What I’m doing at the Festival of Games


I’ve helped out with the program of this year’s NLGD Festival of Games. If you’re into gaming’s fringe phenomena, then this edition is not to be missed. The conference’s theme is “play global, global play” and will celebrate the impact of gaming beyond the screen. I curated several sessions focused on urban games and alternate reality games, some of which I will be present at myself. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Adrian Hon of Six to Start is coming over to Utrecht for a keynote titled “Why stories in games suck”. Adrian was one of the people behind the ambitious and influential ARG Perplex City. For a taste of what this session might be like, check out Dan Hon’s1 talk “Everything you know about ARGs is WRONG”.

  • During a parallel session, Evert Hoogendoorn will look at performance in games. Evert heads up the Design for Virtual Theater and Games program at the Utrecht School of the Arts. Knowing Evert, this session won’t be just about performance…

  • I’ll be moderating a session consisting of three case studies. You’ll get an exclusive look behind the scenes of the practice of three seasoned designers of urban games and ARGs. The presentations will be short but sweet, each followed by ample time for Q&A. The people I’ve asked to present are the aforementioned Adrian Hon, Nathalie Brähler of Cultural Oil and Ronald Lenz of 7scenes.

  • The elusive Minkette and myself will run a three-hour workshop, where you’ll get a crash course in designing simple but fun street games. We’re hoping to make this session very accessible, but also very much hands-on, physical and active. Minkette has been involved with Punchdrunk, Hide & Seek and The Soho Project; what better facilitator can you wish for?

  • The games developed during the workshop will be available for playtesting during a separate open session. You’ll get to play fun little games, and will be asked to vote on your favourite. The winner will receive an awesome prize.

  • Update: Before the open playtest session, I’ll be hosting a lunch session open to all people working in the area of social and tangible play. It’s on the program as “ARG lunch” but don’t let that fool you. If you make urban games, pervasive games, or any type of game that’s not limited to what happens on the screen, you’re welcome to join us. We’ll be looking at how we can join forces in certain strategic areas, but the session is also just about getting to know each other.

And there you have it. I’m quite happy with the way the program has shaped up, and I am excited to see how the sessions turn out (though I’m sure they’ll be great). If this has wet your appetite, why not head over to the NLGD Festival of Games website and get yourself a ticket right now? I hope to see you there!

  1. Dan is Adrian’s brother and business partner []

Urban procedural rhetorics — transcript of my TWAB 2008 talk

This is a transcript of my presentation at The Web and Beyond 2008: Mobility in Amsterdam on 22 May. Since the majority of paying attendees were local I presented in Dutch. However, English appears to be the lingua franca of the internet, so here I offer a translation. I have uploaded the slides to SlideShare and hope to be able to share a video recording of the whole thing soon.

Update: I have uploaded a video of the presentation to Vimeo. Many thanks to Almar van der Krogt for recording this.

In 1966 a number of members of Provo took to the streets of Amsterdam carrying blank banners. Provo was a nonviolent anarchist movement. They primarily occupied themselves with provoking the authorities in a “ludic” manner. Nothing was written on their banners because the mayor of Amsterdam had banned the slogans “freedom of speech”, “democracy” and “right to demonstrate”. Regardless, the members were arrested by police, showing that the authorities did not respect their right to demonstrate.1

Good afternoon everyone, my name is Kars Alfrink, I’m a freelance interaction designer. Today I’d like to talk about play in public space. I believe that with the arrival of ubiquitous computing in the city new forms of play will be made possible. The technologies we shape will be used for play wether we want to or not. As William Gibson writes in Burning Chrome:

“…the street finds its own uses for things”

For example: Skateboarding as we now know it — with its emphasis on aerial acrobatics — started in empty pools like this one. That was done without permission, of course…

Only later half-pipes, ramps, verts (which by the way is derived from ‘vertical’) and skateparks arrived — areas where skateboarding is tolerated. Skateboarding would not be what it is today without those first few empty pools.2

Continue reading Urban procedural rhetorics — transcript of my TWAB 2008 talk

  1. The website of Gramschap contains a chronology of the Provo movement in Dutch. []
  2. For a vivid account of the emergence of the vertical style of skateboarding see the documentary film Dogtown and Z-Boys. []

Zona Incerta and using ARGs for activism

(Following some recent overly long posts, here’s an attempt to stay under 500 words.)

For a while now, I have been lurking on the mailing list of the Alternate Reality Games IGDA SIG. ARGs are games that use the real world as their platform. They usually revolve around a mystery to be unraveled. I find ARGs interesting for the way they clash with the game design notion of the magic circle. The magic circle can be defined as the time and space within which a game is played. With traditional games, players are aware of the magic circle and enter it willingly. Not so with ARGs, as the following example I found on the list shows:1

The producers of Zona Incerta, a Brazilian ARG, published a video on YouTube. In it the ‘senior marketing director’ of Arkhos Biotechnology asks viewers to help them buy the Amazon rainforest and reminds them “the Amazon belongs to no country, it belongs to the world”:

The video was mistaken by many as real–including two senators and one governor. On the list, André Sirangelo, the game’s writer, says:

“It wasn’t long until some journalists connected the dots and found out the company didn’t exist. That’s when it really exploded – after all, there are lots of companies that actually do want to buy the rainforest, but it’s not every day a powerful senator makes a speech about one that doesn’t really exist.”

Because the game was sponsored, they had to come out and offer a public apology. Some people took it in a good way, others were less amused:

“They wanted to sue and maybe even arrest us for making a video that was against the nation’s sovereignty and all that. It was all BS though, because there wasn’t really a crime. We never published fake news, we just put the video on YouTube and some people tought it was real. Not our fault! :)”

Clearly, the ambiguous nature of ARGs is key to what makes them fun. Knowing that people might mistake things for real is thrilling to ARG developers. Players are challenged to recognize the content that is part of an ARG—rewarding them with the feeling that they are part of a secret society.

So far, the genre remains a niche.2 But what if ARGs take off in a big way? What if the mediascape is flooded by ARG content?

Will we, similar to what is now being proposed for ubicomp, need recognizable iconography that tells people: “warning, alternate reality content”?

Proposed icon for objects that have invisible qualities by the Touch research project

I wonder what would make a good image. Perhaps the March Hare?

Illustration of the March Hare by John Tenniel

Zona Incerta‘s aim was to entertain. Despite this, they raised awareness for the Amazon’s plight. Would the format of ARGs be useful to people with another agenda? What if activists start using them to make the future they want to avert—or desire to bring about—tangible to the public?

Image credits: Icon by Touch research project, March Hare by John Tenniel taken from WikiFur.

Updated with a YouTube embed that validates.

  1. For more about ARGs and the magic circle also see my Reboot 9.0 presentation Mobile Social Play. []
  2. Here are statistics of some prominent past ARGs. []