Experimenting with PGDI: Doors — Part 1 of 3

I started TAing last week. It’s a terrifying experience when I have to get up and talk, but sometimes it can lead to some strange ideas. You see, the professor I’m assisting (Brenda Laurel by the way) had the students read my own essay that compares genre to PGDI as a tool for gaining literacy in games. That piece wasn’t on my blog yet, probably because I wanted to go and revise it once before I put it up here, but the students read it (at least it seemed so), and wow did they have questions. One of the more interesting comments that came up was this idea of using game-centric methods on other pieces of interactive media. Popular game genres are pretty bad at that, since they describe a very specific type of medium. The thematic genres we’ve borrowed from cinema and literature (sci-fi, romance, etc.) are better at it, by far, but then we’re already using them to do that.

PGDI, though, might be more flexible. Since PGDI started as a games studies method, it would be interesting to be able to apply it to other kinds of media. It is particularly helpful when looking at something like Coffee: A Misunderstanding by Squinky Kiai, an interactive piece that introduces elements of plays and improvisation to the gamespace. So, I got to thinking, what kind of interactive media could I test PGDI on? Well, it happens that the students are reading about affordances for class, as well, and for affordances, we have a piece by Don Norman from The Design of Everyday Things. In the reading, Norman opens by talking about doors that have a problem with perceived affordances (e.g., doors that push from the left, where the left and right are indistinguishable). Since I have doors on the brain, I came up with the idea, why not try to apply PGDI to describe a door? Sure, most people don’t see doors as media, but they are interactive and they are things that are designed. I think that PGDI is robust enough to wander out into other areas of art and design. Let’s see how it holds up. This will be a piece in three parts. The first part will deal with the Social and Participation components. The second part will examine the Mastery and Immersion components. Finally, the third part will tackle the Customization and Progression components. The format for this will be similar to my treatment of Catherine through PGDI (Part 1, Part 2).

Outside of Front DoorInside of Front Door

Here is my front door. It’s pretty bare bones, but it is a little bit more than your average door. It opens and closes. It’s purpose is to separate the outside from the inside, creating a boundary through which one can access the other. It has a few features. On the outside, the door is green. It has a clip below the eyelet. It has a handle that must be pushed or pulled to turn and open the door. The door is gated with a card reader and number pad, barring access to a person who does not have a properly keyed card, and who does not know the code for that card. I have also included the doorbell as part of the door. Some may argue that this is including a second piece of interactive design. Argue all you want, I’m throwing it in.

On the inside of the door, you can see a peephole for seeing who is on the other side, another of those handle knobs, and a sign. The sign reads “Warning – For door security, deadbolt must be thrown.” You might note that there is no way to throw a deadbolt. The door doesn’t have one.

Now let’s talk PGDI. Follow that link to find out more about the model. I’m not going to go into it here, so that I can save space. PGDI contains 26 components over six categories. Some of these categories are going to take some interpretation to work on doors, but I’m not going to try doing something like interpreting a cat as a dog. If something isn’t working, then I’ll say so. What follows is a quick rundown of how I describe my front door, using PGDI.


Community – Low
I doubt many people are really talking about and forming a community about my front door. Sure, some doors have communities formed around them and people talk about them a lot. Just not my door. There might be one or two people talking about my door, and I’m doing it right now, so it’s hard to say that it has no community component, but the component is barely there, at best.
Competition – Medium
This is an interesting component to consider for a door. I mean, sure two people could be in competition to use the door. Either two people might be trying to fight to walk through at the same time, or one person could try to be closing a door while the other person is trying to open the door. A person might be trying to prevent the other person from opening the door by interfering with access to the lock from the outside. Considering the door’s purpose as a barrier, one can imagine situations where a competition might arise. Other than that aspect, the door doesn’t inherently suggest competition. I’m putting competition at medium as two or more people can compete for using the door in their own way, but I’m not putting it higher because of the limited number of ways this can happen.
Cooperation – Medium
How do people cooperate using a door? Well, one person can open the door for another person. It can be held open and people can be allowed entry. Multiple people might try to open the door at the same time, though for this door, that is unneeded. Culturally, we tend to use doors more for cooperation than competition. That is, we more often open a door for someone than we try to keep it closed to that person. At least, that’s true for this door. This particular door can be left open so that another person doesn’t need to unlock it. This also allows people to use it who normally couldn’t (i.e., people who do not have the ability to unlock the door). I’m marking cooperation as medium as this particular door doesn’t get a lot of traffic, but when outsiders approach the door and want to gain entry, we, on the inside, are usually cooperative about it.
Multiplayer – Low
My front door is a bit different from other front doors in that we rarely get any visitors. The door is mostly used by an individual wanting to leave or gain entry to the home. Many other doors, such as the front office door, might have a higher multiplayer content. Multiple people may be using it at the same time, although for different purposes. It does bear mentioning that four different people regularly use the door for its intended purpose. We just don’t tend to use the door all at the same time.


Agency – High
Well, agency. Does the user feel like their actions matter when using the door. From the inside there is no doubt. Turn the handle to open the door. Instant feedback for use. The sign on the inside of the door does suggest something impossible, though, and a person trying to follow the instructions on the sign will feel like they didn’t accomplish much. From the outside of the door, things get a little more mired. It is usually clear why the door does not open, due to the massive lock on the door. The lock has lit feedback about the progress of unlocking the door. There are even two methods for using it. The first time I interfaced with it, though, I wasn’t quite sure how it worked. Plus, the lock sometimes becomes unresponsive if it hasn’t been used for a while. This is usually obvious and just requires the card to be reinserted, but you can’t tell until you interact with it. The doorbell is very loud. You can hear it from the outside immediately after pushing it, and so there’s no doubt that your action worked and was meaningful. Overall, I give this door a high degree of agency. It functions clearly as a door, and when it refuses, it’s easy to tell why.
Challenge – Low
I don’t think that my front door is very difficult to open, even with the large lock. Neither is it difficult to use for people not trying to unlock it. The doorbell works well, and knocking is effective. The sign on the door does present an impossible task, which might be challenging if it weren’t immediately obvious that there is nothing that can be done. The door also swings easily, and does not resist once opened. The only challenge involved might be in operating the lock, and this is still a simple procedure that requires a card and a number keyed to that card. Either way, repeated attempts at using the door does not make me feel like the door is just beyond my ability to overcome the obstacles it presents. In fact, it becomes easier to do so, instead.
Power – Medium
Power can be a tricky subject when it comes to non-games. In using the door, how do I feel like I am stronger? What power do I have in using the door. In fact, I do have a power, and a fairly strong one at that. I have the ability to control whether or not my home is accessible from the outside. This may not seem like such a big deal, but imagine not having a door there. If a wall is there, then I am powerless to exit and cannot allow a person in. This is particularly true as I’m on the second floor here. Second, if the door is replaced with nothing at all, I am powerless to bar entry to my home. Anyone or anything could come inside. I am very happy for the power the door gives me. The problem, then, is whether or not I feel stronger than something when using the door. The answer is not really. It doesn’t come to mind for my door, since my door does not invite threats to approach it. Certainly, if I was put in danger of something outside, the use of the door would make me feel stronger than the danger. That said, I’m giving this door the middle ground. The power it grants is pretty strong, but I don’t often have to think about it, and so I don’t get that sense of strength when I use it normally.
Reward – High
I mentioned above that the door’s lock provides good feedback as to why the door doesn’t open. This feedback falls more towards the reward component than the agency component, but agency does care about if the player feels acknowledged. Reward measures the helpfulness of that feedback and the intrinsic value of completing objectives in the use of something. In the case of this door, the feedback is very strong, but cultural. The lock gives me a green light when I’ve entered in a correct code, and creates a very audible noise when I remove my card, indicating that the door is ready for me. Using the doorbell is loud and has value to it. These values are fairly small, and normally I would give the door just a medium rating here. I will note, though, that in addition to feedback, there is the intrinsic value of using the door. As one of the owners of the door, using the door to come inside is a very rewarding experience. It doles out the feelings of accomplishment or futility that goes along with whatever I was doing outside of my home. Additionally, going outside from the inside crosses a threshold whereby we enter into the plans of the trip outside, and the expectations. A door is a very metaphorical object, after all. Even for people who do not live here, the front door’s use can have many values attached to it, not limited to the expectation of what will meet you on the other side. Being allowed entry can be exciting or relaxing. Leaving can be sorrowful or purposeful. We’ll see some of this come up in Emotion, next time, but these feelings are immediate feedback from the use of the door. The door doesn’t provide them, per se, but the transition between inside and outside calls them up and that is a direct result of using the door itself. Hence, the strong rating for reward.

So there it is. I feel like the Social and Participation components are about in the middle in terms of the difficulty of trying to apply them to a door. Customization is probably the hardest, while Mastery is probably the easiest. Hopefully these two categories will show that it is indeed possible to try and apply PGDI to some form of other interactive media than games. That said, I don’t think we’ll be in for very many surprises with this door. We’ll see. Next up is Mastery and Immersion, an easy and a tough category for doors.


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