Week 173

At the stu­dio, cof­fee brew­ing in the french press, El Guin­cho on the stereo. Last week I felt over­whelmed, this week I just feel aller­gic. Lit­er­al­ly. I have a head full of anti­his­t­a­mines, hope they kick in soon.

One thing I decid­ed to do about the over­whelm­ing bit is block out more time in my cal­en­dar for work. Not say­ing how much, but I already had some time blocked for a while now, and I have dou­bled that. It just won’t do to have hard­ly any time to do actu­al design. I guess I’ll just need to to talk to few­er peo­ple. If you do not push back, it is easy to lose all your time to meet-ups. Peo­ple are reck­less in the ease with which they impose on other’s time. Myself includ­ed.1

We played a card game last night at the stu­dio. An insight I’ve had after review­ing the past peri­od with my interns. To become bet­ter design­ers, we need to make a lot of games, this is true.2 But it also helps to play games, many games, of any kind. So we’ll set apart an hour or so each week and we’ll play a game that some­one brings in. I kicked it off with Domin­ion, which is inter­est­ing for the way it has built upon trad­ing-card-game deck-build­ing mechan­ics, like Mag­ic the Gath­er­ing. In stead of it being some­thing that hap­pens before a game it takes place in par­al­lel to the game.

What else is of note? Ah yes. I attend­ed Design by Fire 2010 on Wednes­day. It is still the best con­fer­ence on inter­ac­tion design in the Nether­lands. And I real­ly appre­ci­ate the fact that the orga­niz­ers con­tin­ue to take risks with who they put on stage. Too often do I feel like being part or at least spec­ta­tor of some clique at events, with all speak­ers know­ing each oth­er and com­ing from more or less the same “school of thought”. Not so with Design by Fire. High­lights includ­ed David McCan­d­less, Andrei Herasim­chuk, m’colleague Ianus and of course Bill Bux­ton.

The lat­ter also remind­ed me of some use­ful frames of thought for next Tues­day, when I will need to spend around half an hour talk­ing about the future of games, from a design per­spec­tive, at an invi­ta­tion-only think-tank like ses­sion orga­nized by STT.3 The orga­niz­ers asked me to set an ambi­tion time frame, but as you may know I have a very hard time imag­in­ing any future beyond say, the next year or two. (And some­times I also have trou­ble being hope­ful about it.) But as Mr. Bux­ton points out, ideas need a ges­ta­tion peri­od of around 20 years before they are ready for prime­time, so I am plan­ning to look back some ten years, see what occu­pied the games world back then, and use that as a jump­ing off point for what­ev­er I’ll be talk­ing about. Let’s get start­ed on that now.

  1. Mule Design had an inter­est­ing post on this. Part of the prob­lem is peo­ple, but part also soft­ware, accord­ing to them. Imag­ine a cal­en­dar you sub­tract time from in stead of add to. []
  2. Tom wrote a won­der­ful post on games lit­er­a­cy. []
  3. The Nether­lands Study Cen­tre for Tech­nol­o­gy Trends. []

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. []

On sketching

Catch­ing up with this slight­ly neglect­ed blog (it’s been 6 weeks since the last prop­er post). I’d like to start by telling you about a small thing I helped out with last week. Peter Boers­ma1 asked me to help out with one of his UX Cock­tail Hours. He was inspired by a recent IxDA Stu­dio event where, in stead of just chat­ting and drink­ing, design­ers actu­al­ly made stuff. (Gasp!) Peter want­ed to do a work­shop where atten­dees col­lab­o­rat­ed on sketch­ing a solu­tion to a giv­en design prob­lem.

Part of my con­tri­bu­tion to the evening was a short pre­sen­ta­tion on the the­o­ry and prac­tice of sketch­ing. On the the­o­ry side, I ref­er­enced Bill Bux­ton’s list of qual­i­ties that define what a sketch is2, and empha­sized that this means a sketch can be done in any mate­r­i­al, not nec­es­sar­i­ly pen­cil and paper. Fur­ther­more I dis­cussed why sketch­ing works, using part of an arti­cle on embod­ied inter­ac­tion3. The main point there, as far as I am con­cerned is that when sketch­ing, as design­ers we have the ben­e­fit of ‘back­talk’ from our mate­ri­als, which can pro­vide us with new insights. I wrapped up the pre­sen­ta­tion with a case study of a project I did a while back with the Ams­ter­dam-based agency Info.nl4 for a social web start-up aimed at inde­pen­dent pro­fes­sion­als. In the project I went quite far in using sketch­es to not only devel­op the design, but also col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly con­struct it with the client, tech­nol­o­gists and oth­ers.

The whole thing was record­ed; you can find a video of the talk at Vimeo (thanks to Iskan­der and Alper). I also uploaded the slides to SlideShare (sans notes).

The sec­ond, and most inter­est­ing part of the evening was the work­shop itself. This was set up as fol­lows: Peter and I had pre­pared a fic­tion­al case, con­cern­ing peer-to-peer ener­gy. We used the Dutch com­pa­ny Qur­rent as an exam­ple, and asked the par­tic­i­pants to con­cep­tu­alise a way to encour­age use of Qurrent’s prod­uct range. The aim was to have peo­ple be more ener­gy effi­cient, and share sur­plus ener­gy they had gen­er­at­ed with the Qur­rent com­mu­ni­ty. The par­tic­i­pants split up in teams of around ten peo­ple each, and went to work. We gave them around one hour to design a solu­tion, using only pen and paper. After­wards, they pre­sent­ed the out­come of their work to each oth­er. For each team, we asked one par­tic­i­pant to cri­tique the work by men­tion­ing one thing he or she liked, and one thing that could be improved. The team was then giv­en a chance to reply. We also asked each team to briefly reflect on their work­ing process. At the end of the evening every­one was giv­en a chance to vote for their favourite design. The win­ner received a prize.5

Wrap­ping up, I think what I liked most about the work­shop was see­ing the many dif­fer­ent ways the teams approached the prob­lem (many of the par­tic­i­pants did not know each oth­er before­hand). Group dynam­ics var­ied huge­ly. I think it was valu­able to have each team share their expe­ri­ences on this front with each oth­er. One thing that I think we could improve was the case itself; next time I would like to pro­vide par­tic­i­pants with a more focused, more rich­ly detailed brief­ing for them to sink their teeth in. That might result in an assign­ment that is more about struc­ture and behav­iour (or even inter­face) and less about con­cepts and val­ues. It would be good to see how sketch­ing func­tions in such a con­text.

  1. the Nether­lands’ tallest IA and one of sev­er­al famous Peters who work in UX []
  2. tak­en from his won­der­ful book Sketch­ing User Expe­ri­ences []
  3. titled How Bod­ies Mat­ter (PDF) by Kle­mer and Takaya­ma []
  4. who were also the hosts of this event []
  5. I think it’s inter­est­ing to note that the win­ner had a remark­able con­cept, but in my opin­ion was not the best exam­ple of the pow­er of sketch­ing. Appar­ent­ly the audi­ence val­ued prod­uct over process. []

Blank banners — see me speak at TWAB 2008

Provo protesting with blank banner

In 1966 Pro­vo took to the streets of Ams­ter­dam with blank protest ban­ners.1 The use of rous­ing slo­gans had been out­lawed by the city’s may­or. The ‘pro­test­ers’ were arrest­ed. Pro­vo achieved their goal of mak­ing the author­i­ties look sil­ly by play­ing at protest­ing.

They took exist­ing rules and decid­ed to play with­in them, to see how far they could push the lim­its of those rules. They were not allowed to use actu­al slo­gans, so they decid­ed to use unwrit­ten ban­ners. They made use of the ambigu­ous nature of play: They were protest­ing, but at the same time not protest­ing. There were no for­bid­den slo­gans on their ban­ners, but at the same time, the slo­gans were ever so present through their absence.

The police were not will­ing to take on Provo’s ludic atti­tude. They refused to step into their mag­ic cir­cle and play at oppos­ing them. In stead they broke the rules, arrest­ed them for real, and by doing so, lost—at least in the public’s eye.

This example—and hope­ful­ly a few others—I will dis­cuss at The Web and Beyond 2008: Mobil­i­ty. In 20 min­utes or so, I hope to inspire design­ers to think about what the near future’s blank ban­ners could be. My ses­sion is titled ‘Mobile com­po­nents for play­ful cul­tur­al resis­tance’ (an unwieldy title in des­per­ate need of improve­ment) and will prob­a­bly be in Dutch.

The con­fer­ence is organ­ised by Chi Ned­er­land and will take place May 22 in the beau­ti­ful Beurs van Berlage in Ams­ter­dam. Keynote speak­ers include Ben Cer­ve­ny, Jyri Engeström and Adam Green­field. It looks like this will be a very spe­cial con­fer­ence indeed.

Image source: Gram­schap.

  1. Pro­vo was a Dutch coun­ter­cul­ture move­ment in the mid-1960s that focused on pro­vok­ing vio­lent respons­es from author­i­ties using non-vio­lent bait. Read more about them at Wikipedia. []

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.”

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!

On presentations

One of the most enjoy­able things about attend­ing con­fer­ences is see­ing a lot of peo­ple pre­sent­ing in var­i­ous ways. A while ago I chal­lenged my own pre­sent­ing skills by doing a Pecha Kucha. Today, I attend­ed a class (part of a didac­tics course) on giv­ing lec­tures. Two promi­nent lec­tur­ers (Giep Hagoort and Jeroen van Mas­trigt) from with­in the Utrecht School of Arts gave us a taste of their own unique pre­sen­ta­tion for­mat and the way they pre­pared for a talk.

This trig­gered some things in my head, such as stuff I’d seen before on the web and that could be help­ful to the peo­ple attend­ing the class. A lot of them didn’t seem to be too famil­iar with it, so I’ve decid­ed to col­lect them here. Maybe they’ll come in handy to those who pass by here: