Ars Electronica Futurelab

The Ars Electronica Futurelab, under the directorship of Horst Hötner, was founded in 1996 as the research and development laboratory of the Ars Electronica Center. Approximately 30 artists, technicians and scientists work in interdisciplinary teams on approaches to solving problems in a wide range of fields. An Artists in Residence program also offers artists the opportunity to take advantage of the lab's infrastructure and know-how in bringing their own ideas to fruition. Futurelab projects range from the implementation of exhibit concepts to complex R&D assignments. The dissolution of the boundaries between artistic, scientific and economic oriented undertakings necessitates dynamic and flexible approaches that are reflected by the organization of the Ars Electronica Futurelab.

Tug of War

The installation is the outcome of an intensive encounter of human-computer interaction with questions having to do with the future of force feedback. The result is a computer-supported version of a tug of war. In the classic variant, the object is to drag an opposing team or player pulling on the other end of a rope across a central line. The installation replaces the opponent with a virtual character whose pulling power and behavior are simulated by a computer system. Tug of War was developed in collaboration with Peter Higgins of Land Design Studio for the turn-of-the-millennium exhibition in the Play Zone of the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, England.
By means of digital video technology, actors placed in an imaginary setting personify a variety of different stereotypes and indicate the level of resistance the virtual opponent is capable of generating. This set-up is an allusion to coin-operated mechanical devices in whose long tradition the installation is properly to be seen. Such apparatuses were first developed in the early 20th century; current versions that challenge all comers to a test of strength at state fairs, for instance, have hardly changed. Their strength scales are labeled with designations ranging from ballerina to Superman that are meant to characterize the strength of the human challenger. The point is to punch, pull or push the device in such a way as to move an indicator (usually on some sort of dial) up the strength-measuring scale until it reaches a designation with which the user can identify.
This familiar concept has been modified and further developed for the Tug of War installation, in which there are 12 different characters, three of which confront each respective human player. Highly divergent types have been cast as the opponents on the various levels, with their ironically overdrawn characterizations calling into question the clichs that are at work. The unexpected sequence of levels featuring the respective figures evokes tension and heightened attention. For example, a user who has just defeated a construction worker is then confronted by a meter maid who proves to be a considerably stronger opponent. In contrast to the way Tug of War's mechanical predecessors functioned, things do not proceed in linear fashion here, and the user has no idea which figure awaits him next, how it looks or how it will ultimately behave. Each level tells a story whose outcome is determined by the user.
The virtual opponents issue threats, dance about, or celebrate triumphantly, and in the case of a defeat may turn out to be rather sore losers. In this way, the interaction with the installation is elevated onto an emotional level, which plays an increasingly important role in the area of human-computer interaction.
The attractiveness of the game is thus not based on a user measuring his own strength; rather, the user gets involved in a story and becomes a part of it through interaction with the medium.

Concept: Peter Higgins (Land Design Studio Ltd.), Joachim Smetschka, Gerfried Stocker Visualization: Joachim Smetschka, Klaus Taschler Software Development: Volker Christian, Christopher Lindinger, Gerald Schröker Sound Design: Manfred Schöler

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