Drop in, Drop Out Interactivity

(Also called "co-op multiplayer mode").

Definition: The ability for a second (or third, or forth...) player to leave or join a synchronous flow of events in real time without disrupting the flow of events simply by picking up an additional controller. If he or she leaves the experience, the computer assumes control of the avatar -- like putting it on autopilot. It's like the second steering wheel in driver's education.

What it is good for: It creates a setting where collaboration is not an option. If the two players vary in age (say a little brother and big sister), the big sister can lead the little brother through the hard parts of the game.

History: I first spotted this technique used in the first LEGO Star Wars, as demonstrated to me by Jon Smith of TT studios back at E3 in 2003 or so. Today it is being used in a lot of games collaborative problem solving games, but could be used to a much greater extend in education settings.

Theoretical implications: It is easy for educators to get excited by the collaborative problem solving potential of connected computers; especially when you can bring a more capable other (Vygotsky) into the interaction. You might call this "macro networking." If so, the drop in, drop out interactivity is a "micro networking" technique -- when the more capable other is a few feet away from you.

Examples:

See all of the LEGO games: Star Wars from Eidos, Indiana Jones (Lucas Arts) and Batman (Warner Bros.); also LittleBigPlanet uses the concept in an open-ended context.


Avatar Series from THQ, Inc., e.g., Avatar: The Last Airbender - Into the Inferno

2K Play's Dora and Diego games include a parent helper feature, where a parent can pick up the second controller to help out in a situation.