Thursday, 30 May 2013

how videogame concepts can increase pedestrian flow and overall happiness on city streets

Why are there so many frustrated and impatient individuals wandering the streets of Melbourne? 

I don't really understand what winds these people up so much—really, is there any difference between (a) the natural human condition of foraging for berries on a hillside under the midday sun with your loving extended family by your side, and (b) being forced to walk amongst thousands of strangers around a smelly grid-like maze bound by towering grey concrete structures on one side and vehicular traffic hurtling at deadly speeds on the other, with a countless array of signs, lights, smartcard ticketing systems, and persons with guns telling you what to do, the slightest disobedience of which may result in your being sent to a large room where an old man in a robe (and possibly wig) will insist that you hand over your bread-money as punishment for your transgression against the rules of the maze?

I don't see any difference.  Nevertheless, the city overflows with impatience on a daily basis.

One particularly curious behaviour occurs at pedestrian crossings.  It starts fairly innocuously; a man walks up to the edge of the road and presses the button to cross.  He waits around four seconds.  The crossing lights have not changed.  He presses the button again.  But why?

Pedestrian crossing buttons are not like grandmothers.  Grandmothers often require multiple reminders as to your presence and intentions; pedestrian crossing buttons require only one.  Grandmothers wouldn't dare invite gossip by loitering on street corners for extended periods of time while hundreds of strangers touch them up, whereas pedestrian crossing buttons (being made out of metal and firmly fixed to posts) are somewhat more immune from such social and reputational concerns.

Despite this, our subject becomes increasingly annoyed.  He begins to slap the button incessantly, an action made possible by the Australian style of pedestrian crossing buttons.  Unlike overseas models, which generally require the use of an outstretched finger to press the button, Australian crossing buttons primarily consist of a large whackable silver-coloured disc about the size of the Arecibo radio telescope; the perfect size for our large, impetuous, ungainly convict hands.

The slapping soon gets faster and faster.  Occasionally, another passer by, despite seeing the initial person whacking the button, will come up and do the same!  Both individuals are only seconds away from unleashing full-blooded Pete Townshend-esque windmills on the button.  What is going on?  Do these people honestly believe that mashing the crossing button will get them across the road any quicker?

But this got me thinking—what if it did?

Fact: the 26-35 age demographic is in broad agreement that the greatest videogame console of all time is the Nintendo 64—a console that was never complete without a copy of one of the many iterations of Mario Party.

Although many remain convinced that Mario Party was designed to sell extra game controllers rather than entertain, and although Mario Party introduced legions of children to the wonders of repetitive strain injuries (or "Nintendonitis") well before they were eligible to take on a spirit/hand-crushing office job, there is light at the end of the (carpal) tunnel.

The undisputed highlight of the entire Mario Party franchise was "Mecha Madness", a rather cruel mini-game starring a masked character that just so happens to have a propeller surgically implanted in his head and a giant wind-up key protruding from his spine.

We are left to assume that this forced invasive surgery also involved the insertion of a giant metal spring around the backbone of said individual, for the object of the game is to make this character fly as far as possible by furiously beating your controller at an outlandish rate, thus turning the giant spine-key and leading to powered flight.

I wonder: could we perhaps transfer the lessons of Mario Party over to the world of pedestrian traffic control?

I propose a system that would harness and channel the city's unnecessary impatience—and regulate traffic flow by making pedestrians earn their road crossings. 

At regular (non-intersection) pedestrian crossings, pedestrians will not be allowed to cross the road until they mash the crossing button at a rate exceeding a specific intensity, calculated by reference to the amount of vehicular traffic currently passing over the crossing.

At pedestrian crossings located at intersections, a button-mashing challenge will take place every minute between the groups of pedestrians seeking to cross in opposing directions, with the group who mashes the fastest earning the right to cross (or to continue crossing).  As this particular setup may lead to one group of pedestrians continuously dominating the flow of the intersection for quite some time to the detriment of vehicular traffic, motorists would be encouraged to sponsor button-mashing "champions" along their favourite driving routes in order to mash on their behalf.

And did you know that it's possible to generate electricity from button-pressing?  Some rough calculations I made on a copy of "acceptable internet usage at work: an employee's guide" indicate that the electricity generated from my scheme (if deployed city-wide) would provide enough clean energy to power a neon "WARD FULL" sign that would proudly be displayed upon the door of the city's leading repetitive strain injury treatment unit.

1 comment:

  1. walk amongst thousands of strangers around a smelly grid-like maze bound by towering grey concrete structures on one side and vehicular traffic hurtling at deadly speeds on the other, wow accounts