Recess! 11 – Restate My Assumptions

Recess! is a cor­re­spon­dence series with per­son­al rumi­na­tions on games.

Dear Alper and Niels,

My apolo­gies, I fell off the Recess! horse there for a minute. But I’m back in the sad­dle. Let’s see, what were we talk­ing about again?

Alper obses­sive­ly played Ultra­tron for a while, got bored, stopped and felt guilty for spend­ing 11 hours on it.

Niels helped make Toki Tori 2, got all con­flict­ed about his feel­ings for the game and went on about how ele­gant­ly its world con­veys his sto­ry.

Sigh. I hope you’ll both excuse me while I don my schoolmaster’s cap and pro­ceed to school you.

It’s telling Alper feels Moves offers more mean­ing­ful play than Ultra­tron. He’s stuck in what Sut­ton-Smith calls ‘the rhetorics of ani­mal progress’. The idea that play is only mean­ing­ful when it con­tributes to ‘indi­vid­ual devel­op­ment and group cul­ture’. Alper, you should light­en up and maybe sub­mit to the rhetoric of friv­o­li­ty. Put sim­ply, you should allow your­self to play the fool. Because “unlike the rest of us, who are all losers in most of the con­ven­tion­al sens­es, and most sure­ly in the mor­tal sense, the fool tran­scends triv­i­al­i­ty.”

Niels, on the oth­er hand, should do him­self a favor and read Reme­di­a­tion because he seems to think ‘imme­di­a­cy’ is the holy grail of media. The medi­um should dis­ap­pear, it should not get in the way of the audience’s expe­ri­ence of the mes­sage. Well Niels, I have news for you: imme­di­a­cy is only one pos­si­ble media mode and its draw­backs are con­sid­er­able. Most impor­tant­ly, it pre­cludes crit­i­cal engage­ment of an audi­ence with a medium’s mes­sage. Hyper­me­di­a­cy, on the oth­er hand, fore­grounds the work­ings of media. It fore­goes ‘immer­sion’ and ‘seam­lesness’ in favor of brico­lage and seam­ful­ness (PDF). In doing so, it allows for active audi­ence engage­ment. Don’t you wish that for your sto­ries?

In short, let’s restate our assump­tions. I’ll go first:

  1. Play can be mean­ing­ful and use­less at the same time.
  2. Games can tell sto­ries with­out being immer­sive.

Kars

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. []

Play, story and recombination

A bunch of Lego bricks

Dom­i­nant mod­els in IA: space + sto­ry” was one of the notes I took while at this year’s Euro IA Sum­mit. I’ll get into space some oth­er time. Con­cern­ing sto­ry: Basi­cal­ly it strikes me that for a dis­ci­pline involved with an inter­ac­tive medi­um, so often design­ing is likened to sto­ry­telling. I’m not sure this is always the most pro­duc­tive way to approach design, I actu­al­ly think it is very lim­it­ing. If you approach design not as embed­ding your sto­ry in the envi­ron­ment, but as cre­at­ing an envi­ron­ment where­in users can cre­ate their own sto­ries, then I’d say you’re on the right track. An exam­ple I tend to use is a game of pok­er: The design of the game pok­er was cer­tain­ly not an act of sto­ry­telling, but a play ses­sion of pok­er is expe­ri­enced as (and can be retold as) a sto­ry. Fur­ther­more, the com­po­nents of the game can be recom­bined to cre­ate dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions of the basic game, each cre­at­ing dif­fer­ent poten­tials for sto­ries to arise. I’d like to see more design­ers approach inter­ac­tive media (dig­i­tal, phys­i­cal or what­ev­er) like this: Don’t tell a sto­ry to your user, enable them to cre­ate their own.1 Real­ize users will want to recom­bine your stuff with oth­er stuff you might not know about (the notion of seam­ful design comes into play here). When you’ve done a prop­er job, you’ll find them retelling those sto­ries to oth­ers, which I would say is the biggest com­pli­ment you can get.

1. Or to put this in Marc LeBlanc’s terms: Don’t embed nar­ra­tive, let it emerge through play.

Rough notes for Tom Armitage — What social software can learn from Homer, Dickens, and Marvel Comics

Dick­ens, cliffhang­er on every page

Putting data on dis­play = pub­lish­ing

Blogs are frag­men­tary

Every sin­gle thing you do needs to be dat­ed for con­text

In hind­sight it’ll show you pat­terns

Exam­ple: Infovore and pre­vi­ous blog actu­al­ly join

Col­lect data across bound­aries (chrono­log­i­cal, dig­i­tal, phys­i­cal)

Nos­tal­gia, be fuzzy, look­ing back at old sto­ries etc.

Anal­o­gy of reviews of books with com­ments on blog — mak­ing it live­li­er.

If some­thing counts (com­ments, sta­tis­tics) make them acces­si­ble and pub­lic.

Fin. ser­i­al nar­ra­tive.

Next: epic

Homer

How can some­one remem­ber these huge sto­ries?

Because they use known struc­tures and for­mu­las, con­ven­tions.

You can leave out stuff. Two tellings are nev­er the same.

He doesn’t believe in sin­gle sign-up. Stuff will be dif­fer­ent between sites.

Pro­files of peo­ple should be dif­fer­ent between sites.

Retroac­tive con­ti­nu­ity (ret­con)

delib­er­ate­ly chang­ing pre­vi­ous­ly estab­lished facts in fic­tion”

Cri­sis on Infi­nite Earths (Mar­vel) start­ing anew

Social soft­ware: revis­ing ear­li­er ver­sions.

E.g.: Flickr replace but­ton.

Fic­tion — telling lies, no let’s tell untruths

Truth: some­thing with no delib­er­ate dis­hon­esty” — Andrew Losowsky, http://tinyurl.com/lug7c

The Door­bells of Flo­rence (on Fiickr)

Iden­ti­ty

Give peo­ple the chance to use some­thing else than their real name. Per­sonas are impor­tant. Han­dle based cul­ture has exist­ed for a long time online.

Expect peo­ple to tell untruths.

Kaycee Nicole Swen­son hoax Dying of leukemia, Pay­Pal, blog­ging, died, but not real­ly, she was an old woman.

No default for truth.

Fic­tion­al char­ac­ters on Friend­ster.

Vin­cent Gal­lo on site — delet­ed too but it was real­ly him…

Wikipedia should mix both fic­tion and truth

Telling the sto­ry (final sec­tion)

The lan­guage you use is impor­tant

(Jar­head is a great book.)

You should tell a tale and talk as lit­tle as pos­si­ble in your own voice.

Breed­ster, art project, insect, eat­ing, shit­ting and hav­ing sex. Sex­u­al dis­ease — every­one became infer­tile.

User expe­ri­ence is impor­tant.

Good sto­ry­telling can’t save a ter­ri­ble sto­ry.

Con­clu­sion

When you cre­ate social soft­ware, look to sto­ry­telling for inspi­ra­tion.

Ques­tions

Q We should have a debate about truth and fic­tion. A Inter­net doesn’t have a laugh­ter track and it nev­er will. We expect comm. media to be truth­ful but pub­lish­ing media to be used for fic­tion. Inter­net is both… Friend that was evict­ed from WoW because of role­play­ing a racist char­ac­ter. There is a risk that the net will get real­ly po-faced.

Q How can we go about deter­min­ing who’s real­ly who? A Exam­ple of phish­ing (Pay­pal), lots of peo­ple will believe you when you just get the style right. With text it’s real­ly easy to pre­tend to be some­one else. Real names shouldn’t be forced to pub­lish their real names.

http://reboot.dk/wiki/Whatsocialsoft­warecanlearnfromHomer%2CDickens%2CandMar­velComics