrusive new demands of the user, taking the Switch into an Augmented Reality (AR) paradigm (McCullough 2004, p117, Schmalsteig and Hollerer 2016, loc919).
Instead of assuming players have certain skills and traits, 1-2-Switch builds on ones they already have and combines them with the physical places they play the game. Through changing the interface from the screen to people and places, and making The Switch portable, 1-2-Switch transforms with the people and places who play it. The way 1-2-Switch lets people orient themselves to the games inside lets them co-construct the gameplay as well. While gaming is always social and embedded in specific places, 1-2-Switch’s proto-ubiquitous gaming makes those relationships and places part of the interface and experience in different ways. Like Breath of the Wild, 1-2-Switch takes a ‘one problem, many solutions’ approach to minigame-based party play. These two months playing 1-2-Switch with my friends and colleagues showed me how the game and the hardware can enable games that engage reality as compellingly as virtuality.
1-2-Switch is a party game played between 2 people in the same place at the same time. There are team modes and scoring options, but those are frameworks to the games themselves. 1-2-Switch makes use of sound, sensors, and haptics in the detachable JoyCons to play each game. Whereas traditional video games use video for the primary feedback and interaction, 1-2-Switch directs players to look at each other for almost every game and supplies sound cues to prompt player action.
The sensors and haptic engines packed into the tiny JoyCons provide surprisingly precise feedback and measurement of player input. Two great examples of these properties are the games “Ball Count” and “Quick Draw.” “Ball Count” treats the JoyCon as a small box with an unknown number of small marbles inside. Through tilting the JoyCon around, the goal is to guess how many marbles are inside the box; haptics recreate the sensation of the marbles rolling around inside the box and clacking together. “Quick Draw,” on the other hand, recreates a spaghetti-western standoff, measuring how quickly the players raise their JoyCons from a resting vertical position at their sides to a horizontal firing position and how quickly they press the trigger, with the sensors inside measuring the winner down to microseconds. The Wii started out using infrared beacons to measure WiiMote movement, and now the Switch JoyCons use self-directed relational positioning in real time.
In my 2 months of testing these games, I played with a variety of people informally and formally. Table 1 shows the progression of people I played with and their general reactions from left to right. Based on my experiences with the first three, which were spontaneous and unstructured, I developed a more structured play module with my last participant, T. I want to structure mine and my participants’ findings and reactions around three points: interface, portability of experience and hardware, and the way 1-2-Switch draws on experiences and combines them in play.
|Participant||Relationship to Gaming||Reaction to 1-2-Switch|
|B – Fiancé||Non-gamer, rare gamer||Fun, funny to play, good party game|
|M – Friend and Colleague||Lapsed Gamer||Interesting and fun|
|J – Brother||Long-time gamer, computer science and philosophy education||Fascinated by interface shift|
|T – Friend and Colleague||Long-time gamer, games studies scholar||Systematic testing; see videos|
If an interface is where players (or users) get their primary feedback rendered and see the consequences of their input, 1-2-Switch makes a big change (Jerald 2016, loc1521). The first thing I and my play partners noticed was how much time we spent looking at each other while playing. Almost all the mini games in 1-2-Switch direct you to look at your opponent while playing, and it’s not just a gimmick. 1-2-Switch puts very little feedback information on the screen during gameplay, so the sounds and haptics are the primary ways 1-2-Switch communicates with players. The visual interface, for most of the gameplay, is your opponent or the area around you both. “Quick Draw,” for example, simulates the stare-down as much as the quick-draw itself. It’s silly fun. My fiancé, friends, and I shared many stifled giggles during “Quick Draw,” but the sound design and timing creates pure silence and stillness in which to study each other’s tremors and tics, and the challenge of the game is just as much calming yourself before the call to fire as pulling the trigger.
This isn’t unique to “Quick Draw.” In taking focus off the screen, you shift to seeing your environment while you play. “Table Tennis,” for instance, started as one of my most dreaded and became one of my favorite games because of how it interacts with the place you play it. In contrast to any number of tennis or ping pong simulators before it (and even “Wii Tennis,” for that matter, which simulates swinging racquets with wiimotes), “Table Tennis” uses no visual metaphor or avatars to simulate volleying the ball. Instead, the game directs players to stand facing each other and listen for the bounces of the ball and swing accordingly.
At first, I was rubbish at this game, but as I gave up the need to “see” a ball at all times and instead visualized a table between us and swung my “paddle” after hearing the bounce, I became more successful. Instead of tracking the ball to gauge my inputs (swings), I became more aware of the room and my opponent’s movements. Developing rhythm was a big part of my turn toward success. The shift from screen to “place” is the first big innovation of 1-2-Switch and JoyCon hardware, something Nintendo and other developers can recapture and build on now that this proof of concept exists. It’s neat on its own, but it’s more impressive in tandem with the next innovation of the Switch…
It’s hard to isolate specific instances of importance for this point because it’s a wrapper for the way playing with the Switch functions in general. Basically, it goes like this: the Switch is portable–it has a battery and a 6 inch screen with a kickstand, and the JoyCons clip in the sides so you can attach them and play like a Game Boy or detach them and play from a flat surface without a lot of setup.
Because 1-2-Switch interacts with the environment and players primarily, the Switch transforms places into gameworlds through playing instead of to play; your office or a park is transformed by the Switch without materially changing it. This is significant because most consoles require you to transform places before you can play them. A traditional console needs a TV, stable continuous power, and sometimes always-on internet to work properly, so it makes material demands of you to use it. Even VR, which transforms the place you are “in” as a player requires designing a space for it. You can, by contrast, take the Switch anywhere and the scenarios inside 1-2-Switch morph to fit the place you play because they are about how players inhabit those environments instead of creating new virtual places to inhabit.
Switching Skills and Memory
The last big point I want to make is about the way 1-2-Switch draws on and encourages combining skills to learn new ways to play instead of purely engaging either memories or refining specific skills. Whereas, for example, Call of Duty teaches move/strafe+freelook design language to emulate a warzone, or even Wii Sports taps the (more common) memory of bowling or tennis but replaces the actions with avatars and (relatively) arbitrary motion inputs, 1-2-Switch doesn’t just reward prior skill OR adaptation to the tasks it presents; it rewards both.
For example, T and I played two of the mini games unrelatedly, but connected by our prior experiences: “Zen” and “Boxing Gym.” “Zen” asks you to strike a pose and hold it, testing who can balance longer, while “Boxing Gym” sees who can execute various air punches faster and simulates a sparring match afterward. T generally came out on top in “Zen” while I won more rounds of “Boxing Gym.” In both cases, T remarked on his history of Tae Kwon Do training as part of his play. “Zen” measures the microtremors in the hand holding the JoyCon during the pose; the stiller the player can stay, the longer they outlast the opponent. T’s Tae Kwon Do experiences, he reported, trained him to keep his body still and steady.
In “Boxing Gym,” T held his JoyCon in his back hand, while I held mine in my front hand. Again, T referenced his Tae Kwon Do training: striking with the hand held back allows you to turn your hips with the strike and get more power behind it. Without knowing more about how the Switch tracks and registers motion through its sensor, we assume my strikes executed quicker because I was snapping with the hand T used to guard. I don’t have a background in combat sports, so I can’t say either of us were doing it “right,” but the way different memories cued us to act and play the game felt significant.
I also want to come back to “Table Tennis” here. Playing without a “ball” or “table” catalyzed recall of previous ping pong/tennis experiences, but also developed my understanding of them. My default mode of playing these sports, as a novice, is to track the ball visually to catch return volleys. With no ball to track, I noticed the playing field more: I focused on the area between us where the “table” would have been and payed more attention to the sounds and haptics associated with “hits” or “bounces.” I may be fooling myself here, but I felt like I understood the skills of playing table tennis better after playing “Table Tennis” in 1-2-Switch. This is significant (though perhaps silly), because instead of training me on a narrow skillset mostly applicable to the virtual task of the game (as even Wii Sports does), I felt I was developing skills that would be portable to another task while helping me understand why I was bad at ping pong in the past.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Overall, I’d say 1-2-Switch and the Switch fit a ubiquitous computing (UbiComp) paradigm more than any console or game has before. While UbiComp is commonly associated with Internet of Things (IoT) devices today, it has larger meaning than that relationship. UbiComp is background computing that makes small bits of information understandable as part of another seamless experience or action–it enhances something the user already does instead of asking them to learn a new command or design language to accomplish a new task. As such, augmented reality (AR) is the ideal user interface for UbiComp (Schmalsteig and Hollerer 2016, loc921). AR is, at the current moment, most recognizable in apps that mix real and virtual elements on portable smartphone screens using the camera. AR of this kind still relies on purposeful links between virtual information and the material world and explicit user action to trigger them, so while it may be AR, it’s not quite UbiComp. Through their ability to interact with places and connect places and play to virtual information through intuitive human actions, the Switch and 1-2-Switch achieve AR that hasn’t had wide exposure yet.
With these tools, developers can make games that enhance things people already do, as well as survey how different people accomplish the same tasks. Games following 1-2-Switch’s example shouldn’t treat users as versions of an ideal person, and should place a player on a spectrum of skills, helping them determine and develop accommodations that are appropriate for them through setting goals that don’t have to be accomplished in specific ways. The relationship between UbiComp and ableness should be that the virtual experience builds on how players interact with places they are in through their natural ableness instead of always relying on specific, assumed traits.
Compare 1-2-Switch to playing Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty, typical video games by today’s standards, which connect specific actions to specific inputs and teach players to assemble ideal combinations of them. That paradigm, while it doesn’t explicitly invoke embodiment, assumes a certain ableism or previous experience of the player and specific skills to cultivate: they can hold a controller, they can dexterously operate it, they can notice and react to minute threats. 1-2-Switch engages in trait and experiential diagnosis and provides opportunities to put those existing traits and experiences into action in new ways.
Portability is a big part of this experience and the opportunities developers have with the Switch. The sensors and haptics of the Switch create AR links between the physical actions of the players and the virtual information of the gameworld, but making that experience portable to multiple places, changing the visual and audio feedback for the users, takes a drastically different approach to transforming locations and players than even premium VR. The AR in 1-2-Switch is not just an intermediary device activating explicit links between real and virtual, it is AR gaming that identifies experiences from diverse origins and combines them through play instead of predicating play on one or two specific things. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, from another perspective, has been rightly lauded for its revolutionary one-problem-many-solutions gameplay that makes the virtual world your sandbox, and 1-2-Switch joins it in recreating that kind of experience in the real world through a surprising Augmented Reality take on Ubiquitous Gaming.
1-2-Switch. (2017). Nintendo
Jerald, Jason. (2016). The VR Book: Human-Centered Design for Virtual Reality [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
McCullough, Malcolm. (2004). Digital Ground: Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing Combridge, MA: MIT Press
Schmalstieg, Dieter, and Hollerer, Tobias. (2016). Augmented Reality: Principles and Practice (Usability) Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley. [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com