Information-Based Social Coordination Between Players of Different Skill in Doubles Pong

  • Van Opstal Daphne
  • Benerink Niek H.
  • Zaal Frank T.J.M.
  • Casanova Rémy
  • Bootsma Reinoud J.

  • Emergent behavior
  • Team performance
  • Skill level
  • Interception
  • Social coordination
  • Visual information


We studied how teams of two players of different skill level intercepted approaching balls in the doubles-pong task. In this task, the two players moved their on-screen paddles along a shared interception axis, so that the approaching ball was intercepted by one of the paddles and that the paddles did not collide. Earlier work revealed the presence of a fuzzy division of interception space, with a boundary between interception domains located in the space between the two initial paddle positions. In the present study, using the performance of the players in their individual training sessions, we formed teams of players of varying skill level. We considered two accounts of how this boundary should be understood. In a first account, the players have shared knowledge of this boundary. Based on the side of the boundary at which the approaching ball will cross the interception axis, the players would decide whose paddle is to make the interception. Under this account, we expected that a better-skilled player would take responsibility for a larger interception domain, leading to a boundary closer to the lesser-skilled player. However, our analyses did not reveal any systematic effect of skill difference on the location (or degree of fuzziness) of the boundary: location of boundaries and overlap of interception domains varied over teams but were not systematically related to skill differences between team members. We did find effects of ball speed and approach angle. In a second account, the boundary emerges from (information-driven) player-player-ball interactions. An action-based model consistent with this account was able to capture all the patterns in boundary positions and overlaps that we observed. We conclude that the interception patterns that players demonstrate in the doubles-pong task are best understood as emerging from the unfolding of the dynamics of the system of the two players and the ball, coupled through information.