Week 174

STT again

This week on Wednesday I found myself in the lovely KNAW building to talk about the far future of applied game design. I was invited to do so by STT, together with David Shaffer, Jeroen van Mastrigt and Jeroen Elfferich. I talked about the incapacity of design as well as science fiction to effectively imagine a future, how to deal with that as a designer, and two areas that I see as truly virgin territory for applied game design: the new type of city we’ve seen emerge in the East, and synthetic biology. I got some nice responses and some challenging questions from the crowd, so I guess things went OK. The annotated slides will find their way to the Hubbub blog soon.

Aside from this, I spent the week working on PLAY Pilots – continuing work on the next pilot for Le Guess Who? together with Monobanda. And at the HKU, working with my students on the Pampus project. Finally, my interns have kicked off their third game at the Learning Lab, this one running on their internal blog platform. It involves monkeys and a blind dragon. Looking forward to the writeup for that one.

Quite a few bits of content found their way online too, by the way. In case you missed them the first time around, here they are:

Plus a video of the Bocce Drift session Hubbub ran a while back:

Week 173

At the studio, coffee brewing in the french press, El Guincho on the stereo. Last week I felt overwhelmed, this week I just feel allergic. Literally. I have a head full of antihistamines, hope they kick in soon.

One thing I decided to do about the overwhelming bit is block out more time in my calendar for work. Not saying how much, but I already had some time blocked for a while now, and I have doubled that. It just won’t do to have hardly any time to do actual design. I guess I’ll just need to to talk to fewer people. If you do not push back, it is easy to lose all your time to meet-ups. People are reckless in the ease with which they impose on other’s time. Myself included.1

We played a card game last night at the studio. An insight I’ve had after reviewing the past period with my interns. To become better designers, we need to make a lot of games, this is true.2 But it also helps to play games, many games, of any kind. So we’ll set apart an hour or so each week and we’ll play a game that someone brings in. I kicked it off with Dominion, which is interesting for the way it has built upon trading-card-game deck-building mechanics, like Magic the Gathering. In stead of it being something that happens before a game it takes place in parallel to the game.

What else is of note? Ah yes. I attended Design by Fire 2010 on Wednesday. It is still the best conference on interaction design in the Netherlands. And I really appreciate the fact that the organizers continue to take risks with who they put on stage. Too often do I feel like being part or at least spectator of some clique at events, with all speakers knowing each other and coming from more or less the same “school of thought”. Not so with Design by Fire. Highlights included David McCandless, Andrei Herasimchuk, m’colleague Ianus and of course Bill Buxton.

The latter also reminded me of some useful frames of thought for next Tuesday, when I will need to spend around half an hour talking about the future of games, from a design perspective, at an invitation-only think-tank like session organized by STT.3 The organizers asked me to set an ambition time frame, but as you may know I have a very hard time imagining any future beyond say, the next year or two. (And sometimes I also have trouble being hopeful about it.) But as Mr. Buxton points out, ideas need a gestation period of around 20 years before they are ready for primetime, so I am planning to look back some ten years, see what occupied the games world back then, and use that as a jumping off point for whatever I’ll be talking about. Let’s get started on that now.

  1. Mule Design had an interesting post on this. Part of the problem is people, but part also software, according to them. Imagine a calendar you subtract time from in stead of add to. []
  2. Tom wrote a wonderful post on games literacy. []
  3. The Netherlands Study Centre for Technology Trends. []

5 things I’m thinking about

You have Alper to blame for this. Alice started it, many followed (some well worth reading) and now the meme has crossed the pond it seems. I know, we’re a bit slow in NL. So, what am I thinking about?

My upcoming holiday, which will be the first break in over a year. I am planning to completely unplug, which I am both dreading and looking forward to. It seems the longer I am self-employed, the harder it gets to just leave work behind for an extended period of time. It seems crazy to be worried about the continuity of my business when I’m only away for a week on a freaking Wadden island.

Today marks the last day of final exams at the HKU and I am lead to wonder about the future of design education as it happens there and at other similar institutes around the world. It often seems too closed off from the outside world, too insular. I am looking forward to tangling with this subject matter more in an upcoming project with River Institute.

Choosing has never come easy to me. In the past I have found it painful to choose between disciplines, skills to develop, projects to work on. And at some point I sort of decided to stop forcing choices and find ways to have them all mesh. I think that finally I am getting to a spot where I am comfortable in not choosing. So now I wonder why that is, what the value of refusing to choose is and what that means for creative disciplines.

I am essentially pessimistic about the future of this world. I have a very hard time conceiving of any future, in fact. Recently I found myself in a workshop aimed at making plans for an event in 2015 and I was totally lost. Having learnt this about myself the next question is how to act – I don’t wan’t to “play dead” as Bruce Sterling would say – so what’s the alternative?

Since it is at the core of my business I am thinking a lot about domains where games could go next. I am thinking a lot about citizen engagement, particularly when it comes to public policy, but I am mostly stumped about making inroads into that area locally.

There you have it.

Cities, systems, literacy, games

If you were asked to improve your own neighbourhood, what would you change? And how would you go about communicating those changes?

Cities are systems, or rather, many systems that interconnect. Like buildings, they can be thought of as having layers, each changing at its own pace. If those layers are loosely coupled, the city — like the building — can adapt.

Recently, new urban layers/systems have started to emerge. They are made up of rapidly proliferating computing power, carried by people and embedded in the environment, used to access vast amounts of data.

At the same time, games have given rise to a new form of literacysystemic literacy. However, to date, players have mostly inhabited the systems that make up games. They can read them. Writing, on the other hand, is another matter. True systemic literacy means being able to change the systems you inhabit.

True read/write systemic literacy can be used to craft games, yes. But it can also be used to see that many other problems and challenges in daily life are systemic ones.

To be sure, the real-time city will confront its inhabitants with many new problems. It is of the essence that the people shaping these new systems have a deep concern for their fellow humans. But it is also at least as important that people are taught the knowledge and skills — and given the tools — to change stuff about their surroundings as they see fit.

The wonderful thing is, we can shape systems, using the ‘new’ streets as a platform that transfer this knowledge and these skills to people. We can create ‘seriousurban games that facilitate speculative modelling, so that people can improve their living environment, or at least express what they would change about it, in a playful way.

Playing With Complexity — slides and notes for my NLGD Festival of Games talk

When the NLGD Foundation invited me to speak at their anual Festival of Games I asked them what they would like me to discuss. “Anything you like,” was what they said, essentially. I decided to submit an abstract dealing with data visualization. I had been paying more and more attention to this field, but was unsuccessful in relating it the other themes running through my work, most notably play. So I thought I’d force myself to tackle this issue by promising to speak about it. Often a good strategy, I’ve found. If it worked out this time I leave for you to judge.

In brief, in the presentation I argue two things: one — that the more sophisticated applications of interactive data visualization resemble games and toys in many ways, and two — that game design can contribute to the solutions to several design issues I have detected in the field of data visualization.

Below are the notes for the talk, slightly edited, and with references included. The full deck of slides, which includes credits for all the images used, is up on SlideShare.

Hello everyone, my name is Kars Alfrink. I am a Dutch interaction designer and I work freelance. At the moment I work in Copenhagen, but pretty soon I will be back here in Utrecht, my lovely hometown.

In my work I focus on three areas: mobility, social interactions, and play. Here is an example of my work: These are storyboards that explore possible applications of multitouch technology in a gated community. Using these technologies I tried to compensate for the negative effects a gated community has on the build-up of social capital. I also tried to balance ‘being-in-the-screen’ with ‘being-in-the-world’ — multitouch technologies tend to be very attention-absorbing, but in built environments this is often not desirable.1

I am not going to talk about multitouch though. Today’s topic is data visualization and what opportunities there are for game designers in that field. My talk is roughly divided in three parts. First, I will briefly describe what I think data visualization is. Next, I will look at some applications beyond the very obvious. Third and last, I will discuss some design issues involved with data visualization. For each of these issues, I will show how game design can contribute.

Right, let’s get started.

Continue reading Playing With Complexity — slides and notes for my NLGD Festival of Games talk

  1. For more background on this project please see this older blog post. More examples of my recent work can be found in my portfolio. []