Physical Computing / Guardians of the Dark
Domesticating intelligence and smartness in the home
Guardians of the Dark is a concept created during our three week module on Domesticating Intelligence at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design.
Our group wanted to explore the relationship between children and intelligent robots, and the ways in which a robot can teach a child, but also a child can teach a robot.
Initially, we began exploring the topic fear, and specifically fear of the dark. We started with desk research and found that fear of the dark effects children all over the world. Some regions even report over 73% of children between 4-12 years old said they experienced fear of the dark (Muris et al 2001)
Growing up, and becoming independent from their parents is not an easy thing, that’s when transitional objects become a big role in kids’ lives. These objects of affection, soothes the child during this difficult time.
Because young children don’t have the life experience to distinguish fantasy from reality, they rely on their rich imaginations and magical beliefs to explain events and solve problems.
Rather than suppress their imagination, we wanted to empower children to use their imaginations to overcome their fear of the dark.
Guardians of the Dark are a set of objects and guided explorations that encourage kids to explore the dark in a fun way before bedtime, offering them the support and security they seek in this moment. The characters are afraid of the light, and can only be activated in the dark, so to play with them, the child has to be in the dark, and to bring them to the light, the child has to help the characters not be scared of the light. This condition creates a relationship, where teaching and learning from one another is essential.
Working in Scandinavia, we chose materials, simple shapes and colors that fit the Nordic home environment.
We developed a backstory for each Guardian based on the differents facets of fear of the dark like scary sounds, bad weather, mysterious shadows and absence of light. The objects have human-like behaviors that support the child during this scary time.
Bedtime traditions often involve storytelling, an engaging activity between parents and kids. To guide this experience, we created a book of night time stories and activities that feature the team from Guardians of the Dark.
The three companions, SoFar, KenCall and PitterPatter are afraid of light and embody characteristics of fear like shaking, attention to sound, and sensitivity to changing weather.
Each one of the characters has a different story that explains each one’s fear and superpower.
SoFar is from outer space and is super comfortable in the dark. But when exposed to light, SoFar’s eyes shine and it shakes nervously until touched by the child.
KenCall was born inside a piano, and is always alert to sounds in the room. It scans the room with the child to report if there’s any unexpected sounds.
PitterPatter is from the rainforest and has a connection with the weather. It sits by the window and emits a special color depending on the expected weather that night, so the child can be prepared for what’s to come.
Each one of the characters guides the child through an activity connected to their backstory. One night the child explores the night sky, and another she looks inside a scary wardrobe, or even under her bed. These explorations start out simple, but evolve over a six month period to adventures in the dark, and transforming the dark into a fun environment, where the characters are more and more used to the light, and the child is more and more used to the dark. The child receives a new activity book every month to continue motivating and engaging them throughout this period.
While the child slowly confronts her own fear of the dark, she also begins introducing the Guardians to light. As she observes her companion’s fear reducing, she also develops a deeper understanding of her own fear of the dark.
During our initial testing phase, we were thrilled to see the children’s high level of engagement. They read the stories together with their parents, played with the characters and even completed our nighttime adventures.
We found that over time, these companions become part of the child’s bedtime routine. We envision a night time where the child is encouraged to be curious and expand their imagination, while also reducing their fear of the dark. Eventually, the objects no longer fear light, and the child has also reduced her fear of the dark, and the guardians become everyday companions for her.