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“Hey, Buddy, My Eyes Are Up Here!”


We’re sure you recall that traumatically awkward slow dance in junior high. You know, the emotionally scarring one, during which you held your secret crush at arm’s length and evaded all eye contact while your friends convulsed with laughter just a metre away. If only you had a legit reason for keeping your eyes glued to your partner’s shirt. Well, now you do! Except, this time you’re older and you’ll probably be dancing with a reclusive retro-gaming geek.
Pong Prom is an art project—devised by Toronto-based art technologist/mad scientist Ed Keeble—that marries slow dancing to video games. Two people don hoodies rigged with motion-sensitive microcontroller pads that emit flashing LED lights. A virtual paddle appears at the top of each shirt and a ball begins skittering down one display. Once it reaches the bottom, it hops on over to the other shirt and moves back up. Each player controls the paddle on their partner’s shirt by swaying them back and forth.
“Patches of conductive fabric on the shoulders, hips, and shirt cuffs are connected to the microcontroller using conductive thread,” explains Keeble in brainier detail. “When participants place their hands on each other’s shoulders or hips, the conductive patches connect, creating a circuit between the two microcontrollers which allows them to communicate.”


2009_01_18_PongProm.jpg
Photo by covertathletics


Keeble, who initially birthed the idea as a final project for Ryerson’s New Media program, says he was inspired by MIT professor Leah Buechley’s work with conductive fabrics and the Lilypad Arduino microcontroller, which he used to make all the magic happen. His initial plan was simply to doctor a couple shirts with the technology and turn people into human Pong paddles. But when he finally tested them out, his guinea pigs began dancing to their own tune. “Watching two people awkwardly push each other around by the shoulders immediately brought to mind a pair of kids trying to slow dance for the first time,” he recounts. “Within that context, participants had to consider the social ramifications of their actions, in addition to their goal of winning the game…More than a few people went into full on competitive mode and threw each other around the room. Then again, another couple ended up making out, so take that however you like.”
Okay. We’ll take it as a severely nerdy pastime activity, but one just nutty enough that it’s been making circuit waves across the interwebs. Feeding off the hype, Keeble promises a how-to video and a public pong prom event in the not-too-distant future. Just remember to be responsible after prom, kids!

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