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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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 interaction — Raph 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 Line 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.
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 Boersma 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 is, 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 interaction. 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.nl 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.
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.
In 1966 Provo took to the streets of Amsterdam with blank protest banners. 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.
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
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.”
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!
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: