Week 177

I was just checking out a secret development version of the Bandjesland page on PLAY Pilots. It is shaping up nicely, all the basic tech is in place, now it’s just a matter of kneading it to look nice and connecting it to the installation Monobanda are building for Le Guess Who? When all goes according to plan we’ll have a lovely online record of what went down in that very special place in Tivoli Oudegracht. Getting the scaffolding up for this took up a large chunk of the week, with Alper and Simon back in the studio for engineering and design.

Next wednesday I’ll be speaking at an event for teachers in middle education at Pakhuis de Zwijger organized by Noordhoff Publishers. I’ve been asked to share my most remarkable idea for engaging students in a novel way. I have a rough outline of the thing on paper (it popped up almost fully formed when I woke up this morning, love it when that happens). Now it’s just a matter of building the slides. Shouldn’t take too long.

Another major thing this week was coaching the development of a paper prototype of the game we’re designing for the Learning Lab. Wieger and Sylvan, my two awesome interns at Hubbub, have come up with a lovely concept for something that runs on top of the course’s internal blog system and supports students with reflecting on their self-development. We played through it this morning with the client, filled a big whiteboard with comments and are now in good shape to work towards a version that we can playtest with students. Lovely.

Buildings and Brains at the Nijmegen Design Platform (NOP)

It’s been a few weeks since I presented at the Nijmegen Design Platform (NOP), but I thought it would still be useful to post a summary of what I talked about here.

Update: it took me a while, but the slides that accompanied this talk are now up at SlideShare.

A little context: The NOP run frequent events for designers in the region. These designers mostly work in more traditional domains such as graphic, fashion and industrial design. NOP asked Jeroen van Mastrigt — a friend and occasional colleague of mine — to talk about games at one of their events. Jeroen in turn asked me to play Robin to his Batman, I would follow up his epic romp through game design theory with a brief look at pervasive games. This of course was an offer I could not refuse. The event was held at a lovely location (the huge art-house cinema LUX) and was attended by a healthy-sized crowd. Kudos to the NOP for organizing it and many thanks to them (and Jeroen) for inviting me.

So, what I tried to do in the talk was to first give a sense of what pervasive games are, what characterizes them. I drew from the Hide & Seek website for the list of characteristics and used The Soho Project as a running example throughout this part. I also tied the characteristics to some theory I found interesting:

  • Mixing digital technology with real world play — I emphasized that ultimately, technology is but a means to an end. At Interaction ‘09 Robert Fabricant said the medium of interaction design is human behavior. I think the same holds true for the design of pervasive games.
  • Social interactionRaph Koster once said single player games are a historical aberration. It is clear much of the fun in pervasive games is social. In a way I think they bridge the gap between the “old” board games and contemporary video games.
  • Using the city as a playground — Here I could not resist bringing in Jane Jacob’s notions of the city as an entity that is organised from the bottom up and Kevin Lynch’s work on the mental maps we create of cities as we move through them. Cities play a vital role in facilitating the play of pervasive games. At best they are the main protagonist of them.
  • Transforming public spaces into theatrical stagesets — This is related to the previous one, but here I made a sidestep into the embodied nature of player interactions in pervasive games and how embodiment facilitates reading at a distance of such actions. In a sense, the social fun of embodied play is due to its performative quality.

After this, I tried to show why designers outside the domain of games should care about pervasive games. This I did by talking about ways they can be used for purposes other than ‘mere’ entertainment. These were:

  • Enlarging perceived reality; you can create games that play with the way we customarily perceive reality. This was inspired by the talk Kevin Slavin of Area/Code delivered at MIND08. Examples I used were Crossroads and The Comfort of Strangers.
  • Changing human behavior for the better; think of the Toyota Prius dashboard’s effect on people’s driving behavior. Examples of games that use feedback loops to steer us towards desirable goals are CryptoZoo and FourSquare.
  • Crowdsourcing solutions; games can simulate possible futures and challenge players to respond to their problems. Here I used Jane McGonigal’s ideas around collective intelligence gaming. The example game I talked about was World Without Oil.
  • Conveying arguments procedurally; Ian Bogost‘s concept of procedural rhetoric isn’t specific to pervasive games, but I think the way they get mixed up with everyday life make them particularly effective channels for communicating ideas. I used The Go Game, Cruel 2B Kind and Join the Line1 as examples.

By talking about these things I hoped to provide a link to the audience’s own design practice. They may not deal with games, but they surely deal with communicating ideas and changing people’s behavior. Come to think of it though, I was doing a very old media style presentation in attempt to achieve the same… Oh well.

  1. Join the Line is a game students conceptualized during a workshop I ran. []

A Playful Stance — my Game Design London 2008 talk

A while ago I was interviewed by Sam Warnaars. He’s researching people’s conference experiences; he asked me what my most favourite and least favourite conference of the past year was. I wish he’d asked me after my trip to Playful ’08, because it has been by far the best conference experience to date. Why? Because it was like Toby, Richard and the rest of the event’s producers had taken a peek inside my brain and came up with a program encompassing (almost) all my fascinations — games, interaction design, play, sociality, the web, products, physical interfaces, etc. Almost every speaker brought something interesting to the table. The audience was composed of people from many different backgrounds, and all seemed to, well, like each other. The venue was lovely and atmospheric (albeit a bit chilly). They had good tea. Drinks afterwards were tasty and fun, the tapas later on even more so. And the whiskey after that, well let’s just say I was glad to have a late flight the next day. Many thanks to my friends at Pixel-Lab for inviting me, and to Mr. Davies for the referral.

Below is a transcript plus slides of my contribution to the day. The slides are also on SlideShare. I have been told all talks have been recorded and will be published to the event’s Vimeo group.

Perhaps 1874 words is a bit too much for you? In that case, let me give you an executive summary of sorts:

  1. The role of design in rich forms of play, such as skateboarding, is facilitatory. Designers provide tools for people to play with.
  2. It is hard to predict what people will do exactly with your tools. This is OK. In fact it is best to leave room for unexpected uses.
  3. Underspecified, playful tools can be used for learning. People can use them to explore complex concepts on their own terms.

As always, I am interested in receiving constructive criticism, as well as good examples of the things I’ve discussed.

Continue reading A Playful Stance — my Game Design London 2008 talk

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. []

Designing a mobile social gaming experience for Gen-C

Update 21-03-2008: I’ve added some images of slides to allow for some more context when reading the text.

This is a rough transcript of my lecture at GDC Mobile 2008. In short: I first briefly introduce the concept of experience design and systems and then show how this influences my views of mobile casual games. From there I discuss the relation of casual games with the trend Generation C. Wrapping up, I give an overview of some social design frameworks for the web that are equally applicable to mobile social gaming. As a bonus I give some thoughts on mobile game systems mobile metagames. The talk is illustrated throughout with a case study of Playyoo—a mobile games community I helped design.

  • I’ve included a slightly adjusted version of the original slides—several screenshot sequences of Playyoo have been taken out for file size reasons.
  • If you absolutely must have audio, I’m told you will be able to purchase (!) a recording from GDC Radio sometime soon.
  • I’d like to thank everyone who came up to me afterwards for conversation. I appreciate the feedback I got from you.
  • Several aspects of Playyoo that I use as examples (such as the game stream) were already in place before I was contracted. Credits for many design aspects of Playyoo go to David Mantripp, Playyoo’s chief architect.
  • And finally, the views expressed here are in many ways an amalgamation of work by others. Where possible I’ve given credit in the talk and otherwise linked to related resources.

That’s all the notes and disclaimers out of the way, read on for the juice (but be warned, this is pretty long).

Continue reading Designing a mobile social gaming experience for Gen-C

GDC and another interview

This Saturday I’ll be jumping on a plane to San Francisco. As mentioned earlier, I’ll be attending the Game Developers Conference. I have a session at the GDC Mobile sub-conference elegantly titled “Designing a Casual Social Gaming Experience for Generation C”. Read more about my session on the conference site. It’ll basically be 1/3 crash course on the social web, 1/3 rant on mobile gaming and 1/3 talk about enabling creative expression through games. We’ll see how it goes.

I’ll be in SF the full week (flying back the next weekend) so if you happen to be around, and feel like hanging out, do drop me a line. (Your best bet is an email to “kars” at this domain or d-ing me on Twitter.)

Finally, if that isn’t enough self-promotion for one post, (I’m risking a mass unsubscribe here) I was interviewed a second time for the Playyoo blog. Head over there for some talk about the Game Creator—a tool I designed for them that allows people to customise classic games and publish them to mobile:

“And then there are the games that are entirely personal. They make no sense to you or me, only to the person who created it and their friends. For example, I saw one variation of Lunar Lander where you need to land a crab on someone’s, let’s say Debbie’s, head. Now, I have no idea who Debbie is, but I can imagine Debbie is a friend or sister of the game’s creator. And it must have been a lot of fun for them to include the picture, and then have an easy way to distribute it to their friends.”

Slides for my Oslo UXnet meetup talk

Last night I presented at the January UXnet meetup in Oslo. When Are invited me to come over I thought I’d be talking to maybe 60 user experience people. 200 showed up—talk about kicking off the year with a bang. I think the crew at Netlife Research may just have written UXnet history. I’m not sure. (Don’t believe me? Check out the RSVPs on the event’s page at Meetup.com)

The talk went OK. I had 20 minutes, which is pretty short. I finished on time, but I had to leave out a lot of examples. The original talk on which this was based is a 2 hour lecture I deliver at UX companies. (I did this last year for instance at InUse.)

The lack of examples was the biggest point of criticism I got afterwards. I’ll try to make up for that a bit in a later post, listing some examples of web sites and apps that I would call in some way playful. Stay tuned.

For now, here are the slides (no notes I’m afraid, so it’ll be hard to make any sense of them if you weren’t there). Thanks to Are Halland for inviting me. And greetings to all my friends in Oslo. You’ve got a beautiful UX thing going on there.

Speaking, lots and lots of speaking

First, the bad news: I won’t be able to make it to Interaction 08. Which sucks, because it looks like it’s going to be a wonderful conference with a smart crowd attending. I would have loved to meet up with friends there. And of course I was looking forward to sharing my ideas on playful products.

There’s plenty of other events in the pipeline for me though, both big and small. Here’s a rundown:

Next week on Tuesday 16 January I’ll be flying to Oslo on invitation of Are Halland at Netlife Research. I’ll do a short presentation at the UXnet meetup, focused on the application of game design to UX for the web.

Shortly after that, I’ll be participating in BarCampCopenhagen. I’ll probably do a session about my thoughts in mobile social gaming. Other than that I’m looking forward to just hanging out with the Danish geek crowd.

In February it’s time to cross the Atlantic to San Francisco for the Game Developers Conference. I’m speaking at GDC Mobile about designing casual gaming experiences for Generation C. I’m going to make good use of my complimentary all access pass. You’ll most likely find me playing weird stuff at the Independent Games Festival.

One final engagement taking place in June that I can already announce is From Business To Buttons, organised by my friends at InUse. Here I’ll get a chance to talk about the stuff that I had planned for Interaction 08: play, storytelling and complex systems. Looking forward to it.

If you’re reading this, and happen to be attending any of these events. Do drop by and say hi. I’d love to meet and chat!

My GDC Mobile 2008 proposal: accepted!

Mobile gaming by Kokeshi on Flickr

It doesn’t say so on the site yet, but I am on the program for next year’s GDC Mobile.1 Yesterday I got the email that my talk — titled Designing a Casual Social Gaming Experience for Generation C — has been accepted. To be honest I was quite surprised. I work in the blurry overlap of the interaction design and game design fields, have no actual game titles under my belt and proposed a weird subject to boot. Who in their right mind would invite me to speak? Of course I am also really excited about this. GDC is the professional event for the games industry so I’m honored to be part of it.2

My talk will be closely related to the things I’ve been working on for Playyoo. I’ll discuss how short-session mobile games and a web based meta-game can interconnect to create a social game experience that allows different levels of player engagement. I’ll look at the ways you can align your game design with the expectations of Generation C: customization & personalization, recombination and connectedness. I might post the extended abstract sometime in the future, for now I’m just wondering: Who else is going to GDC? What would you like to see me discuss?

Update: The conference site has been updated, here’s the description of my session.

  1. Don’t be scared by the big Orc in the header of their site. []
  2. Now I just need to figure out whether traveling to the US twice in one month is a feasible undertaking. []

More than useful — outline of my Interaction 08 talk

Illustration from children's book

A while back I was happy to hear that my submission for Interaction 08 is accepted. This will be the first conference organised by the IxDA. Obviously I’m proud to be part of that. I’ll probably be building my talk a post at a time on this blog, more or less like I did with the one for the Euro IA Summit of this year. If you’re wondering wether it’ll be worth following along, let me outline the argument I made in my submission:

There’s a generation of ‘users’ expecting their digital and physical products to be customizable, personalize-able and re-combinable. These users explore the potential of these 3C products through play. This is why I think it’s worthwhile for interaction designer to get a better understanding of how to design for open-ended play. Obviously, it makes sense to do some shopping around in the theories of our colleagues in game design. Why should designers bother? Playful products have deeply engaged users that can’t stop telling stories about their experiences with them.

The focus of this talk is firmly on designing stories that emerge through play and enabling the retelling of those play experiences.

Like I said, I’ll dive deeper into these topics in the coming period. If you have any views of your own on this — or useful resources that you think I should check out — do let me know.

Update: Today the full conference program was announced and my name is actually on there. The program looks really cool, and I’m really happy to see some talks related to mine in there as well. See you in Savannah!