Benefits Of Using Tangible Computer Science Essay

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For quite some time, researchers have provided information to demonstrate that a standout amongst the best ways of learning for kids is by making the action fun and appealing to the child in such a way that there would be a repetitive desire in that child over time. This might advance some of knowledge levels in the area the stated fun action covers. Sony summaries this in their website (, 2012) that "By the year 2000, one in four American homes was estimated to have at least one Sony PlayStation game".

This report examines the important and the benefits of using Tangible user interface (TUI) to develop a gaming environment for children. Additionally, also examines the importance and benefit of using TUI.

Keywords - Collaborative, Multiplayer, Intuitive, Fun, Motivates, Tangible User Interface.

Table of Contents


Human Computer Interaction, as we know has advanced enormously over the years since the appearance of the first modem day machines. Every day, new technologies on how to manipulate one's computer system are released. CLI (Command Line Interface) evolved to GUI (Graphical User Interface), where the user actually sees things he wants to manipulate. And now we have the more recent technology of them, the TUI (Tangible User Interface).

In 1993, a special issue of the communications of the ACM titled "Back to the Real World", argued that both desktop computer and virtual reality estrange humans from their "natural environment". The issue further suggested that rather than forcing users to enter a virtual world, one should augment and enrich the real world with digital functionality. This approach was motivated by the desire to retain the richness and situatedness of physical interactions. Tangible interface emerged as part of this trend.

TUI (Tangible User Interface) is a user interface in which a person interacts with digital information through the physical environment. The initial name was Graspable User Interface. TUI was created to enhance humans' ability to grasp and manipulate objects in the physical world to produce a digital feedback as a response. However, By giving tangible (physical) representation to digital information, tangible user interface makes information directly graspable and manipulable through haptic feedback. (Hiroshi Ishii, 2008).

Recent academic research reveals that children want to use technologies which support their curiosities, their love or repetition and their need for control according to Druin (1999). It is believed that new form of interactive devices can increase children's involvement and willingness to interact with computer systems. In an attempt to further make learning and computer manipulation experience fun and engaging for children, A game prototype called "FLAC ISLAND" was developed with the aim of making game experience fun and collaborative for children.

This report sets out to examine the importance of developing a game with TUI for children, it will further explain how a game prototype called Flac with TUI, and also explain the rationale of the design. In more details, it will carefully explain the concept of the prototype and evaluation methods undertaken to achieve usability in the design amongst players. Additionally, this report will further explain why and how this prototype and evaluation methods were chosen.


The scope of the work given as a course of this project, was to design a game prototype, and evaluate a game for children. Amongst other things, four main requirements were listed. These requirements were to:

Have a tangible user interface (with interaction through reacTIVision-tagged objects)

Be a game - in the sense of having a purpose and some form of challenge ( and possibly competitive element)

Be fun and engaging - users should want to use it and enjoy doing so

Have and educational dimension - users should be able to learn something from the experience


Flac Island is a board based game with rules and challenges aimed at developing children's mind and mental capabilities. The game is targeted for children at the age of 12 years old as numerous research reveals that children at this age learn by grouping colours and using pictures and text side by side (Recognition rather than recall). Flac Island is also aimed at equipping children at this age with the ability to learn how to earn money by planning and making decisions, and also taking risk in other to make more money (Strategy).

The goal of the game is to determine the player with highest money savings at the end of the play, before the start of the game, every player is assigned a certain amount of money. A player who gets bankrupt first during the game play is kicked out of the game. Every player is given the same amount of money at the beginning of the game.


Innovation according to Encarta Dictionaries, is the process of inventing or introducing something new, a new Idea or methods. Flac Island is quite innovative in the sense that, lately, board games like snake and ladders, monopoly, Oligy etc. were invented on an analog board based platform. To achieve innovative skills, they were needs to digitalize our game idea as it is based on monopoly concept, taking into consideration the principles of design and constraint in order to ensure effective usability and user experience.


What is a fun Game?

In an attempt to answer this question, it is important to note that different game user have their own understanding of fun and features of what make them enjoy the games they play. However, Katie salen and Eric Zimmerman describe a fun game to be "One which has more participant actively participating and interacting with the system concurrently in other to experience excitement". (Katie Salen, Eric Zimmerman, 2004).

Taking into consideration what makes a game fun from Katie and Eric, Flac Island was designed to be played by 2 to 4 players concurrently, the game was also designed for multi-user interactivity which means players get to interact with the game collaboratively throughout the period of play. Previous research reveals that more user involvement in a game increases fun engagement. Fun relates more than just the user interface or how user interact with the game, it also relates directly to game play (Malone, 1980, p. 34). It is not surprising that Mayers (1990), in his study of Game Player Aesthetics, found "Challenge" to be, "the most preferred characteristic of a favourite game"(p. 383).

Challenging activities such as puzzle, quiz, optional purchase of properties, rules and conflict resolution between players were carefully incorporated in the prototype. Artificial conflicts like players landing on a spot owned by another player which as stated by the game rules will demand the said player to pay the owner of the property a certain amount of money which in turn will be debited from his account was also integrated into the prototype. Giving children at this age the power and ability to resolve conflict within themselves.

Finally, Children get involved by tossing the dice which give them the participating power to fantasize and feel like they are in reality enjoying them.


Children at the age of 12 knows how to play fair using advance social skills and will be able to manage Books, Card and board games, Jigsaw puzzles etc. (

Flac Island was designed to develop children's mental capabilities by giving them the opportunity to take a strategic decision which in turn will lead to their success or failure in the game play (learning about winning and losing) . Activities like quizzes were also added to the prototype to further enhance child's learning style.

Additionally, Puzzle was also included in the prototype to help children learn how to concentrate and focus. Puzzle also helps the children in developing their mathematical awareness and problem solving skills. Most importantly, enhance a child cognition (reflective cognition) which involve thinking, decision-making etc. this kind of cognition is what leads to new ideas and creativity in children.

Finally, arithmetic and negotiation were considered during the development of the prototype as children at this targeted age will get the opportunity to further enhance their mathematical knowledge as the interaction with the game and also negotiate within players which help them in articulating.


A major advantage of the TUI according to Ishii (2008), is that the tangible representation help to cover the gap between the digital and physical worlds, in other words, it gives a direct form of control mechanisms for digital information. TUI helps in building children's cognition as they attempt to understand the function of the tangible object in the environment with mere intuitive design.

Flac Island was designed to work with tangible objects. Interaction in the gaming environment is done through the use of Fudical ID's (Markers) which is attached to a tangible object. Each physical object represents a digital information and as such, the Objects are designed to depict what it represent in the digital world. As part of the game concept, The dice used in the game is made of tangible object with markers on all sides of the dice, once the dice are tossed, the number the players get is displayed on the screen as digital feedback hereby triggering further actions in the gaming environment. This information is processed through software - reacTIVision which recognize these markers and assign digital values to them.

Another benefit of TUI is its support to multiuser interaction paradigm which allows people to collaborate, communicate, and connect in a social way. This benefit was also taken into consideration during the design of the game prototype. Flac Island is a game that can be played by 2 to 4 players collaboratively hereby creating means for social learning among children.

With TUIs, users don't have to look at the interface, as they do with a GUI, to know what they are doing, which serve as an advantage for many applications. The money and the player token in the game concept were tangible as the player has to engage in moving their pieces around the board. TUI let user affect digital information by manipulating objects. These objects are computationally coupled. TUI also let users leverage their natural ability to manipulate familiar physical objects to work with various systems and data. This makes the activities more intuitive.

Manipulating physical objects is a key component of young children's world and their learning. The educational power of digital technology for children has typically been limited by the fact that users explore and manipulate abstract two dimensional screen-based representations, and not real physical objects. Young Children can't read text-based menu selection or type in their response on a keyboard. Taking advantage of TUI ability to interact with digital information through physical objects, features like menu selection were made possible by the use of physical objects which was intuitively designed to symbolize what it represent in the digital world (game environment). This however, made manipulation easy or children as they could easily know what each physical object would do in the gaming environment at first sight.


Sharp et al. in their book Interaction Design listed four essential "basic activities" involved in the process of interaction design. These activities are:

Identify needs and establish requirements

Develop alternative designs that meet those requirements

Build interactive version of the designs so that they can be communicated and assessed

Evaluate what is being built throughout the process

These activities are adopted throughtout the project, ad the table bellows explains how it was used.




A. Identify needs and establish requirements

- Received coursework literature

- Identified the key deliverables

- Researched via the internet on game concepts

- Decided on the targeted users

The project deliverables were identified early thus helping in setting focus on what to research and develop

B. Develop alternative designs for (A)

- Drew models using Unified Modelling Language tools like flowcharts, run charts.

- Drafted "what if" scenarios showing possible design outcomes

Design interface was created at the end of this phase, other design constraint like the colour scheme, images, metaphors, etc.. were also chosen.

C. Build interactive versions based on (B)

- Coded the prototype

A working prototype was produced at this phase.

D. Evaluate (C)

- Heuristics

- Cognitive walk-through

- Questionnaires

Expert judgment was used as feedback to further enhance the development of the prototype.


Some design rationale were considered during the design of the prototype due to cognitive limitation in children. Below are the list of possible rationale

Sound : Voice over and sound clips were integrated in the gaming environment to help the children pick up on what there are suppose to do, as the voice prompt serve as instruction hint during the game play.

Animation : Animated images attracts children's attention and was used to capture their attention to important notice during the game play.

Difficulty level : In other to make the game play challenging and engaging, different level of difficulty were integrated into the game




Flac Island was developed on the concept of monopoly which entails players moving round the board in other acquire properties and also make more money. The following object is made tangible in the gaming environment:

The dice to be tossed.

Object for menu manipulation

The money for players

Player Token for movement

Puzzle pieces for solving challenges

Alphabet letters A- D for answering quiz question

The game starts with users selecting the number of players with a dynamic marker (Tangible object). Turning the marker clockwise increases the numbers of players.

After the numbers of player are selected, users are required to enter their player name, this name is used to identify each player throughout the game session. Before the start of the game, every player must have a player batch which serves as identification.

The game is played in a clockwise manner which means all players has to move in one direction. To get a player turn, each player starting from the first player has to show his batch. This concept allows the players to have the same feel as in real life since Identification cards are used to identify humans in the real world. After showing a batch, A green light is displayed under the player indicates the play is ready to toss his or her dice. Once the dice is tossed, the player gets a digital feedback on the number of dice tossed and location where he or she should land.

Most importantly, if a player lands on a spot owned by another player, he/she is obligated to pay the owner of the property a stipulated amount of money and it is automatically deducted from his account. The board has 38 different spots filledd with activities and challenges to keep the players engaging.

The player with the highest money at the end of the game wins the game and in reward, goes home with a trophy.


Various functionality were incorportated into the gaming environment, below are the list of all the functionalities.

Sound : This functionality was used to play sound in the game environment

Timer function : Was used to keep time of the game play

Dynamic markers : Turning specific object clockwise or anti-clockwise in the game environment changes the digital value of the object. For example, to increase numbers of player in the game, by turning th object for player selection clockwise increase the numbers, while anti-clockwise decreases.

Slider : In an attempt to bring fiction into reality, An iphone unlock system was implemented to give the children a feel of normal life activity in the game evnvironment. To start the game, children would have to slide the arrow on game to unlock and load the game.

Score board : Dynamic score board was used throughout the game play, players score were updated automatically as the keep advancing and winning in the game. This variable was decleard with priviledge so it can be accessed any where at different level of the game.

Quize : As part of the learning process, questions and anwers was also incorporated, these questions were dynamically and randomly fetched from the portable database libraries (Mysqlite) which made is possible for players not to get the same questions as the land on the guize spot.

Puzzle : Each piece of the puzzle solved added some point to the player

Charity [donation] : Children were taught how to give by placing a money marker on a spot called community bank to donate for charity; dynamic marker was used in this section to achieve this functionality, which means for players to increase the amount of money to be donated, they have to turn the marker clockwise. Once the amount is chosen, a countdown timer start counting from 4 - 0 then automatically debit the players account.

Pictures :





Is a library used to implememt physics. It was used in the loading page of the game to instruct the children on what to do in other to start the game.


Use to project the game in a fullscreen mode. It allows the game to load on any device with a full screen resolution.


Is a library used in playing sounds, it was used in playing sound instruction in the gaming environment.


Is a portable database system used in storing quize questions and answers. It allows questions to be fetch from the database randomly.


Was used to archieve animation in the gaming environment. Allows easy manipulation of Gifs format images.


Sharp et al defined Evaluation as the process of systematically collecting data that informs us about what it is like for a particular user or group of users to use a product for a particular task in a certain type of environment.

The best thought evaluation method used for evaluating the usability of the prototype was Heuristic Evaluation and Cognitive Walk-through. These was chosen because these methods does not require users presents during the evaluation. User evaluation usually takes too long and often require a lot of expensese.

The prototype was evaluated by three (3) expert with advance knowledge of both interaction design and Heutistic principles; Each of them spending one to two hours passing through the interface while producing list of heuristics violation in the prototype. Nielson's 1994 "Ten Usability Heuristic" principles were used to evaluate the prototype which are:

Visibility of the system : Typically this applies to scores and level of the game to users.

Ben Shneiderman believes that scores do not only inform the players where they stand, it is a form of positive feedback that encourages mastery of the game (Shneiderman, 1992).

Match between the system and the real world : Metaphors used in the design were carefully chosen to ensure it means the same thing users uses in the real world e.g the play button icon.

User control and freedom : According to Norman, If a user feels restricted, they will most likely become fraustrated, and it could cause disinterest in the game (Norman, 1990). Full navigation and control of game play was integrated into the prototype e.g users could quite or end the game at their own time, they can also pause the time during the game play.

Consistency and standard : The game user interface was consistent throught out the design.

Recognition rather than recall : The tangible objects (markers) were intuitively designed, children could easily know what is does in the gaming environment by looking at the object. Users could manipulate the game without much need for game manuals and instruction page.

Flexibility and efficiency of use

Aesthetic and minimalist design

Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors

Help and documentation

After carrying out these evaluation, feedbacks were documented and immediately applied to the prototype.