Trackable data points and real-time feedback may become a designer's best friend.

When Master Chief throws a grenade in Halo, someone is watching. Online games are perfect petri dishes: a controlled space (the game program), with multiple variables (the players), open to observation. First Bungie, Halo’s original developer, and now 343 Industries have kept records of minutia, such as player movement patterns within the game world, for years. As thousands of hours of play accumulate, this data breeds valuable insight: Heat maps that show an unusual frequency of gunfire or grenade blasts in one area will lead to wider corridors, or open doors where once there was only concrete walls. By paying attention to trackable statistics, designers can make sure the next game will flow more smoothly, improving player satisfaction. People in the real-world are beginning to use these same techniques to finetune our everyday experience. By bringing games’ lessons beyond our screens and into our streets, architects and artists are playing the role of modern-day game designers, constructing “levels” based on real-world feedback impossible to gather just years prior. This is all possible due to the rise in wearable computers: With smartphones in our pockets, heart monitors on our wrists, and cameras in our glasses, we become players and research-gatherers, both, milling about in our own self-curated stage. Turns out someone is watching us, too. The attempt to shape environments based on real-world use is not a new idea. One such concept, known to city planners as the “desire path,” is a trail created organically through a group’s intuitive response to their environment. The problem comes when gathering, and then harnessing, such transient data. Park designers flock to open lawns covered in fresh snow; a day’s footfalls sketch out these desire paths like automatic blueprints. “The snow is almost like nature’s tracing paper,” Clarence Eckerson Jr. told, when talking about his StreetFilms project to document safe paths for pedestrians. But soon the snow melts, and with it, any ungathered data. The right wearable technology could freeze such information into a series of 1s and 0s, ripe for the studying.

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