A quick look at Tweetakt’s playful installations

Twee­t­akt is hap­pen­ing in Utrecht at the moment. It’s a youth the­atre fes­ti­val, real­ly push­ing the lim­its of what we think that means. As an exam­ple, they’ve pro­vid­ed space for sev­er­al instal­la­tions at the fes­ti­val cen­tre on the Neude. I went over for a quick look today — even though I know most of the cre­ators per­son­al­ly and am famil­iar with sev­er­al of the pieces. They’re all free and open to the pub­lic, so if you’re in the area, you should go too.

Knikker­baan

Medialab Utrecht's Knikkerbaan at Tweetakt

Made by a few prin­ci­pals at the Medi­al­ab Utrecht. Push a but­ton and a mar­ble starts rolling down a futur­is­tic look­ing track. Halfway through it enters a scan­ner of sorts, and is con­vert­ed into a vir­tu­al coun­ter­part vis­i­ble on a screen, only to emerge phys­i­cal­ly after some time again. At the end of the track, you get to keep the mar­ble.

It’s hard­ly inter­ac­tive, but does look kind of impres­sive and of course, mar­bles are always fun.

Kleurkamer

Monobanda's Kleurkamer at Tweetakt

A new ver­sion what is becom­ing a clas­sic by the trou­ble­mak­ers at Monoban­da. A beam­er, a white decor and wiimotes enable you to paint with light. It’s a sim­ple premise, the exe­cu­tion is ser­vice­able but the result is quite mag­i­cal. The addi­tion of white jack­ets for peo­ple that want to become part of the can­vas is a real nice touch.

Block­blaz­ers

Fourcelabs's Blockblazers at Tweetakt

Made by my friends at Fource­labs, this is the one that hasn’t the ben­e­fit of a spec­tac­u­lar phys­i­cal shape but is the most fun to play. It’s a com­pet­i­tive plat­form game playable with eight peo­ple at the same time with some clever social and phys­i­cal touch­es. Scor­ing points is reward­ed with a big pho­to of your­self that is shown for a few sec­onds, and the game wraps around two big screens that are back to back, forc­ing you to move around and com­pete with the oth­er play­ers for phys­i­cal floor space.

It’s nice to see this kind of stuff at a the­atre fes­ti­val. I hope the pieces will do well — despite the fact that not all of them have been placed and pre­sent­ed to the pub­lic in the best way — so that we’ll get more of this stuff in the years to come.

Week 140

Is it march already? Time flies.

I’m on my way to Ams­ter­dam again. Around 10 hours ear­li­er, I was in a train in the oppo­site direc­tion, com­ing back from Vis­i­ble Cities #02. This turned out to be an evening well spent. Some nice exam­ples of AR projects were shown but in par­tic­u­lar Ole Bouman of the NAi’s per­spec­tive on the changes archi­tec­ture will go through under the pres­sure of new tech­nolo­gies was enlight­en­ing. He came across as both crit­i­cal and knowl­edge­able, pas­sion­ate about the field with a sol­id ground­ing in its his­to­ry. Inspir­ing. Final­ly spend­ing an evening in TrouwAms­ter­dam — eat­ing a burg­er and drink­ing a beer in the space where print­ing press­es used to run — was anoth­er plus.

I’m at Layar a lot this week again. Still can’t tell you too much about what’s going on there. But it con­tin­ues to be both a chal­leng­ing and fun engage­ment, so that’s good.

Apart from this, I spent a day brain­storm­ing new game con­cepts for one of the Netherlands’s big lot­ter­ies, with which they’re hop­ing to reach a younger gen­er­a­tion. It’s always a chal­lenge to immerse one­self in a new con­text that fast, but it went well. Lots of nice ideas came up and the work­shop was facil­i­tat­ed in a tight man­ner. Par­tic­i­pat­ing in these things always results in use­ful insights for when I run my own ses­sions.

I do feel slight­ly exhaust­ed from all this, not in the least because what should have been a two hour review of pro­pos­als on mon­day morn­ing with my stu­dents turned into a three-and-a-half hour marathon ses­sion. They’ve had to sub­mit their grad­u­a­tion project pro­pos­als now, so I’ll soon sit down and do a final assess­ment of them. Then they’re good to go.

And so will I.

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.

A game as a museum as a game

Over at Non-fic­tion, Juha writes about a hypo­thet­i­cal game that sim­u­lates muse­um man­age­ment. He asks:

Could this be an inter­est­ing approach to open up muse­ums and learn from our cur­rent and future audi­ences? Could a game be a muse­um? Could a muse­um be a game?”

I think the sim­ple answer to all these ques­tions is yes. But I’ve always been more inter­est­ed in the how of things. So I’m lead to won­der…

Con­tin­ue read­ing A game as a muse­um as a game

What the hubbub is

There’s some move­ment over at the web­site for my new ven­ture. I men­tioned Hub­bub before: it is a design stu­dio I am set­ting up for phys­i­cal, social games that are played in pub­lic places. We hope to address social issues and the like using these games.

Recent­ly…

Today's harvest

Also, we’ll be doing some­thing play­ful and run­ning a work­shop at the upcom­ing Game in the City con­fer­ence in Amers­foort.

To stay post­ed on Hub­bub devel­op­ments, fol­low us on Twit­ter or sign up for our newslet­ter. There’s good old RSS as well, of course.

Work now so you can play later

There’s a lot going on at the Leapfrog stu­dio, which explains at least in part why things have gone qui­et around here. How­ev­er, I want­ed to take the time to alert you to some upcom­ing events that might be of inter­est.

An urban game in the Rotterdam city center

On Sun­day Sep­tem­ber 27 around 50 young peo­ple will play an urban game I designed for Your World — Rot­ter­dam Euro­pean Youth Cap­i­tal 2009.1 It is part of a two-day event called Change Your World, which enables groups of youth to set up a new ‘move­ment’ with finan­cial sup­port and advice from pro­fes­sion­als. You might want to hang around the Rot­ter­dam city cen­ter dur­ing the day, to wit­ness what is sure to be an inter­est­ing spec­ta­cle. More info should show up soon enough at the Your World web­site.

A pervasive game in the Hoograven neighborhood of Utrecht

Around the same time, from Sep­tem­ber 18 to Octo­ber 11, you’ll be able to play Kop­pelkiek in the Hoograven area of Utrecht. This is a game I’ve cre­at­ed for the Dutch Design Dou­ble pro­gram.2 To play, you take pho­tos of your­self with oth­ers in a range of sit­u­a­tions and upload them to the game’s web­site. It’s designed to sub­tly per­me­ate your dai­ly life. With the help of our play­ers we’re hop­ing to cre­ate a col­lec­tion of pho­tos that pro­vide a unique look into life in the neigh­bor­hood. Do join in if you’re in the area. Also, we’ll have a playtest on Sep­tem­ber 16. If you’re inter­est­ed in play­ing a round or two, drop me a line.3

Data visualizations of silence

I’m wrap­ping up some data visu­al­iza­tion work I’ve done for the artist Sarah van Sons­beeck.4 Sarah’s work revolves (amongst oth­er things) around the con­cept of silence. Alper and I took a dataset she gen­er­at­ed dur­ing a few of her ‘silence walks’ using a GPS track­er and a sound lev­el meter and cre­at­ed a num­ber of sta­t­ic visu­al­iza­tions in Pro­cess­ing. Some of the out­put can be seen at the exhi­bi­tion Een Dijk van een Kust. More will prob­a­bly be on dis­play at anoth­er occa­sion. Also, I’ve learnt some new tricks that I intend to share here soon.

What else, what else…

  • I’m still mean­ing to write some­thing up about the work that went into Mega Mon­ster Bat­tle Are­na™ but it will have to wait. I attend­ed two of the three shows and enjoyed both through­ly. There’s some pho­tos up at the opera’s web­site.
  • We’re in the process of fin­ish­ing up the This hap­pened – Utrecht #3 videos. Once they’re all done we’ll add them to the event’s page on the .org site along with the slides. Plan­ning for our fourth event has already start­ed. Mark your cal­en­dar for Octo­ber 26 and sub­scribe to our newslet­ter so you won’t miss the registration’s open­ing.
  • And final­ly, I’m slow­ly but sure­ly giv­ing shape to a new ven­ture which will focus on the use of play in pub­lic space to effect social change. Its name is Hub­bub. The crazy design­ers at BUROPONY are devel­op­ing a sweet brand iden­ti­ty and a first place­hold­er site is up. Stay tuned for more news on that.

That’s about it for now, thanks for your atten­tion. I promise to pro­vide con­tent with more meat and less self-pro­mo­tion in upcom­ing posts.

  1. Karel Mil­lenaar, game design­er extra­or­di­naire at Fource­Labs and a fel­low res­i­dent of the Dutch Game Gar­den, has helped me out on this one. []
  2. I’ve asked Tij­men Schep of Pinep­ple­Jazz, NetNiet.org and the new Utrecht medi­al­ab to be my part­ner on this one. []
  3. Around the same time a lot of oth­er inter­est­ing stuff relat­ed to design and soci­ety will be going on, such as the third edi­tion of Utrecht Man­i­fest, the bien­ni­al for social design. []
  4. I was turned on to this gig by the ubiq­ui­tous Alper Çuğun. []

Announcing a hybrid game opera for Monster

I nev­er thought I would make an opera. But now I have.

A bit of Monster

In a few weeks time the above mar­ket square in the town of Mon­ster will be trans­formed into an are­na where fight­ers duel each oth­er using their pet mon­sters. If this sounds famil­iar, it is no coin­ci­dence.

Mega Mon­ster Bat­tle Are­na is one of 11 operas pro­duced by Dario Fo to cel­e­brate the fifth anniver­sary of the West­land munic­i­pal­i­ty. Dario Fo spe­cial­ize in cre­at­ing music the­atre in close col­lab­o­ra­tion with the local com­mu­ni­ty. They asked com­pos­er Daniël Ham­burg­er to cre­ate the opera for Mon­ster. The brief was to do ‘some­thing’ with the town’s curi­ous name, and to make it a pro­duc­tion that would appeal to youth by ref­er­enc­ing games cul­ture.1

Daniël in turn approached me, since he had lit­tle affin­i­ty for games, and want­ed the piece to not only be about games, but to be a game itself. So that’s what I helped do. By turn­ing the game design prin­ci­ple of embed­ded nar­ra­tive inside-out, we’ve man­aged to cre­ate a struc­ture in which we can both tell a sto­ry using a script, and have per­form­ers impro­vise using game rules. Those rules I designed as a prop­er game. I could give you those rules and you would be able to play it your­self.

So there will be fights, and they’ll not be script­ed. You won’t know before­hand who will win, and nei­ther will we. There will also be a sto­ry, about a hero­ine fac­ing off with a bad guy, in the best game and mar­tial arts film tra­di­tion. Sieger M.G. was our third man, the piece’s writer. A rap­per turned poet with a life-long games addic­tion, there could be no bet­ter fit.

What’s prob­a­bly most excit­ing to me is that on top of the impro­vi­sa­tion­al chore­og­ra­phy of the duels, a live band will use a rule set of their own, com­posed by Daniël, that takes the game as it unfolds as its input to impro­vise. How’s that for adap­tive music?2

It might all go hor­ri­bly wrong, or it might become a won­der­ful spec­ta­cle. If you are like me and would like to find out which it will be, head to Mon­ster for one of the shows. They’re sched­uled for:

  • Thurs­day 18 June 20:30 (try­out)
  • Fri­day 19 June 20:30
  • Sat­ur­day 20 June 20:30

Tick­ets are 15 Euro and can be bought at the venue. Once the show is over, I’ll post some more detailed stuff about the actu­al work I did. Stay tuned.

Mega Moster Battle Arena flyer

  1. There would be tons of kids from local high schools to work with. They also want­ed to use the local fire­men choir. Oh, and aer­i­al work plat­forms too… []
  2. One of the sources of inspi­ra­tion for Daniël was John Zorn. []

What I’m doing at the Festival of Games

tglobe

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:

  • Adri­an Hon of Six to Start is com­ing over to Utrecht for a keynote titled “Why sto­ries in games suck”. Adri­an was one of the peo­ple behind the ambi­tious and influ­en­tial ARG Per­plex City. For a taste of what this ses­sion might be like, check out Dan Hon’s1 talk “Every­thing you know about ARGs is WRONG”.

  • 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.

  • Update: Before the open playtest ses­sion, I’ll be host­ing a lunch ses­sion open to all peo­ple work­ing in the area of social and tan­gi­ble play. It’s on the pro­gram as “ARG lunch” but don’t let that fool you. If you make urban games, per­va­sive games, or any type of game that’s not lim­it­ed to what hap­pens on the screen, you’re wel­come to join us. We’ll be look­ing at how we can join forces in cer­tain strate­gic areas, but the ses­sion is also just about get­ting to know each oth­er.

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!

  1. Dan is Adrian’s broth­er and busi­ness part­ner []

Mashing up the real-time city and urban games

Yes­ter­day evening I was at the Club of Ams­ter­dam. They host events cen­tred around pre­ferred futures. I was invit­ed to speak at an evening about the future of games.1 I thought I’d share what I talked about with you here.

I had ten min­utes to get my point across. To be hon­est, I think I failed rather dis­mal­ly. Some of the ideas I includ­ed were still quite fresh and unfin­ished, and I am afraid this did not work out well. I also relied too heav­i­ly on ref­er­enc­ing other’s work, pre­sum­ing peo­ple would be famil­iar with them. A mis­cal­cu­la­tion on my part.

In any case, thanks to Felix Bopp and Car­la Hoek­endijk for invit­ing me. I had a good time and enjoyed the oth­er presenter’s talks. The dis­cus­sion after­wards too was a lot of things, but dull cer­tain­ly isn’t among them.

What fol­lows is a write-up of what I more or less said dur­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion, plus ref­er­ences to the sources I used, which will hope­ful­ly make things clear­er than they were dur­ing the evening itself.2

coa-the-future-of-games-presented001

(This is where I did the usu­al intro­duc­tion of who I am and what I do. I won’t bore you with it here. In case you are won­der­ing, the title of this talk is slight­ly tongue-in cheek. I had to come up with it for the abstract before writ­ing the actu­al talk. Had I been able to choose a title after­wards, it would’ve been some­thing like “Growth” or “A New Biol­o­gy of Urban Play”…)

coa-the-future-of-games-presented002

This gen­tle­man is Jean-Bap­tiste Lamar­ck. He is said to be the first to for­mu­late a coher­ent the­o­ry of evo­lu­tion. His ideas cen­tred around inher­i­tance of acquired traits. So for instance, a black­smiths who works hard his whole life will prob­a­bly get real­ly strong arms. In the Lamar­ck­ist view, his off­spring will inher­it these strong arms from him. Dar­win­ism rules supreme in evo­lu­tion­ary biol­o­gy, so it is no sur­prise that this the­o­ry is out of favour nowa­days. What I find inter­est­ing is the fact that out­side of the nat­ur­al domain, Lamar­ck­ism is still applic­a­ble, most notably in cul­ture. Cul­tur­al organ­isms can pass on traits they acquired in their life­time to their off­spring. Fur­ther­more, there is a code­pen­den­cy between cul­ture and humans. The two have co-evolved. You could say cul­ture is a trick humans use to get around the lim­its of Dar­win­ism (slow, tri­al-and-error based incre­men­tal improve­ments) in order to achieve Lamar­ck­ism.3

coa-the-future-of-games-presented003

You can think of cities as cul­tur­al meta-organ­isms. They’re a great exam­ple of nat­ur­al-cul­tur­al co-evo­lu­tion. We use cities as huge infor­ma­tion stor­age and retrieval machines. What you see here is a map of the city of Ham­burg cir­ca 1800. In his book Emer­gence, Steven Berlin John­son com­pares the shape of this map to that of the human brain, to illus­trate this idea of the city being alive, in a sense. Cities are self-orga­niz­ing cities that emerge from the bot­tom up. They grow, pat­terns are cre­at­ed from low-lev­el inter­ac­tions, things like neigh­bour­hoods.4

coa-the-future-of-games-presented004

Games are this oth­er thing nature has come up with to speed up evo­lu­tion. I’m not going to go into why I think we play (you could do worse than have a look at The Ambi­gu­i­ty of Play by Bri­an Sut­ton-Smith to get a sense of all the dif­fer­ent view­points on the mat­ter). Let’s just say I think one thing games are good at is con­vey­ing view­points of the world in a pro­ce­dur­al way (a.k.a. ‘pro­ce­dur­al rhetoric’ as described in Ian Bogost’s book Per­sua­sive Games). They pro­vide peo­ple with a way to explore a sys­tem from the inside out. They give rise to ‘sys­temic lit­er­a­cy’.5 The image is from Ani­mal Cross­ing: Wild World, a game that, as Bogost argues, tries to point out cer­tain issues that exist with con­sumerism and pri­vate home own­er­ship.

coa-the-future-of-games-presented005

Mov­ing on, I’d like to dis­cuss two trends that I see hap­pen­ing right now. I’ll build on those to for­mu­late my future vision.

coa-the-future-of-games-presented006

So trend num­ber one: the real-time city. In cities around the globe, we are con­tin­u­ous­ly pump­ing up the amount of sen­sors, actu­a­tors and proces­sors. The behav­iour of peo­ple is being sensed, processed and fed back to them in an ever tight­en­ing feed­back loop. This will inevitably change the behav­iour of humans as well as the city. So cities are head­ed to a phase tran­si­tion, where they’ll move (if not in whole then at least in neigh­bour­hood-sized chunks) to a new lev­el of evolv­abil­i­ty. Adam Green­field calls it net­work weath­er. Dan Hill talks about how these new soft infra­struc­tures can help us change the user expe­ri­ence of the city with­out need­ing to change the hard stuff. The prob­lem is, though, that the major­i­ty of this stuff is next-to invis­i­ble, and there­fore hard to “read”.6 The image, by the way, is from Sta­men Design’s awe­some project Cab­spot­ting, which (amongst oth­er things) con­sists of real-time track­ing and visu­al­iza­tion of the tra­jec­to­ries of taxis in the Bay Area.

coa-the-future-of-games-presented007

Trend num­ber two. In the past decade or so, there’s a renewed inter­est in play­ing in pub­lic spaces. Urban games are being used to re-imag­ine and repur­pose the city in new ways (such as the park­our play­er pic­tured here). Con­scious­ly or sub­con­scious­ly, urban games design­ers are flirt­ing with the notions of the Sit­u­a­tion­ist Inter­na­tion­al, most notably the idea of inner space shap­ing our expe­ri­ence of out­er space (psy­cho-geog­ra­phy) and the use of play­ful acts to sub­vert those spaces. Park­our and free run­ning can’t real­ly be called games, but things like SFZe­ro, The Soho Project and Cru­el 2 B Kind all fit these ideas in some way.

coa-the-future-of-games-presented008

So I see an oppor­tu­ni­ty here: To alle­vi­ate some of the illeg­i­bil­i­ty of the real-time city’s new soft infra­struc­tures, we can deploy games that tap into them. Thus we employ the capac­i­ty of games to pro­vide insight into com­plex sys­tems. With urban games, this ‘grokking’ can hap­pen in situ.

coa-the-future-of-games-presented009

Through play­ing these games, peo­ple will be bet­ter able to “read” the real-time city, and to move towards a more decen­tral­ized mind­set. The image is from a project by Dan Hill, where the shape of pub­lic Wi-Fi in the State Library of Queens­land was visu­al­ized and over­laid on the building’s floor-plan.

coa-the-future-of-games-presented010

Ulti­mate­ly though, I would love to enable peo­ple to not only “read” but also “write” pos­si­ble process­es for the real-time city. I see many advan­tages here. Fore one this could lead to sit­u­at­ed pro­ce­dur­al argu­ments: peo­ple could be enabled to pro­pose alter­na­tive ways of inter­act­ing with urban space. But even with­out this, just by mak­ing stuff, anoth­er way of learn­ing is acti­vat­ed, known as ‘analy­sis by syn­the­sis’. This was the aim of Mitchel Resnick when he made Star­L­ogo (of which you see a screen­shot here). And it works. Star­L­ogo enables chil­dren to make sense of com­plex sys­tems. A real-time urban game design toolk­it could to the same, with the added ben­e­fit of the games being jux­ta­posed with the cities they are about.

coa-the-future-of-games-presented011

This jux­ta­po­si­tion might result in dynam­ics sim­i­lar to what we find in nature. Process­es from these new games might be spon­ta­neous­ly trans­ferred over to the city, and vice ver­sa. The image is of roots with out­growths on them which are caused by a bac­te­ria called Agrobac­teri­um. This bac­te­ria is well known for its abil­i­ty to trans­fer DNA between itself and plants. An exam­ple of nature cir­cum­vent­ing nat­ur­al selec­tion.7 A new sym­bio­sis between urban games and the real-time city might lead to sim­i­lar accel­er­a­tion of their evo­lu­tions.

coa-the-future-of-games-presented012

(I fin­ished a lit­tle over time and had time for one ques­tion. Adri­aan Wor­m­goor of Fource­Labs asked whether I thought games would soon­er or lat­er become self-evolv­ing them­selves. My answer was “absolute­ly”. to get to ever high­er lev­els of com­plex­i­ty we’ll be forced to start grow­ing or rear­ing our games more than assem­bling them from parts. Games want to be free, you could say, so they are inevitably head­ing towards ever high­er lev­els of evolv­abil­i­ty.)

  1. Iskan­der Smit has post­ed a report of the evening over at his blog. []
  2. If you’re inter­est­ed, the slide deck as a whole is also avail­able on SlideShare. []
  3. I first came across Lamar­ck, and the idea of nature and cul­ture co-evolv­ing in Kevin Kelly’s book Out of Con­trol. The black­smith exam­ple is his too. []
  4. All this flies in the face of large-scale top-down plan­ning and zon­ing, as Jane Jacobs makes painful­ly clear in her book The Death and Life of Great Amer­i­can Cities. []
  5. Eric Zim­mer­man talked at length about the need for sys­temic lit­er­a­cy at Play­ful 2008. []
  6. For more on this have a look at anoth­er blog post by Adam Green­field titled Read­ing, writ­ing, texts, lit­er­a­cy, cities. []
  7. As Kevin Kel­ly writes in Out of Con­trol, evo­lu­tion with sym­bio­sis includ­ed is less like a tree and more like a thick­et. []

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.