“Half the UK population has grown up playing computer games. They aren’t addicted, they aren’t psychopathic killers, and they resent those boneheads – that’s you – who imply that they are addicted and are psychopathic killers.”
“[…] the entire idea seems to function more as an attitude — that new projects should be spawned by whoever has the best ideas, not who is in what place in the hierarchy, and [Google’s] culture is based on this fundamental belief […]”
A book I found through Mr. Greenfield and have been meaning to buy. Quoted here by Matt Jones.
The story of how BarCamp came to be, as told by Tantek Çelik.
Alexandra’s made a small compilation video of interactive work at the Salone del Mobile (Milan Furniture Fair). Some interesting looking work, but how is it all interactive?
I like the idea of wearables as amplifiers for behaviour, like this cycling jacket. Via Tinker.it.
Video made as easy as shooting a photo with a digicam. Looks like a nice addition to the mobile office.
The story of iconoclast developer Mucky Foot offers some good insights into the workings of the games industry along the way.
Open source alternative to WhatSize. Via Molly.
“Shapetween is a library for Processing that provides an easy way of animating elements within a sketch in a variety of ways.”
Handy tool for batch calculation of latitudes and longitudes based on addresses.
“Modest Maps is a BSD-licensed display and interaction library for tile-based maps in Flash (ActionScript 2.0 and ActionScript 3.0) and Python… …And Processing”
(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”?
I wonder what would make a good image. Perhaps the March Hare?
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?
Silly short horror rock musical (but with pretty decent production values). Definitive proof Obama is a cultural phenomenon. Sort of.
Wish I could attend this unconference on games and play. Tickets go on sale today. Guess I’ll just keep an eye out for the online fallout.
Dan Hill on applying social software and infoviz to tackle sustainability in the home. I like this for the way it uses different sketching techniques to visualise the design. The gaming dimension could use some more attention w.r.t. player motivations.
“BUG is a collection of easy-to-use electronic modules that snap together to build any gadget you can imagine. Each BUGmodule represents a specific gadget function.”
Perhaps I should install one of these on my balcony when I move back to NL.
Very pretty and insightful poster on how much water is used up to produce all kinds of stuff.
I like the fact that the output of a retreat at which LA Times editors tried to figure out how to deal with the future of news is not just a written memo, but also a poster that was apparently sketched live by a ‘graphic facilitator’. Via the AP blog.
Bookmarking for reference w.r.t. my The Web and Beyond 2008 talk. Amusing and at the same time scary anecdote about mobile phone surveillance by German secret service (apparently this is going on at a large scale in NL too).
MMOGs have not progressed since 1990. Neither has social software.
Well maybe a little, but not much. At least that’s what I’m lead to believe after reading another wonderful essay in The Game Design Reader—a book I like to dip into once in a while to read whatever catches my fancy.
In The Lessons of Lucasfilm’s Habitat1 Messrs Farmer and Morningstar share their experiences building possibly one of the first graphical MMOGs ever. The game’s front-end ran on a Commodore 64 and looked something like this:
It’s striking how many of the lessons summed up by the authors have not been (fully) taken to heart by MMOG designers. Bitching aside, their article offers as much useful advice to game designers as to designers of any piece of social software. Since this post has grown unexpectedly long (again). I’ll sum them up here:
- “The implementation platform is relatively unimportant.” — on loosely coupling a world’s conceptual model and its representation
- “Detailed central planning is impossible; don’t even try.” — on relinquishing control as designers, co-design and evolutionary systems
- “Work within the system.” — on facilitating world creation by players and moderation from within the world
Let’s look at each in more detail:
“The implementation platform is relatively unimportant.”
Meaning that how you describe the world and how you present it can or should be loosely coupled. The advantage of this is that with one world model you can serve clients with a wide range of (graphical) capabilities and scale into the future without having to change model. Their example is of a tree, which can be rendered to one user as a string of text: “There is a tree here.” And to another user as a rich high resolution 3D animated image accompanied by sound.
“And these two users might be looking at the same tree in the same place in the same world and talking to each other as they do so.”
When I read this I instantly thought of Raph Koster’s Metaplace and wondered if the essay I was reading served as some sort of design guideline for it. What I understood from Raph’s GDC 2008 presentation2 was that they are trying to achieve exactly this, by applying the architectural model of the internet to the design of MMOGs.
Looking at social software in general, how many examples can you give of the current wave of social web apps that apply this principle? I’m reminded of Tom Coates’s Native to a Web of Data presentation—in which he argues that a service’s data should ideally be accessible through any number of channels.3
Similarly, web 2.0 poster child Dopplr is designed to be “a beautiful part of the web”, “a feature of a larger service, called the internet”.4 And they want to be everywhere, adding a little bit of value where it is most needed. Perhaps not exactly the same thing as what Farmer and Morningstar are alluding to, but based on similar principles.
As an aside, in MMOG land, there is one other major concern with this:
“Making the system fully distributed […] requires solving a number of difficult problems. The most significant of these is the prevention of cheating.”
Cheating might be of less concern to social software than to games (although there are exceptions, take Digg for example). For those interested in more about this, Raph Koster recently posted an elaborate examination of hacking and cheating in MMOGs.
Control, co-design, evolution
Cheating aside, there is more useful (albeit familiar) advice for social software designers in the piece. For instance on the need to hand over (part of) the control over the system’s design to its users:
“Again and again we found that activities based on often unconscious assumptions about player behaviour had completely unexpected outcomes (when they were not simply outright failures). ”
They go on to say that they found it was more productive to work with the community:
“We could influence things, we could set up interesting situations, we could provide opportunities for things to happen, but we could not dictate the outcome. Social engineering is, at best, an inexact science […] we shifted into a style of operations in which we let the players themselves drive the direction of the design.”
Again, familiar advice perhaps, but they describe in some detail how they actually went about this, which makes for enlightening reading. That this practice of co-design goes against ‘common’ software development practices is not left unaddressed either:
“[…] the challenge posed by large systems are prompting some researchers to question the centralized, planning dominated attitude that we have criticized here, and to propose alternative approaches based on evolutionary and market principles. These principles appear applicable to complex systems of all types […]”
(Emphasis mine.) I am intrigued by this evolutionary model of web development. In the abstract for Movement, Matt Webb writes:
“the Web in 2008 has some entirely new qualities: more than ever it’s an ecology of separate but highly interconnected services. Its fiercely competitive, rapid development means differentiating innovations are quickly copied and spread. Attention from users is scarce. The fittest websites survive.”
(Again, emphasis mine.) I think the challenge that now lies before us is to not only as designers practice co-design with our users, but to go one step further, and encode rules for autonomous evolution into our systems. These are the adaptive systems I’ve been blogging about recently. An important note is that systems can adapt to individual users, but also—in the case of social software—to aggregate behaviour of user groups.5
This can be extended to a world’s governance. Here is one of the ideas I find most exciting in the context of social software, one I have seen very few examples of so far.
“[…] our view is that a virtual world need not be set up with a “default” government, but can instead evolve as needed.”
I cannot think of one MMOG that is designed to allow for a model of governance to emerge from player interactions. The best example I can think of from the world of social software is this article by Tom Coates at the Barbelith wiki. Barbelith is a somewhat ‘old school’ online community comprised of message boards (remember those?). In the piece (titled TriPolitica) he writes:
“Imagine a message board with three clear identities, colour-schemes and names. Each has a generic set of basic initial forums on a clearly defined range of subjects (say — Politics / Science / Entertainment). Each forum starts with a certain structure — one Monarchic, one Parliamentary Democracy and one Distributed Anarchy. All the rules that it takes to run each community have been sufficiently abstracted so that they can be turned on or off at will BY the community concerned. Moreover, the rules are self-reflexive — ie. the community can also create structures to govern how those rules are changed. This would operate by a bill-like structure where an individual can propose a new rule or a change to an existing rule that then may or may not require one or more forms of ratification. There would be the ability to create a rule governing who could propose a new bill, how often and what areas it might be able to change or influence.”
He goes on to give examples of how this would work—what user types you’d need and what actions would need to be available to those users. I’m pretty sure this was never implemented at Barbelith (which, by the way, is a fun community to browse through if you’re into counter cultural geekery). Actually, I’m pretty sure I know of no online space that has a system like this in place. Any interaction designers out there who are willing to take up the gauntlet?
“Work within the system.”
This is the final lesson offered in the essay I’d like to look at, one that is multifaceted. On the one hand, Messrs Farmer and Morningstar propose that world building should be part of the system itself (and therefore accessible to regular players):
“One of the goals of a next generation Habitat-like system ought to be to permit far greater creative involvement by the participants without requiring them to ascend to full-fledged guru-hood to do so.”
And, further on:
“This requires finding ways to represent design and creation of regions and objects as part of the underlying fantasy.”
I do not think a MMOG has achieved this in any meaningful sense so far. Second Life may offer world creation tools to users, but they are far from accessible, and certainly not part of the “underlying fantasy”. In web based social software, suspension of disbelief is of less concern. It can be argued that Flickr for instance successfully offers world creation at an accessible level. Each Flickr user contributes to the photographic tapestry that is the Flickr ‘photoverse’. Wikipedia, too offers relatively simple tools for contribution, albeit text based. In the gaming sphere, there are examples such as SFZero, a Collaborative Production Game, in which players add tasks for others to complete, essentially collaboratively creating the game with the designers.
Like I said, the lesson “work within the system” applies to more than one aspect. The other being moderation. The authors share an amusing anecdote about players exploiting a loop hole introduced by new characters and objects (the players gained access to an unusually powerful weapon). The anecdote shows that it is always better to moderate disputes within the shared fantasy of the world, in stead of making use of external measures that break the player’s suspension of disbelief. Players will consider the latter cheating on the part of administrators:
“Operating within the participants’ world model produced a very satisfactory result. On the other hand, what seemed like the expedient course, which involved violating this model, provoked upset and dismay.”
Designers should play with users, not against them. This applies to social software on the web equally. It is this attitude that sets Flickr apart from many other online communities. Flickr’s designers understand the principle of “operating within the participants’ world model”. For example, look at how they handled confusion and irritation around the last Talk Like A Pirate Day gag.6
In summary, dear reader, if you got this far, I would love to see examples of social software that:
- Are accessible in a number of ‘representations’
- Are co-designed with users, or better yet, apply evolutionary principles to its design
- Allow users to develop their own model of governance
- Allow users to easily add to the system, in an integrated way
- Are moderated from within the system
If you—like me—can’t think of any, perhaps it’s time to build some?
Image credits: © 1986 LucasArts Entertainment Company.
- The essay can be read online over here. [↩]
- More about my GDC 2008 experiences. [↩]
- This principle is now being applied to the extreme in Yahoo!‘s Fire Eagle. [↩]
- The former quote I first encountered in Matt Jones’s presentation RuleSpace, the latter is from this BBC article on Reboot 9.0. [↩]
- For more on aggregating user behaviour in social software also see Greater than the sum of its parts by Tom Coates (yes him again). [↩]
- Tom Armitage has some good thoughts on the Talk Like A Pirate Day debacle. [↩]
Mr. Rutter and Mr. Box share some of the clever tricks they’ve been using to create prototypes of websites. Saw this in action on a project I did with them and quite liked it.
Sweet — a service that tracks new album releases for artists you listen to (using Last.fm). Via Mr. Biddulph.