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:
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.
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!
Dan is Adrian’s brother and business partner [↩]
“No one cares about what you think, unless you do what you think. No one cares what you do, unless you think about what you do. No one ever really cares what you say.” A tough lesson, but one worth attempting to live by.
“The Twiggy Game is a charming cultural object from a bygone era; it’s also a stark representation of what went wrong with boardgames, and a stark warning for what can go wrong with games as a whole — at least, if we fail to inculcate, in ourselves and in others who love games, an aesthetic that prizes something beyond the brand.” Greg Costikyan in fine form.
Now that the IxDA has posted a video of my presentation at Interaction 09 to Vimeo, I thought it would be a good idea to provide a little background to the talk. I had already posted the slides to SlideShare, so a full write-up doesn’t seem necessary. To provide a little context though, I will summarize the thing.
The idea of the talk was to look at a few qualities of embodied interaction, and relate them to games and play, in the hopes of illuminating some design opportunities. Without dwelling on what embodiment really means, suffice to say that there is a school of thought that states that our thinking originates in our bodily experience of the world around us, and our relationships with the people in it. I used the example of an improvised information display I once encountered in the paediatric ward of a local hospital to highlight two qualities of embodied interaction: (1) meaning is socially constructed and (2) cognition is facilitated by tangibility.1
With regards to the first aspect — the social construction of meaning — I find it interesting that in games, you find a distinction between the official rules to a game, and the rules that are arrived at through mutual consent by the players, the latter being how the game is actually played. Using the example of an improvised manège in Habbo, I pointed out that under-specified design tends to encourage the emergence of such interesting uses. What it comes down to, as a designer, is to understand that once people get together to do stuff, and it involves the thing you’ve designed, they will layer new meanings on top of what you came up with, which is largely out of your control.
For the second aspect — cognition being facilitated by tangibility — I talked about how people use the world around them to offload mental computation. For instance, when people get better at playing Tetris, they start backtracking more than when they just started playing. They are essentially using the game’s space to think with. As an aside, I pointed out that in my experience, sketching plays a similar role when designing. As with the social construction of meaning, for epistemic action to be possible, the system in use needs to be adaptable.
To wrap up, I suggested that, when it comes to the design of embodied interactive stuff, we are struggling with the same issues as game designers. We’re both positioning ourselves (in the words of Eric Zimmerman) as meta-creators of meaning; as designers of spaces in which people discover new things about themselves, the world around them and the people in it.
I had several people come up to me afterwards, asking for sources, so I’ll list them here.
the significance of the social construction of meaning for interaction design is explained in detail by Paul Dourish in his book Where the Action Is
the research by Jean Piaget I quoted is from his book The Moral Judgement of the Child (which I first encountered in Rules of Play, see below)
the concept of ideal versus real rules is from the wonderful book Rules of Play by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman (who in turn have taken it from Kenneth Goldstein’s article Strategies in Counting Out)
for a wonderful description of how children socially mediate the rules to a game, have a look at the article Beyond the Rules of the Game by Linda Hughes (collected in the Game Design Reader)
for a discussion of pragmatic versus epistemic action and how it relates to interaction design, refer to the article How Bodies Matter (PDF) by Scott Klemmer, Björn Hartmann and Leila Takayama (which is rightfully recommended by Dan Saffer in his book, Designing Gestural Interfaces)
the “play is free movement…” quote is from Rules of Play
the picture of the guy skateboarding is a still from the awesome documentary film Dogtown and Z‑Boys
for a lot of great thinking on “loose fit” design, be sure to check out the book How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand
the “meta-creators of meaning” quote is from Eric Zimmerman’s foreword to the aforementioned Game Design Workshop, 2nd ed.
And that’s it. Interaction 09 was a great event, I’m happy to have been a part of it. Most of the talks seem to be online now. So why not check them out? My favourites by far were John Thackara and Robert Fabricant. Thanks to the people of the IxDA for all the effort they put into increasing interaction design’s visibility to the world.
For a detailed discussion of the information display, have a look at this blog post. [↩]
I disagree with the idea that the only way forward for interaction design as a field is to focus on high-level, strategic work. It seems Cooper, and other American interaction design consultancies like them, are finding strategy work more lucrative than actual design, but feel a little guilty for abandoning the craft they originate from. There is a real need for interaction design on a tactical level (call it craft, praxis or whatever) and it is not something to be left to technologists, marketing folk or industrial designers.
The Economist covers ARGs. Good news for those hoping to make money in the field, I guess. I was happy to see them make the point that the most interesting current examples are not so much ARGs, but do fit into a “growing trend of using playful cross-media technologies to get people thinking”.
What is most interesting to me about this piece by Gladwell is not so much his advice on how to beat the big guys when you’re small. Rather it is the wonderful examples of implicit, socially constructed rules that govern play as much as the real, formal, explicit ones.