Have you heard of the Bouba/Kiki effect? It’s a term from a series of experiments where participants need to match names to shapes. The significant majority of people match the name Kiki to jagged shapes, and Bouba to the more rounded shapes. This is likely a form of ideasthesia - a phenomenon where concepts produce experiences that are often similar within a particular culture.
What’s interesting about this effect to me is that, in my mind at least, all sorts of different experiences can be mapped on to these shapes — brittle and soft, yellow and blue, and bitter and sweet, all of which map to “Kiki” and “Bouba” respectively. I was interested to see if other people share a pattern like this for shapes, particularly when it comes to taste, so I made ‘Shape Restaurant.’
Shape Restaurant is more of a tool for experimentation than a game. The player is presented with five unique shapes, and five different foods that correspond to the five major flavors of bitter, sweet, sour, salt, and umami. The player must serve each shape a different food based on what they think the shape would like. There are no right or wrong answers. Finishing the game saves the results to a comma delimited text file that can easily be read in by python, R, or microsoft excel for easy numbers-crunching.
So far, I’ve collected data from just 11 of my classmates. This is a very small sample size, but already certain patterns are starting to emerge. I’m excited to see if these patterns continue as more data is gathered. Here’s the data I’ve collected so far visualized in pie charts:
This project was made in a couple of days using Unity. I also created all of the art, including the shapes, food, and text animations in Photoshop. One of the successes of this project has been the art. I managed to capture a very consistent style given my limited time, and the art succeeded its primary goal of humanizing the shapes enough that players cared about what food they gave them.
If I make a version 2 of this project in the future, I’d like to spend a little longer figuring out how to better represent the tastes as food. Several of the players who have tested so far have narrated their decision making process not as ‘this flavor goes with this shape’ but ‘this food looks the most like this shape.’ While that result is still interesting, it’s not exactly focused on what this game was trying to test. While it’d be a lot less cute, a version that simply had the words “Bitter,” “Sweet,” “Salty,” etc. would have likely been more successful in its goal.
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If you would like to learn more about the Bouba/Kiki effect, check out this article.