Haiyan Zhang : Masters Thesis
Interaction Design Institute Ivrea

Control Freaks
Transforming everyday objects into opportunities for play


Control Freaks are devices that attach to everyday objects, turning them into interactive game play objects. When the Control Freak attaches to a host object, its movement, vibration or sound, can be translated into control functionality for a game. The situation, location and behavior of the host, are all enablers for opportunistic play experience. The Control Freak device therefore enables any object in any situation to become the focus of play adventure.


What it is
A Control Freak is a small device that attaches to an everyday object making it a host. It can sense the movement and sound of its host and connect that feedback to a local gaming platform, translating the manipulation of the host into game play commands on the connected game platform.


How it works
When the Control Freak device clamps onto a host, sensors on the device can detect movement or vibration when the host object is manipulated. If the host is a door, then Control Freak can sense it opening and closing. The device augments the behavior of the host allowing it to become the controller of a game. Critical to this is the affordance of the host. A chair swings, a door opens and closes. The device translates the host’s affordance into play commands. In this way, swinging on an office chair can control the movements of Pong paddles on the gaming screen.

As part of my Master Thesis exhibition, I developed two games to demonstrate the Control Freaks concept: Brain Candy & Super Safari.


Brain Candy

In the Brain Candy game, a Control Freak device is attached to an ordinary office chair, and the player must swing the chair from side to side in order to control the movements of the Otzi Brain Monster on-screen.

First the Control Freak device is clamped onto an office chair

Swinging the chair side to side causes the Otzi Brain Monster to move left and right


Super Safari

In Super Safari, the Control Freak device is clamped onto the player's hip. When the player jumps, the Boris Monster character also jumps. Boris Monster must leap over poisonous mushrooms, avoid overhanging spiders and try to capture the little green monsters in the trees.

This time we clamp the Control Freak to Mayssa's hip

30 seconds of serious jumping ensues

These games were part of the graduate show for Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Milan. Lots of people came to try out the games and enjoyed the fast-paced physical nature of them.



IDEO founder Bill Moggridge playing Brain Candy


Control Freaks in your pocket can be attached onto any object at anytime, setting up an opportunity to play. The type of object, its location and its circumstance all become opportunistic license for fun. Characterization of the Control Freak devices can add a further dynamic to how play interfaces can influence game interaction. Social play experiences can also be enabled by wirelessly networking Control Freaks, enabling play between their owners.

I explored the Control Freak concept as a generic game peripheral and as stuffed toys with embedded electronics and distinct personalities.

Here is a scenario of how the Control Freak creatures might one day imbue the everyday objects around us with the qualities of play...


Exhibitions & Conferences
The Control Freaks project has been presented at UBICOMP 2006 and at CHI 2007.

Read the CHI 2007 paper, Building Upon Everyday Play, written in collaboration with Bjoern Hartmann (Stanford HCI Dept)


Control Freaks by Haiyan Zhang, was developed as a Masters Thesis project at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Milan. With thesis advisors: Neil Churcher, Massimo Banzi. Illustrations and character designs were done in collaboration with Myriel Milicevic.


I'm interested in taking this project further, both in terms of product development and exhibition. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to find out more about the project: haiyan@failedrobot.com


Download the Control Freaks thesis report (pdf)
Final presentation slides (pdf)
Photo Pack (zip)
Flickr Photo Set
Play the Brain Candy game Press space to start, left and right arrows to move
Play Super Safari Press space to start the game, up arrow to jump


FluxBits: A Wearable Game Interface an earlier concept
Devil Dust Bunnies on the Milan Metro early experience prototype and concept about playing in the tram car


Control Freaks featured on...
We Make Money Not Art
Edge Online: Control Issues
Putting People First


Haiyan Zhang is an interaction designer, technologist and maker of things. She currently works at IDEO London, helping to create innovative new digital experiences for community building, communication, and financial services.