Bionic Roshambo – Hand Gesture Recognition as an Arcade Gaming Interface

Bionic Roshambo

“He watched the kids stand in front of the machines their bony arms like umbilical cords joining human and machine. He asked the kids questions about what made a good game. Arakawa realized the most successful games had something that player’s couldn’t articulate. The words used to describe them were usually reserved to describe forms of intimacy between people. It was as if the players and the game itself had somehow merged”.

(page 83, ‘Game Over – Nintendo’s battle to dominate videogames’, David Sheff, 1993, Coronet Books).

Bionic Roshambo at GAME: The Future of Play
(The Science Gallery, Dublin, 2012)

Bionic Roshambo was originally built as the practice based element of Kieran Nolan’s MA in Interactive Media thesis at the University of Limerick in 2002. It explored the symbolism of the hand as a link between humans and machines, drawing upon a number of influences, including science fiction notions of human machine hybridity, and custom arcade cabinet design. Essentially, it’s a version of ‘paper, rock, scissors’ that is controlled by hand gestures, providing the user with the sensation that they are truly interfaced and ‘at one’ with the machine.

The project was initially focused more on technology than usability, but over time developed into the tailoring of an interface solution for a specific task, where the technology ended up enabling the idea, rather than overly influencing it. It uses a prototype arcade cabinet featuring a pair of custom-built glove controllers and runs on a standard PC. The controller interface is a hacked PC keyboard, modified to capture the three iconic hand gestures of ‘rock’, ‘paper’ and ‘scissors’. The glove controller cords form a symbolic umbilical link between the game players and the arcade cabinet.

What was achieved was a two player arcade experience that takes a culturally transcending game concept, and translates it to the arcade gaming domain. The end result is an original approach to video gaming, and an engaging experience for users.

Arcade coin-op gaming has been dealt a major blow by the home gaming market, but the spirit lives on. The situated play environment of the games arcade has had a lasting effect on the current generation of digital creatives, influencing cultural movements such as the pixel art and chiptune scenes. Bionic Roshambo is a direct homage to the cyber future foretold by Nintendo’s ill-fated Power Glove, and the rawness of low bitrate audio and graphics.

As a DIY take on the medium of arcade gaming, it intends to open up discussion on the possibilities of human machine interfacing, bespoke gaming peripheral design, and the future of arcade video gaming in public spaces.

Bionic Roshambo at GAME
(The ZIL Culture Centre, Moscow, 2013)