Bomb Bot

Looking At Communication In High-Stress Situations

Role:

  • HCI Researcher
  • Game Developer

Tools:

  • Unity Engine
  • Pilot Studies

Abstract

Priorities can vary vastly across situations, especially in collaborative interactions, and this can sometimes lead to conflicts. We built a bomb defusing game that looks at how people prioritize their own tasks in order to accomplish a shared goal. By separating knowledge and operating environments, we observed creative ways in which people establish trust and resolve communication issues. Conducting a brief pilot study, BombBot provides a promising platform for analyzing collaborative communication and behaviours.

Research Problem

For this Collaborative Computing class project, my partner and I investigated situations where collaborators have to work together towards a common goal. Specifically, we looked at how communication occurs under stressful environments that may hinder collaborative efforts. Under such situations, each collaborator might have different priorities that may end up conflicting with one another. To summarize, we addressed the following research questions:

  1. How do people collaborate in stressful environments?
  2. What role do differing priorities have on remote collaboration?

Methodology

In order to address the research problem, we created BombBot, a bomb defusing game that exploits people’s differing priorities through a high-stress situation. One player become the Bomb Expert, who has an overview of the threat level of each bomb, as well as knowledge on how to disarm them. The other player is the BombBot, who seeks out bombs within their proxemic space using mobile gyroscopes and describes their appearance to the Expert.

The aim of the game is for the two players to work together to stay alive against levels of spawning bombs. They are separated such that they can only communicate verbally.

Prototype

The Expert mode has a control panel with a bird’s-eye view of the circular arena where the bombs spawn. Each bomb is indicated by a symbol and the remaining countdown before it explodes. On the right side is the decoding panel where they have to enter in the shape and color of the current bomb to get defuse code. They will have to get this information from the BombBot.

bombbot-expertmode

The BombBot exists in a 3D world where they can rotate the first-person camera view around around using gyroscopic motions. When looking at a bomb directly, they can defuse it by entering in the correct combo given to them by the Expert.

bombbot-mode

Design Decisions

We designed the game such that the information of each bomb is separate between the players. The Expert holds the information to defuse bombs as well as their current threat levels, but only the BombBot can see the actual bomb appearance and act to disarm it. This creates a situation where collaborators have to relay information back and forth. Conflicting priorities may occur as each player can act independently and there is not enough time to communicate every bit of necessary information for full situational awareness.

Observations

From running a short pilot study with 4 pairs of participants, we found some interesting insights on how players communicate in our simulation.

Communication Protocols

Each team seemed to have developed a minimal communication protocol as the game went on, relaying only the essential information and developing a “flow” that works well for them. For example, many teams made use of cardinal directions (that were visible on the game). There were some cases of ambiguity caused by imprecise communication, usually because it was hard to capture a situation precisely using only a few words.

bombbot-study

Power Disparity

We noticed some instances where one of the players ended up taking control of the team and directing their partner to take certain actions. However, how this disparity took place depended on the situation of the game. During relaxed periods, the Expert allowed the BombBot to investigate on their own as risk levels were low. Once the difficulty ramps up and there are multiple bombs on screen, the expert took control as they knew what to prioritize. The best teams were the ones that shifted between leaders effectively and placed a lot of trust in each other.

Discussion

Through this simulation we found that conflict is not as evident as we had assumed. Players had a lot of trust in each other which led to success even when placed in a stressful situation. This could be because of the predictable element of the game since the only change in each level is the difficulty through number of bombs spawning. Players become accustomed to each other and a strong synergy is born. The takeaway from this is that the building of trust and how it is done plays an important factor in preventing conflicting priorities that end up hindering collaboration.