Something to do while you're doing something

Work continues on It is as if you were doing work. Over the last passage I made a slightly dispiriting discovery, again concerning something of a conflict with the ‘ground truth’ of the project, but then also think I have a solution for the problem.

The issue I discovered is that on implementing an actual stream of dialog box-based tasks for the user to complete, it’s actually pretty stressful. It quickly harks back to the dynamics of Let There Be Smite!, where you’re getting completely overwhelmed by dialog boxes and are much more focused on getting rid of them that on any sensation of effectiveness and competence.

The obvious solution to that problem is simply to slow the flow of dialog boxes down until it’s fairly trivial to deal with them one by one and thus feel that sense of “there!” each time you get one done. The problem with that, though, is that then the dialog boxes are coming slowly enough that there’s only one or two on the screen at a time, which looks quite bare aesthetically.

In fact this gets back to the nature of dialog boxes themselves as interface elements: they’re almost always used as momentary interactions rather than sustained interactions. This is contradictory to the fundamental objective of the game being to simulate continuous, effective, work. That’s simply not what dialog boxes are for, so they’re a somewhat ill-suited tool, even though they look great.

So my planned solution is, sensibly (and probably belatedly), to return to this idea of work and to think about how dialog boxes are contextualised in work - that is, you’re usually doing something else when they pop up. They interrupt another interaction, you deal with them, and then you return to the initial interaction. And that initial interaction is often/generally the actual work you’re doing.

The plan is, therefore, to include more ‘longitudinal’ tasks in the interface, like writing a document or doing data entry, that then serve as the basic texture against which the dialog boxes can appear and diversify your experience a bit. As such there will be three levels of interface operating at once:

  • the desktop (with a couple of icons on it) serves as a well-known background that aesthetically signifies ‘work’ and also allows for some user choice in terms of interaction
  • the core work tasks(s) are documents that the user is filling out over time and signify larger blogs of work that you’re actually doing long term
  • the dialogs pop up randomly over time as a way to create a distraction and thus that multi-modal feeling of working on a computer

Those three levels seem like they ought to work together well. That said I also need to actually implement the longer-term work interaction to make sure that it fits in and solves the problem of dialog-anxiety/dialog-scarcity. So it goes.

19 June 2017
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