Media Lab Europe
Human Connectedness research group

Breakout for Two

an exertion interface for sports over a distance

Florian 'Floyd' Mueller, Stefan Agamanolis

Traditional sports foster bonding and team spirit through the sharing of a physically taxing competitive activity. This project aims to build the same sense of community over a distance, not with email and instant messengers, but with real balls, sweat, and exertion.

Breakout for Two employs an exertion interface -- an interface that deliberately requires intense physical effort and can be expected to be physically exhausting when used for an extended period of time. In short, it gets your adrenaline moving and makes you sweat, just like any physical exercise or sport.

The Breakout for Two game is a cross between soccer, tennis, and the popular video game Breakout. Participants in remote locations must throw or kick a real soccer ball at a local physical wall to break through a projection of virtual "blocks" that partially obscure a live video image of the other player. The effect is one of a virtual game "court" in which the competitors are separated by a barrier through which they can interact.

The blocks on each player's screen are synchronized -- when one player breaks through a block, the same block disappears from the other player's screen. The player who breaks through the most blocks wins. Games typically last several minutes and can incorporate varying levels of difficulty.

Our hypothesis is that augmenting an online sport or gaming environment with exertion will greatly enhance the potential for social bonding, just as playing an exhausting game of squash or tennis with a new acquaintance or co-worker helps to "break the ice" and build friendships. The heightened state of arousal induced by the exertion also potentially makes the interaction more memorable.

We conducted a study to test these hypotheses and evaluate the effects of exertion interfaces, with encouraging results. Players in Breakout for Two said they got to know each other better, became better friends, felt the other player was more talkative, and were happier with the transmitted audio and video quality in comparison to a control group playing an analogous game using a traditional non-exertion keyboard interface.

A potential future application is a sort of virtual "country club" or athletic facility that consists of several exertion environments for engaging in sports at a distance.

We wish to thank Tom Walter, Roz Picard, and Ted Selker for their contributions to this project.

Publications and Links

  • Breakout for Two demo movie (Quicktime, 5 minutes long)
    small (4 MB) / medium (12 MB) / large (29 MB) / extra large (98 MB)

  • Breakout for Two was exhibited at Powering up with Broadband, the 2004 conference of the UK-based Access to Broadband Campaign, Aviemore Conference Center, Aviemore, Scotland, 2 - 3 November 2004.

  • Breakout for Two was exhibited at the Wired NextFest, Festival Pavilion, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, 14 - 16 May 2004.

  • Florian Mueller and Stefan Agamanolis, Exertion Interfaces (workshop), CHI 2007 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, San Jose, California, 28 April - 3 May 2007, ACM Press. (PDF)

  • Florian Mueller and Stefan Agamanolis, Sports Over a Distance, ACM Computers in Entertainment, vol. 3, no. 3, July 2005. (link)

  • Florian Mueller, Stefan Agamanolis, and Rosalind Picard, Breakout for Two: An example of an Exertion Interface for Sports over a Distance, Adjunct Proceedings, UbiComp 2003 Fifth International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, Seattle, 12 - 15 October 2003. (PDF)

  • Florian Mueller, Stefan Agamanolis, and Rosalind Picard, Exertion Interfaces: Sports over a Distance for Social Bonding and Fun, Proceedings of CHI 2003 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Ft. Lauderdale, 5 - 10 April 2003, ACM Press. (PDF)

  • Florian Mueller, Stefan Agamanolis, and Rosalind Picard, Exertion Interfaces for Sports Over a Distance, Conference Companion, UIST 2002 Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology, Paris, 27 - 30 October 2002. (PDF)

  • Florian Mueller, Exertion Interfaces: Sports over a Distance for Social Bonding and Fun, MS Thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, September 2002. (PDF)

  • Floyd's web site about Breakout for Two.