Week 135

I man­aged to squeeze in a vis­it to the HKU KMT faculty’s project mar­ket in Hil­ver­sum on thurs­day last week. It’s an annu­al pre­sen­ta­tion of work done for exter­nal clients by grad­u­ate stu­dents. I coached one of those projects, which was done for the Nokia Research Cen­ter. They did a good job of pre­sent­ing a com­pli­cat­ed con­cept, which revolves around encour­ag­ing office work­ers to com­mute in a green­er man­ner by track­ing their trav­els on a mobile and giv­ing them a real live plant to take care of with the water they earn based on this col­lect­ed data… You should see it. Oth­er favorites of mine were:

  • Lumen; a series of urban pro­jec­tions in Utrecht which were exe­cut­ed with high pol­ish
  • Home­osta­sis; a beau­ti­ful expres­sive inter­ac­tive art piece cre­at­ed for Cross­ing Bor­der fes­ti­val
  • Paper Cakes; a cool game designed for Wacom’s Bam­boo Min­is plat­form, which the­mat­i­cal­ly and mechan­i­cal­ly makes excel­lent use of the tar­get input device1

The project mar­ket always coin­cides with an alum­ni recep­tion, which means recon­nect­ing with a lot of old friends too.

Project Tako is in full swing now. I talked to two orga­ni­za­tions on fri­day and will be see­ing six more this week. It’s a priv­i­lege to meet all these peo­ple, who pro­duce some of Utrecht’s finest cul­tur­al fes­ti­vals. Lots of ideas for play­ful addi­tions to their pro­grams have already start­ed to emerge. I’ll need to devel­op them fur­ther in the com­ing weeks. It’s also strik­ing how each and every one of them keeps office in a beau­ti­ful build­ing. Bik­ing through my home town from meet­ing to meet­ing reminds me of how pret­ty it actu­al­ly is.

One can nev­er be too busy, so this mon­day we announced the next This hap­pened – Utrecht. The line-up con­sists of Daan Roosegaarde on Liq­uid Space 6.0, Stel­la Boess & Ste­fan Gross on Love Hate Punch, Bas Teu­nisse & Lex van den Berg on Paper Cakes and Govert de Vries on Swinxs. The events is sched­uled for mon­day 22 feb­ru­ary. As usu­al I’ve been scram­bling to get the web­site ready, send out the emails and make sure the venue is all set. Good thing I have Alexan­der and Ianus to take care of a lot of oth­er stuff.

But for the most part this week, I’m con­tin­u­ing design at Layar. The first reviews of some ini­tial bits have been sched­uled so we’ll see how that goes.

  1. The HKU and Wacom first met at This hap­pened – Utrecht #2. It’s also been nom­i­nat­ed for an IGF stu­dent award, so we could not resist invit­ing this project to the next edi­tion. []

links for 2010-01-25

links for 2010-01-21

Week 134

I’m writ­ing this in the morn­ing on a train from Utrecht to Ams­ter­dam. I’ll be mak­ing this trip more often the com­ing weeks, since I signed a con­tract with Layar on tues­day. I’ll be rein­forc­ing their UX team, doing inter­ac­tion design on exist­ing and new parts of their ser­vice. As is often the case with these kinds of engage­ments, there’s not much more I can say at this time. I’m sure there will be inter­est­ing things to show and talk about lat­er on though.

In the time that’s not being tak­en up by Layar this week I’m get­ting going with project Tako. I’ve been call­ing the orga­ni­za­tions select­ed for the project and sched­ul­ing meet­ings. The first one — with the peo­ple behind Uit­gekookt; a culi­nary fes­ti­val — is set for this fri­day. It’s a rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk about how you can bring a play­ful per­spec­tive to (in this case) cook­ing and food, I’m real­ly look­ing for­ward to it. More meet­ings will be hap­pen­ing next week.

Also on fri­day, I’ll attend an eval­u­a­tion of the Mount Ever­est project, which was wrapped up last week­end. I went over to the fac­ul­ty to see the pieces the stu­dents had cre­at­ed and was blown away by the cre­ativ­i­ty and tal­ent on dis­play.

If I had to pick one favorite it’ll have to be the group that set up a spoof shop — called Extreme­ly Safe — where you could come in and have your pic­ture tak­en at a haz­ardous loca­tion of your choice. It was a play­ful ser­vice — you real­ly did get that pho­to, plus a sheet of help­ful point­ers for telling the tale of your trav­els to friends and rel­a­tives — but once you were in, an impromp­tu per­for­mance took place too, com­ment­ing on con­tem­po­rary obses­sions with break­ing rules and push­ing lim­its.

Good stuff.

links for 2010-01-19

links for 2010-01-18

links for 2010-01-15

Are games media or design objects?

In a recent post on the Edge blog — which, if you con­sid­er your­self a games design­er, you absolute­ly must read — Matt Jones asks:

Why should pock­et cal­cu­la­tors be put on a pedestal, and not Peg­gle?”

He writes about the need for games to be appre­ci­at­ed and cri­tiqued as design objects. He points out that the cre­ation of any suc­cess­ful game is “at least as com­plex and coor­di­nat­ed as that of a Jonathan Ive lap­top”. He also spec­u­lates that rea­sons for games to be ignored is that they might be seen pri­mar­i­ly as media, and that main­stream design crit­ics lack lit­er­a­cy in games, which makes them blind to their design qual­i­ties.

Read­ing this, I recalled a dis­cus­sion I had with Dave Mal­ouf on Twit­ter a while back. It was sparked by a tweet from Matt, which reads:

it’s the 3rd year in a row they’ve ignored my sub­mis­sion of a game… hmmph (L4D, fwiw) — should games be seen as design objects? or media?”

I prompt­ly replied:

@moleitau design objects, for sure. I’m with mr Lantz on the games aren’t media thing.”

For an idea of what I mean by “being with Mr. Lantz”, you could do worse that to read this inter­view with him at the Tale of Tales blog.

At this point, Dave Mal­ouf joined the fray, post­ing:

@kaeru can a game be used to con­vey a mes­sage? We know the answer is yes, so doesn’t that make it a form of media? @moleitau”

I could not resist answer­ing that one, so I post­ed a series of four tweets:

@daveixd let me clar­i­fy: 1. some games are bits of con­tent that I con­sume, but not all are

@daveixd 2. ulti­mate­ly it is the play­er who cre­ates mean­ing, game design­ers cre­ate con­texts with­in which mean­ing emerges.

@daveixd 3. think­ing of games as media cre­ates a blind spot for all forms of pre-videogames era play”

@daveixd that’s about it real­ly, 3 rea­sons why I think of games more as tools than media. Some more thoughts: http://is.gd/5m5xa @moleitau”

To which Dave replied:

@kaeru re: #2 all mean­ing regard­less of medi­um or media are derived at the human lev­el.”

@kaeru maybe this is seman­tics, but any chan­nel that has an ele­ment of com­mu­ni­cat­ing a mes­sage, IMHO is media. Tag & tic-tac-toe also.”

@kaeru wait, are you equat­ing games to play to fun? But I’m lim­it­ing myself to games. I.e. role play­ing is play, but not always a game.”

At this point, I got frus­trat­ed by Twitter’s lack of sup­port for a dis­cus­sion of this kind. So I wrote:

@daveixd Twit­ter is not the best place for this kind of dis­cus­sion. I’ll try to get back to your points via my blog as soon as I can.”

And here we are. I’ll wrap up by address­ing each of Dave’s points.

  1. Although I guess Dave’s right about all mean­ing being derived at the human lev­el, what I think makes games dif­fer­ent from, say, a book or a film is that the thing itself is a con­text with­in which this mean­ing mak­ing takes place. It is, in a sense, a tool for mak­ing mean­ing.
  2. Games can car­ry a mes­sage, and some­times are con­scious­ly employed to do so. One inter­est­ing thing about this is on what lev­el the mes­sage is car­ried — is it told through bits of lin­ear media embed­ded in the game, or does it emerge from a player’s inter­ac­tion with the game’s rules? How­ev­er, I don’t think all games are made to con­vey a mes­sage, nor are they all played to receive one. Tic-Tac-Toe may be a very rough sim­u­la­tion of ter­ri­to­r­i­al war­fare, and you could argue that it tells us some­thing about the futil­i­ty of such pur­suits, but I don’t think it was cre­at­ed for this rea­son, nor is it com­mon­ly played to explore these themes.
  3. I wasn’t equat­ing games to play (those two con­cepts have a tricky rela­tion­ship, one can con­tain the oth­er, and vice-ver­sa) but I do feel that think­ing of games as media is a prod­uct of the recent video game era. By think­ing of games as media, we risk for­get­ting about what came before video games, and what we can learn from these toys and games, which are some­times noth­ing more than a set of social­ly nego­ti­at­ed rules and impro­vised attrib­ut­es (Kick the can, any­one?)

I think I’ll leave it at that.

links for 2010-01-13

Week 133

We (Marin­ka, Evert and I) wrapped up the Move It project on fri­day with great suc­cess. I spent the day in a the­ater watch­ing 24 con­cept videos of new street sports. The one that scored the high­est was also my favorite; a team sport that involves bounc­ing a ball off the sides of an alley, includes the ref­er­ee as a bounc­ing sur­face and allows the audi­ence to par­tic­i­pate by bat­ting balls that leave the play area back into field. It’s called Bounce Ball, check out the video on Vimeo.

This week I’m spend­ing most of my time act­ing as men­tor on anoth­er project at the Utrecht School of the Arts (at the the­atre fac­ul­ty, to be exact). First-year stu­dents from all cours­es there (act­ing, writ­ing, stage design, etc.) have one week to put togeth­er a pro­gram that will be open to the pub­lic on fri­day. The project is titled Mount Ever­est and revolves around the theme of peo­ple going to extremes and trans­gress­ing lim­its (as moun­taineers often do).

It’s nice spend­ing this much time in the the­atre fac­ul­ty, since this is the new venue for the 2010 series of This hap­pened – Utrecht events. I’m get­ting good vibes from the phys­i­cal space, I think it’s a great fit for our thing. I’ve met with Ianus and Alexan­der to make fur­ther plans for the next edi­tion (which is planned for 22 feb­ru­ary). Most of the pro­gram is tak­en care of so we’re on sched­ule for mak­ing the usu­al announce­ments and send­ing out invi­ta­tions to the guest list.

I’ve also met with Karel to dis­cuss project Una­gi. This is a small game design event — an exper­i­ment real­ly — that was born from the many dis­cus­sions Karel and I tend to have over our reg­u­lar din­ners. The goal of Una­gi is to cre­ate a place where Dutch game design­ers can meet, and where we can get a feel for what the state of the art of the dis­ci­pline is. It also involves food.

I’m also slow­ly but sure­ly get­ting up to speed with project Tako. Hope­ful­ly this week I’ll man­age to plan most of the meet­ings that I’ll be hav­ing with the peo­ple behind some of the city of Utrecht’s major cul­tur­al events.

Last but not least, tomor­row I’ll be assess­ing the group project I’ve been men­tor­ing at the Utrecht School of the Arts’ grad­u­ate school for art and tech­nol­o­gy since sep­tem­ber. Also, on fri­day, the group will present their work to Jus­si Holopainen of Nokia Research Cen­ter, who is the project’s com­mis­sion­er. The project is titled EcoW­ay, and revolves around the design for a play­ful expe­ri­ence for com­pa­nies that want to encour­age their employ­ees to com­mute in a green­er man­ner. Here’s a pho­to of the group with their pro­to­type. Look close­ly and you’ll notice it includes a herbar­i­um with prop­er live plants.

This will be a bit­ter­sweet end­ing to a chal­leng­ing but reward­ing teach­ing expe­ri­ence. What most stands out for me with this project is how a prop­er team was formed from what start­ed out as a col­lec­tive of indi­vid­u­als thanks to a hands-on, think­ing-by-doing approach.