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.
I’ve adjusted the temporary site to fit with the brand that’s being developed by my friends at BUROPONY.
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.
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.
Karel Millenaar, game designer extraordinaire at FourceLabs and a fellow resident of the Dutch Game Garden, has helped me out on this one. [↩]
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 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.
…and run around with lunch-boxes on their heads.1
This was all part of a workshop I ran, titled ‘Playful Tinkering’. The mysterious Mink ette — who amongst many things is a designer at Six to Start — and I got people to rapidly prototype pervasive games that were be played at the conference venue the day after. The best game won a magnificent trophy shaped like a spring rider.
Some exercises we did during the workshop:
Play a name game Mink ette had made up shortly before the workshop in no time at all. This is good for several things: physical warm-up, breaking the ice, demonstrate the kinds of games the session is about.
Walk around the room and write down imaginary game titles as well as names of games you used to play as a child. Good for emptying heads and warming up mentally.
Walk around again, pick a post-it that intrigues you. Then guess what the game is about, and have others to fill in the blanks where need. Then play the game. This is mostly just for fun. (Nothing wrong with that.)
Analyse the games, break them up into their basic parts. Change one of those parts and play the game again. See what effect the change has. This is to get a sense of what games design is about, and how changing a rule impacts the player experience.
Participants brainstorming game ideas
People then formed groups and worked on an original game. We pushed them to rapidly generate a first ruleset that could be playtested with the other groups. After this they did another design sprint, and playtested again outside the room, “in the wild”. All of this in less than four hours. Whew!
The games that were made:
A game that involved hunting for people that matched the descriptions on post-its that were hidden around the venue. You first needed to find a post-it, then find the person that matched the description on it and finally take a photo of them for points. This game was so quick to play it already ran at the party, hours after the workshop finished.
‘Crowd Control’ — compete with other players to get the largest percentage of a group of people to do what you are doing (like nodding your head). This game won the trophy, in part because of the ferocious player recruitment style the runners employed during the playtest.
A sailing game, where you tried to maneuver an imaginary boat from one end of a space to the other. Your movement was constrained by the “wind”, which was a function of the amount of people on either side of your boat. It featured an ingenuous measuring mechanic which used an improvised rope made from a torn up conference tote bag.
The lunchbox thing was improvised during the lunch before the playtest. A student also brought in a game he was working on for his graduation to playtest.
We set up the playtest itself as follows:
The room was open to anyone passing by. Each game got their own station where they could recruit players, explain the rules, keep score, etc. Mink ette and I handed each player a red, blue and yellow tiddlywink. They could use this to vote on their favorite game in three separate categories, by handing the runners a tiddlywink. People could play more than once, and vote as often as they liked. We also kept track of how much players each game got. We handed out prizes to winners in the different categories (a lucky dip box loaded with piñata fillers). The most played game got the grand prize — the spring rider trophy I created with help from my sister and fabricated at the local fablab.2
Spring rider trophy and tiddlywinks ready for some playtesting action
It was a pleasure to have the elusive Mink ette over for the ride. I loved the way she explained what pervasive games were all about — being able to play anytime, anywhere with anything. I was also impressed with the way she managed to get people to do strange things without thinking twice.
We had a very dedicated group of participants, most of whom stuck around for the whole session and returned again for the playtest the next day. I’m very grateful for their enthusiasm. The whole experience was very rewarding, I’m keen on doing this more often at events and applying what I learnt to the workshops I run as part of my own games design practice.
Happy winners of the spring rider trophy flanked by Mink ette and yours truly