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. []

The experience of playful IAs

Solving a Rubik's Cube

It’s time for a short update on my think­ing about Play­ful IAs (the top­ic of my Euro IA Sum­mit talk). One of the under-served aspects so far is the actu­al user expe­ri­ence of an archi­tec­ture that is playful.

Bri­an Sut­ton-Smith describes a mod­el describ­ing the ways in which games are expe­ri­enced in his book Toys as Cul­ture. I first came across this book in (not sur­pris­ing­ly) Rules of Play. He lists five aspects:

  1. Visu­al scanning
  2. Audi­to­ry discrimination
  3. Motor respons­es
  4. Con­cen­tra­tion
  5. Per­cep­tu­al pat­terns of learning

Of most impor­tance to my sub­ject is the 5th one. 

Game design, like the design of emer­gent IAs is a 2nd order design prob­lem. You can only shape the user’s expe­ri­ence indi­rect­ly. One of the most impor­tant sources of plea­sure for the user is the way you offer feed­back on the ways he or she has explored and dis­cov­ered the infor­ma­tion space. 

Obvi­ous­ly, I’m not say­ing you should make the use of your ser­vice delib­er­ate­ly hard. How­ev­er, what I am say­ing is that if you’re inter­est­ed in offer­ing a play­ful expe­ri­ence on the lev­el of IA, then Sut­ton-Smith’s per­cep­tu­al pat­terns of learn­ing is the best suit­ed expe­ri­en­tial dimension.

Rough notes for Matt Webb — Making Senses

Nav­i­ga­tion­al metaphor. How to use senses.

5 human senses for fea­tures of next gen web browser.

Sight Dis­tance — short dis­tance is mean­ing­ful Peo­ple who are look­ing Periph­er­al vision Mov­ing through world — active vision All about sur­face, we only see cov­er, spectacle

What is sight? 

Idea: sitemapdb. Zoals CDDB maar dan voor sites. Crumb­trail, local nav, search.

Smell We’re embed­ded in smell, we move through it. It’s a mute sense. Maybe we’re mov­ing to smell­space rather than spec­ta­cle. Cat­e­gories for smell are cul­tur­al­ly depen­dent. 5 categories.

Bad meat: no mis­take. Code has bad smell sometimes. 

For brows­er we need taste too.

Taste Is active smell. Destroy things in our mouth. Fla­vor is taste, smell and sight as well.

Voor­beeld: screen grab, page type, terms. 

Voor­beeld voor smell: brows­ing trend, heatmap, all links.

Mov­ing away or towards a smell. Smell like barometer.

Sound Is like sight, it’s spa­tial. Sound is like smell too. Sound is sig­nal of s’thing alive. Hear­ing is rhythm analysis. 

Idea #4: iden­ti­fied rhythm, oth­ers to vis­it. Who else res­onates with me? We could meet each oth­er. Assis­tance. Make vis­i­ble per­son­al map of brows­ing. Map that’s just a map.

Touch Not sure. Touch is low res. Like every­thing else. Not good for look ahead. If you feeel it, you’re too late.

It’s all browsers do right now. Like stum­bling around dark build­ing. We can only flinch. Gen­er­alise it, cre­ate undo (for ajax).


What does sense involve? 

  1. recep­tion

<li>instant perception</li>

More sens­es

  • Bal­ance


<li>Electroceptive (vogelbekdier!)</li>

Echolo­ca­tion Sense of close­ness. WWII lis­ten­ing ear. Before radar. Vir­tu­al glove = mobile phone. Use it to change channel. 

Mag­net­ic It’s like GPS! Sound that gets loud­er when you near deci­sion point.

Elec­tro­cep­tion Use of periph­er­al vision. Infos­treams. Ambi­ent. Feed for­ward before some­thing happens.

E.g.: Emer­gency eject before some­thing bad happens.

Oth­er senses 

  • Dan­ger

<li>Good or bad</li>


Step back: summarize

Recep­tion isn’t enough we need perception.

Why now?

Wayfind­ing — “The Image of the City” — direct toepas­baar op grote web­sites. Direct manip­u­la­tion is dom­i­nant. Nav­i­gat­ing isn’t enough. 

Data exists every­where and we’re just reveal­ing it.

Renais­sance of the senses.

Before pangea — ear­ly cam­bri­an peri­od. Illus­tra­tion of sea floor. Dirty seas — only touch on sur­face. Seas clear, light pen­e­trates, sight and sens­es were nec­es­sary. Ideas in book are non­sense but design­ers can use it. We’re in the same sit­u­a­tion. Oceans of inter­net are clear­ing. We’re build­ing super senses.

End. No questions?!