Social closeness is important for health and well-being, but is difficult to maintain over a distance. Games can help connect people by strengthening existing relationships or creating new ones through shared playful experiences. We present the design and evaluation of 'In the Same Boat' (ITSB), a two-player infinite runner designed to foster social closeness in distributed dyads. ITSB leverages the synchronization of both players' input to steer a canoe down a river and avoid obstacles. We created two versions: embodied controls, which use players' physiological signals (breath rate, facial expressions), and standard keyboard controls. Results from a study with 35 dyads indicate that ITSB fostered affiliation, and while embodied controls were less intuitive, people enjoyed them more. Further, photos of the dyads were rated as happier and closer in the embodied condition, indicating the potential of embodied controls to foster social closeness in synchronized play over a distance.
The ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (https://chi2020.acm.org/)