While human interactions with machines, such as robots, computers and other devices, are becoming commonplace in people’s lives, especially since the widespread uptake of mobile devices including smartphones, human–machine relations are still often seen as at best problematic. At worst, perpetual interaction with devices ‘is linked to depression, accidents and even death’ (Whillans 2018). Anxiety surrounding the impact of machines on human health, relationships and society has a long history in popular culture (Duchaney 2015; Peaty 2018). The time that people spend interacting with machines, especially when this is framed as a form of play, is a source of discomfort. It has been suggested that people need to attend more closely to the importance of face-to-face human–human conversation, setting aside machines, including social robots and smart device screens, to do so (Turkle 2011; Turkle 2015). Public discussions of human–machine interaction consistently reveal concern about the future impact of these encounters, because ‘as machines are made to look and act like us and to insinuate themselves deeply into our lives, they may change how loving or friendly or kind we are—not just in our direct interactions with the machines in question, but in our interactions with one another’ (Christakis 2019). The fear that communicating with and via machines has already replaced and ultimately ‘killed’ face-to-face human interaction is widespread in media discourse on the topic (Morris 2015; Goman 2018; Chan 2019). This paper considers two specific examples of human–machine communication: human interactions with video games and human-robot interactions. While these forms of communication might initially be perceived as quite different, we observe many useful synergies and points of overlap. Significantly, both of these examples are regarded by some as potentially damaging in one way or another to human individuals and human societies more broadly. In this paper we aim to move beyond fear-based analysis to consider the benefits, joys, and contributions offered by these interactions, specifically in the context of playfulness.
Working through an analysis of the characteristics that constitute ‘play’ in relation to video games and interactions with robots makes it possible to position time spent playing as valuable in itself, without always needing to identify outcomes traditionally regarded as productive (although practical effects, such as increased familiarity and dexterity with a computer, device or robotic interface can result). In this paper, much of what is valuable in play is argued to develop from an embodied process of communication, through which both humans and machines encounter and respond to one other, in ways often shaped by and shaping stories about them and their interactions, to enable dynamic and flexible meanings and understandings to emerge. Although such close interactions between humans and machines can be theorized as ‘cyborg’ or ‘hybrid’, this paper argues that thinking of these relations as ‘assemblages’ offers a more productive way to understand the flexibility of drawing together disparate humans and machines in a particular context of play, whether relating to games or improvised music performance. The paper considers how interactions with video games and robots offer ways for people to learn more about themselves, the environment and others; breaking down the boundary of the self in the process through interactions that are not only enjoyable and entertaining, but also have the potential to become collaborations, supported by human–machine communication that coordinates joint action.
Fictional depictions of robots often divide them using a simple dichotomy of good or bad. ‘Good’ robots are safe and dependable, acting as benevolent servants and friends, such as the droids R2D2 and C-3P0 in
Alongside the good robots, bad and dangerous robots, such as those in
In somewhat similar ways to robots, video games also have an image problem, ‘the alleged dehumanizing potentials of “too much” gaming, often mobilizing adjacent psychologic concerns around addiction and desensitization’ (Taylor & Elam 2018: 246). Part of the reason for this type of response to video games is that, as is the case for robots, people have a limited understanding of how they work, their variety of forms, and what they can help humans achieve. The breadth of experiences and interactions that games and robots make possible are not fully understood or discussed in public forums, beyond niche scholarship and publications dedicated to games or to analyses of human–computer or human–robot interaction. Even among players themselves, the immense range of video games is such that no single person can play them all. As a result, many people question the role video games (or at least the video games they don’t play) can or should hold in society, and are intimidated by them.
In addition, one game can represent a commitment of numerous hours, weeks or months of play. While game-players might regard this as time well spent, in an increasingly time-poor society, adults investing significant time playing can also be regarded suspiciously. Just as some robots, most often those designed as companions or for entertainment, are seen as a waste of time, gamers are often asked what they are achieving through their engagement with video games. Time spent with machines for anything other than obviously productive purposes, in particular for adults, can be regarded as wasteful because it detracts from opportunities for work, social development and human bonding.
Coming to the defence of robots or video games often involves making the case that interacting with them is beneficial in a practical, economic sense. For instance, a
Writing before the advent of digital technologies, the mainstream adoption of video games and the mass availability of robots, French sociologist Roger Caillois identifies six core characteristics of play, arguing it is: free, separate, uncertain, unproductive, governed by rules and involves make-believe (1961). The characteristics Caillois pinpoints are particularly relevant to this paper, because they are open enough to be applied to the ways people play with video games and with robots, while raising interesting questions. They can also be integrated with the framework this paper adopts to analyse the human–machine communication that takes place during video game play and in interactions with robots, which focuses on three elements:
Caillois (1961) describes play as free, something which people are not forced or obliged to do. People are rarely forced or obliged to play a video game. The choice to play
Encounters between human and machine are what bring
These first two encounters are required for the game to begin, and therefore the player is guided to complete these tasks, but after this the play is relatively free. You can choose to interact with more flowers and other game elements, such as windmills, or can simply explore the game space.
The environment in the first level of
The sense of freedom, separation and uncertainty that Caillois identifies as key characteristics of play, drawn out in the discussion of
All games have a trajectory of sorts, whether it is presented in a manner akin to linear narrative or not. We start in one situation and move towards something else through exploration and discovery. ‘These things pull us in’, notes video game scholar Jesper Juul: ‘Video games are like stories, like music, like singing a song: you want to finish the song on the final note’ (2010: 4). When it comes to storytelling, games offer a unique opportunity to express and generate meaningful encounters via compelling human–machine interactions. Henry Jenkins famously argued that ‘game designers don’t simply tell stories; they design worlds and sculpt spaces’ (2004: 121). These spaces are embedded with potential encounters that enable the player to unravel the logic, rules, and possibilities of the game, which operates as an (at times oblique) storytelling partner. Interpreting this ‘narrative architecture’ is one of the key pleasures of video game play as it unfolds through ongoing interactions between player and machine (2004: 118).
People’s experience of
If players read the preview on
While the introductory video and App Store text frame
The smartphone, tablet and console interface for
Within the game itself, the idea of rules is less a feature. As discussed above, while playing
As an example of spatial play,
In games … it is our encounter with transforming geography that provides the basis for a particular type of spatial pleasure. Rather than being related to plot points, character identification or emergent story lines associated with narrative pleasure, spatial pleasure is grounded in immersive aesthetics, maps, tours, modes of navigation and geometric landscapes (2004: 54).
Such environments offer new ways of encountering others and spaces, expanding and complicating concepts of self. To play
Although the simplicity of the game’s controls might have been designed to make the game easily accessible to many players, one of this paper’s authors found the motion sickness invoked by the game meant they could only play for a few seconds at a time. The immersive nature of the dipping and swirling dance of motion in
The game has no explicitly defined goals, although playing through all of its levels does work towards an end point of lighting up the dark city. In many ways, engagement with this game would seem to be an archetypal example of Caillois’ definition of play as unproductive (1961). Yet, this game could be regarded as having a number of outcomes for players. Through the dance of play, whatever interface is being used, the player learns to interact with their computer or device in ways that may be new to them, or that hone existing skills.
Robots and video games are closer bedfellows than you might think. In fact, the last fifty years has seen ‘a synergistic evolution of robotic and video game–like programming environments’ (Lahey et al. 2008). The design of some human–robot interfaces are inspired by video games (McLurkin et al. 2006), while virtual environments created to simulate human–robot communication also make use of video game technologies. ‘Modern computer games share much in common with modern mobile robot simulators’, argues one robotics team that explains it uses ‘computer games technology in three areas of [their] simulator: 3D graphics, physics simulation, and networking’ (Faust et al. 2006). The convergence is not only technological but thematic and physical, extending into more immersive and playful experiences of human–machine communication. Virtual Reality (VR) games are being designed for an array of affordable devices including the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, and Windows Mixed Reality headset. As Lahey, Burleson, Jensen, Freed and Lu highlight, the increasingly physical nature of video games, combined with the reducing cost of social robots, are resulting in significant developments, as ‘concurrent advances are creating new synergies for the advancement of video games and novel human–robot interactions (HRI) through play and learning experiences’ (Lahey et al. 2008). First-person VR games such as
Tim Dant argues that ‘the form of social being that results from the collaboration of human and machine has attracted the term “cyborg”’, but ‘the idea of the cyborg tends to fix and reify’ the human–machine relation (2004: 62), the same being true of the term ‘hybrid’. Cyborgs and hybrids, being permanent combinations, are not good models for human–machine relations, whether they develop as people play video games (discussed above), or when they interact with robots (see below). Instead, in a similar move to Dant who is writing about driver–car relations, it may be better to think of the human–machine relations discussed in this paper as ‘assemblages’ (a term that draws on the work of Deleuze and Guattari), since the humans and machines involved are not only separable, but also can be ‘endlessly re-formed, or re-assembled’ from different components (2004: 62). In these relations, human and machine components do not merge and combine into a single entity, losing their own individual characters and identities; but rather, they mesh, becoming engaged such that they fit with one another and work together in harmony.
In the context of video game play, Taylor and Elam explain that ‘getting good at games involves an intimate choreography between system (input, mechanics, hardware) and player’, involving not only the automation of, for example, ‘muscle memory’ and ‘the direction of attention’, but also the drawing together of ‘human and non-human forces’ to form ‘an
In contrast, for human–robot interactions it is more likely the onus will be on the machine to become humanlike. For example, Cynthia Breazeal, the creator of one of the first social or ‘sociable’ robots, Kismet, states that interacting with such a robot should be ‘like interacting with another person’, a trait supported by creating robots that are ‘socially intelligent in a humanlike way’ (2002: 1). However, just as Elam and Taylor are not interested in ‘ascribing machinic qualities to human players’, but rather argue that assessments of expert players of this kind are only possible when ‘organic and technical components act in seamless concert’ to result in ‘hyper-efficient gameplay’ (2018: 245), this paper also suggests that robots need not be entirely humanlike in order to support effective human–robot interactions. In contrast to Elam and Taylor the argument here is that human–machine interactions that are playful, interesting and enjoyable to experience are valuable in themselves without needing to be ‘hyper-efficient’. Having begun to argue this already in relation to
The second case study analyses people’s interactions with autonomous robot musicians. The focus is mainly on Shimon, the marimba-playing robot, which is not directly under human control, sensing and responding to human musicians for itself. The sense of play in this second example is rather different from that discussed in relation to
While playing music might seem to be less about freedom and more about adherence to a score (often one that essentially provides a very strict set of rules), Shimon has been designed to play improvisational jazz alongside human musicians in an ensemble, while Haile takes part in improvised drumming performances. Not only can people choose whether to play with these robots or not, but the musical form that results is free-flowing, emerging from the interaction between humans and the robots. At times, play with Shimon and Haile does use some standard forms of jazz performance, such as call-and-response where musicians play in turn, one in response to the other, but the exact course much of the performance takes is not precisely planned or programmed, with the exception of a concluding section where all the musicians, humans and robot, play in unison to round things off. Caillois’ suggestion that play is free can therefore be seen in human interactions with these robots (1961). Alongside this idea of free play though, music as a form does incorporate overarching rules of rhythm (so players are in time with one another) and key (to keep the music on track melodically), so this, as well as call-and-response and other specific patterns used in jazz performance, is in line with the idea of governing rules also being essential to the course of play (Caillois 1961).
Neither Shimon nor Haile use a voice interface and, while both communicate through the music played, Shimon in particular has been developed to use nonverbal communication. Shimon communicates with musicians and audiences through gaze-direction and body movements, as well as the music itself. These modes of nonverbal communication are a feature of all music ensembles, including those that consist only of human performers. Although Shimon does have some bodily characteristics that can be compared with that of a human, such as arms, a neck and ‘socially expressive head’ (Hoffman & Weinberg 2010: 3099), this robot is still overtly non-humanlike (see
Shimon’s body is very closely integrated with its marimba. Robot and instrument appear inseparable and are always encountered together by people in a way that might emphasize the robot’s non-humanness. In addition, unlike humans who often hold four mallets, two in each of their hands, Shimon has four arms each controlling a pair of mallets, making eight in total (Hoffman & Weinberg 2010: 3098–3099). This allows it to play the marimba in a uniquely nonhuman way that is designed to demonstrate accomplished ‘robotic musicianship’ (Hoffman & Weinberg 2010: 3098). Although Shimon’s appearance is machinelike, its head and neck are constructed to allow ‘a unique organic movement’ (Hoffman & Weinberg 2010: 3099). The robot’s head has a single video-camera eye with a shutter that opens and closes to help ‘convey emotional state and liveliness’ throughout a performance (Hoffman & Weinberg 2010: 3099). In Caillois’ terms, playing music with Shimon (and even being in an audience watching a performance with Shimon) involves an element of ‘make-believe’ (1961). The robot is not alive in anything like the same sense as a human musician, and yet its body movements can be interpreted as lively and attentive when it is taking an active role in a music ensemble.
People’s initial encounter with Shimon is therefore with a machinelike robot that is clearly different from them, but with behaviours that nonetheless support a level of familiarity and understanding when engaged in playing music. Even as people are brought into proximity with the robot to play ‘face to face’ (Levinas 1969), the separation between human and non-human musician remains clear, as does the experience of playing with a robot as opposed to another person.
Before working with robots, Weinberg experimented with pushing his musical ability by developing software to generate music computationally, but he realized software that improvises was lacking something (PBA30 2015). He argues that developing robots to play acoustic instruments—which produce a rich, emotional and expressive sound that is difficult to create computationally—is more challenging and satisfying (PBA30 2015). Although Shimon is encountered physically as fully integrated with the marimba it plays, with the player and instrument potentially seen as one entity, Weinberg’s explanation of the decision to create robots situates Shimon as a musician separate from the marimba it plays.
The idea of proximity and separation in relations with Shimon is further emphasized by the way Weinberg says his core idea in creating robotic musicians is to ‘create robots that listen like humans but improvise like machines’ (Weinberg 2015). Shimon listens like a human in order to match ‘the human’s playing style, tempo, and harmony in real time’, but when it responds the robot extends what the human has played to contribute ‘its own musical phrases and ideas’, possible to play with its unique non-humanlike capabilities, to which the human goes on to respond in their turn (Hoffman & Weinberg 2010: 3099). The result is ‘a back-and-forth inspiration between the human and robot’ (Hoffman & Weinberg 2010: 3099), from which an improvised piece of jazz music emerges. When talking, Weinberg’s statements emphasize Shimon’s agency as a robotic musician that does not just ‘come up with its own idea’ of where the music could go next, but must also ‘think about its own body’, consider ‘its own capabilities’ and what it
The success of Weinberg’s idea is evident in comments made by Greg Hendler, one of the musicians who has played with Shimon. Hendler explains that in many ways the robot reacts as you might expect a human would (PBA30 2015). Shimon’s behaviour communicates that it ‘can hear what you’re doing’, such that human musicians feel they can ‘bounce’ around musical ideas with the robot (PBA30 2015). However, Hendler also notes that ‘some things are more rigid’, since it is impossible to talk to the robot ‘other than through music or changing the programming’ (PBA30 2015). This experience means that, as encounters with Shimon develop over time, people become aware they are playing with a machine that is humanlike in some ways and non-humanlike in others. In part, as Hendler’s comments suggest, the experience of communicating with this robot as a musician involves an understanding of music as a language, the flow of rhythm, melody and harmony operating as a narrative that both supports and emerges from human–robot interaction. However, embodied communication is also essential in enabling the ensemble to play and perform, a concept this paper analyses in more detail in a later section.
Weinberg explains that people who hear about or see Shimon in action don’t always understand his goal. They ask whether he is ‘evil’, since he is taking ‘the one thing that is so human, music, and even that you are going to bring to robots and make them even better than us’ (PBA30 2015). This means that Weinberg regularly needs to explain that his robots never play by themselves, instead they improvise in their uniquely machine-like ways ‘based on a seed’ provided by a person (PBA30 2015). Rather than being created to replace human musicians, Shimon is designed to inspire humans ‘to play music and think about music in new ways’ (PBA30 2015). For Weinberg, the design and development of robot musicians is a creative outlet; a way to explore new ways to develop and perform music.
People’s responses to Shimon also draw attention to whether research into robotic musicianship can and should be productive or practically useful. A comment below a video of one of Weinberg’s talks (2015) on YouTube encapsulates the problem, noting Weinberg’s projects seem ‘fun’, but immediately questioning the source of funding (and suggesting they want their money back if public funding was used). It can therefore be argued that the concept of play in robotic musicianship does not just relate to the playing of music itself but also to questions raised in relation to the idea of playing with robots without very clear practical goals in mind. In a similar way to play with video games, play with robots, even play that creates music, can be regarded as unproductive, an idea that Caillois (1961) embraces in his conception of play, without judging this lack of productivity to be a waste of time or money. The results of jamming with Shimon are also uncertain, like play is more generally (Caillois 1961), and to some extent whether you regard it as productive or unproductive may well depend, at least in part, on your like or dislike for jazz ensembles that play improvised music.
Other writing about Shimon also suggests that discussion on the difficulty of justifying money spent on research into robotic musicianship is more widespread than in comments on YouTube videos. Bretan and Weinberg reinforce the practical gains to be made from this type of research by suggesting that breakthroughs in ‘timing, anticipation, expression, mechanical dexterity, and social interaction’ that are important when creating a robot musician also ‘have numerous other functions in science’ (2016: 100). In particular, the development of human–robot interaction (HRI) algorithms ‘that enable anticipation or synchronization in a musical context’ is ‘useful for other HRI scenarios where accurate timing is required’ (Bretan & Weinberg 2016: 102). As well as assisting in the development of robots for activities beyond music, they also argue that ‘by building and designing robotic musicians, scholars can better understand the sophisticated interactions between the cognitive and physical processes in human music making’ (Bretan & Weinberg 2016: 102), an idea that is sometimes extended to suggest the use of robots to better understand how humans operate in the world more generally.
Alongside this, Bretan and Weinberg also emphasize the benefits of building a robot to play ‘music that humans could never create by themselves’, inspiring people ‘to explore new and creative musical experiences, invent new genres, expand virtuosity, and bring musical expression and creativity to uncharted domains’ (2016: 102). As might be expected, these potential gains rely on the machinelike nature of robotic musicians, able to use ‘compositional and improvisational algorithms that humans cannot process in timely manner’ as well as allowing designers to explore ‘mechanical sound production capabilities that humans do not possess (from speed to timbre control)’ (Bretan & Weinberg 2016: 102).
Although these ways of justifying work with robot musicians focus on locating productive economic and scientific outcomes for such research, videos of ensembles with Haile and Shimon clearly show how much enjoyment human musicians gain from playing music with these robots. In this paper, we argue that this pleasure is something that should be valued in itself, so in the next section we consider the embodied communication between human and robot where this pleasure and enjoyment in the process of making music together becomes most evident.
As Weinberg explains, most of his experience as a jazz musician is of playing in improvisational groups with other people, able to alter what he does to build on the play of other musicians in real time (Weinberg 2015). This interplay between humans is enabled through the exchange of auditory cues, the music, but also visual cues, body language and gaze direction, something that Weinberg has built into interactions with Shimon. People’s jazz improvisations with this robot are not only enabled by its ability to play the marimba (Hoffman & Weinberg 2011: 233), but also its ability to communicate ‘gesturally’ (Hoffman & Ju 2014: 98). In particular, Shimon’s head ‘bobs’ to signal its ‘internal beat’, a movement that helps the ensemble’s timing. Shimon responds to the beat set by the music humans contribute, but can also decide to change the tempo, indicating this by a change in its head movement as well as the music it plays. Shimon’s body also allows it to turn to the marimba while taking the lead and focusing on its own play, turning towards a person ‘to signal that it expects the musician to play next’ or take the lead (Hoffman & Ju 2014: pp. 102–103). Shimon’s musicianship is therefore reliant on a ‘choreography of movements’ in support of its improvisational performances with human musicians (Hoffman and Weinberg 2011: 234).
Alongside the language of the music itself and the frameworks that drive particular jazz improvisations, such as call-and-response, playing in an ensemble with Shimon clearly relies on ‘embodied communication’, a type of communication Donna Haraway suggests ‘is more like a dance than a word’ (2008: 26). As Stuart Shanker and Barbara King note, communication framed by the ‘dance metaphor’ involves ‘co-regulated interactions and the emergence of creative communicative behaviors’ within a ‘dynamic system’ (2002: 605): a system of just the sort encountered in an improvisational music ensemble, where a constant exchange occurs between musicians as they play.
Not only does the idea of embodied communication as a dance fit well with the understanding of playing music with Shimon discussed in this paper, but it also brings to mind Andrew Pickering’s conception of ‘tuning in goal-oriented practice,’ which he argues takes the form of ‘a dance of agency’ (1995: 21). Although Pickering develops this idea in an effort to embed machine agency alongside human agency in scientific practice, as François Cooren notes it seems relevant to ask questions about agency, in particular the agency of non-human others, more broadly (2010: 21). Cooren argues that extending the attribution of agency to non-humans certainly ‘does not force us to abandon the differences between its various forms’ (Cooren, 2010: 4), thus recognising the continued presence of difference between human and non-human agency. Instead, he suggests that ‘it just invites us to pay attention to what is active (
A key aspect to note, which is particularly well illustrated in discussions of video game play as well as when humans play music with Shimon, is that ‘attributing agency to materiality and machine does not amount to dispossessing humans from their strategies, their intentionality, their goal-oriented practices, or even their wit’ (Cooren 2010: 21). Instead, the recognition ‘that action and agency are not human beings’ privileges’ allows analyses to be decentered, to ‘show that people are acted upon as much as they act’ (Cooren, 2010: 22). This draws attention to the importance of all sides of the relation
Videos of human musicians and Shimon interacting demonstrate how embodied communication allows human and musician to mesh into an assemblage, such that they can improvise in response to one another and play closely together. What is also evident is the enjoyment felt in this play, as well as a recognition of the skill and abilities of the robot, of its activity in the world and therefore a sense of its agency. For example, Weinberg points out the moment when Guy Hoffman, playing piano alongside Shimon, looks at the robot as if ‘his kid did something nice’ when it responds particularly well to the dynamics and expression of the piano’s last phrase (2015). Similar responses are also seen when professional darbuka drum players, presumably unused to playing drums with a robot, are pleasantly surprised by Haile’s drumming, smiling and nodding as they appreciate how the robot’s response to their beat builds a new rhythm (Weinberg 2015).
These momentary expressions in video footage are direct responses to the robot’s actions, rather than a part of keeping the ensemble coordinated, and are easy to overlook. However they are reminders of the pure enjoyment that many people gain from playing music with others, whether human or robot, judging time taken for rehearsal and performance as time well spent. They also highlight how surprising these machines can be, giving a sense of how well the machine’s agency can be read by humans in interaction, and how important that machine’s activity can be in shaping the course of the interaction as it develops.
This paper, through its analysis of interactions with a video game and two robotic musicians, helps to break down generic ideas of these types of machine as powerfully frightening and dangerous with the potential to harm human lives. In addition, rather than seeing time spent in interaction with machine-others as lost time, distracting people from more important human–human contact, we argue that human–machine interactions are valuable and rewarding in their own right, in part because of the differences between the humans and machines involved.
Shimon has not been created to replace a human musician, but rather to show the unique possibilities of a robot musician, including the ways that such a machine can spur people on to make novel musical decisions in improvisation. Play and communication with other social robots could be regarded in a similar way, as providing new interaction possibilities, not as replacing human–human interaction and taking time from the pursuit of human social relations. Furthermore, as demonstrated in play with Shimon and Haile above, the pleasure that arises when playing music with robotic musicians, as well as when interacting with social robots more broadly, should also not be ignored. The playing of video games can also provide many positive outcomes for people. Time spent playing need not be time lost to other more productive pursuits; rather, it can enable people to learn new coordination and interface skills. More importantly, playing games allows people to escape for a time from their worries, gaining satisfaction from gameplay, and relaxing, the latter effect likely being particularly evident when playing low-intensity games such as
Although human–machine relations have often been characterized as cyborg or hybrid, we suggest that the idea of human–machine assemblages is more useful, whether those assemblages consist of players, interfaces and games, or humans and robots. There is no need for humans and machines to merge in ways that belie or erase specific differences in order to drive successful interaction. Instead, even as they are brought together, whether in video game play or to play music, humans and machines remain separate from one another, with the potential to bring their own particular attributes to the relation. The human–machine assemblages that emerge in any given spatiotemporal context are unique, with the potential to support joyful boundary-crossing experiences unattainable in other ways. As opposed to emphasising the need for humans to become more machinelike in their abilities (seen in discourse around expertise in video game play) or the need for robots to be humanlike in order to support effective interactions with people (seen in discourse around the creation of social robots), this paper argues that it is the relation that builds between humans and machines, even as their differences are acknowledged and retained, that is valuable.
The paper analysed human interactions with video games and with robots in terms of initial encounters, stories around and within the interactions, and communication as an embodied dance, alongside a broadly defined understanding of play. This supported a consideration of the complexities of people’s interactions with games and with robots. In particular, human–machine interactions involve not only encounters with machines and the worlds they contain or inhabit, but also the stories that are told around them. In addition, human–machine interactions are rarely wholly language based, whether using text or speech; but rather, are embodied. Communication occurs with and through physical interfaces for games and also through co-regulated movement in physical spaces with robots.
Any encounter with a machine that is mediated by playfulness and curiosity is likely to have a very different trajectory from an encounter dominated by fear and anxiety. Taking the idea of freedom more broadly though, playing freely is a source of joy, surprise, amusement, and exhilaration; sensations that engage us and have the potential to bypass fear, prejudice, and other boundaries that might prevent interaction and connection. Play, whether with video games or with robotic musicians, has the potential to broaden our horizons, while an extension of arguments about the value of difference in human–machine interactions may also be a useful dynamic to consider in pursuing joyful human–human encounters across cultural or racial boundaries.
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