Week 146

Crazy, crazy week I am glad to have sur­vived. But wait, it’s not done yet. Tomor­row (sat­ur­day) I’ll be run­ning a work­shop in Lei­d­sche Rijn with local young folk, for Cultuur19. The aim is to design a lit­tle social game that’ll func­tion as a viral mar­ket­ing tac­tic for our upcom­ing urban games design work­shop in the same dis­trict. This is a Hub­bub mis­sion, and I am glad to have the sup­port of Karel who — besides cook­ing up crazy plans at Fource­Labs — is an occa­sion­al agent of Hub­bub.

This was my last week work­ing on site with Layar because I’m head­ing to Copen­hagen on sun­day. I’ll be stay­ing there for a few weeks, work­ing there — for Layar still, pos­si­bly for Social Square — lec­tur­ing at CIID and apart from that just tak­ing it a lit­tle slow­er. My apart­ment is around the cor­ner from the Laun­dro­mat Café in Nør­re­bro so that should be no prob­lem.

I was at Waag Soci­ety’s beau­ti­ful The­atrum Anatomicum last wednes­day to cohost a work­shop on games and archi­tec­ture as part of the Best Scene in Town project ini­ti­at­ed by 7scenes. I pre­sent­ed three bold pre­dic­tions for the future of games in the city. Look for a write-up of that one at the Hub­bub blog soon. The teams came up with inter­est­ing con­cepts for games in Ams­ter­dam and I enjoyed work­ing with all of them.

Going back to the start of this week, I turned 30 on mon­day. A water­shed moment of some sort I guess. Some­what appro­pri­ate­ly, we announced This hap­pened – Utrecht #6 that day too. Check out the pro­gram, I am real pleased with our speak­ers.

Now let’s just hope that vol­cano doesn’t mess with my flight in sun­day and the next note will be com­ing to you from love­ly CPH.

What the hubbub is

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.

Recent­ly…

Today's harvest

Also, we’ll be doing some­thing play­ful and run­ning a work­shop at the upcom­ing Game in the City con­fer­ence in Amers­foort.

To stay post­ed on Hub­bub devel­op­ments, fol­low us on Twit­ter or sign up for our newslet­ter. There’s good old RSS as well, of course.

Work now so you can play later

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.

What else, what else…

  • I’m still mean­ing to write some­thing up about the work that went into Mega Mon­ster Bat­tle Are­na™ but it will have to wait. I attend­ed two of the three shows and enjoyed both through­ly. There’s some pho­tos up at the opera’s web­site.
  • 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.

  1. Karel Mil­lenaar, game design­er extra­or­di­naire at Fource­Labs and a fel­low res­i­dent of the Dutch Game Gar­den, has helped me out on this one. []
  2. I’ve asked Tij­men Schep of Pinep­ple­Jazz, NetNiet.org and the new Utrecht medi­al­ab to be my part­ner on this one. []
  3. Around the same time a lot of oth­er inter­est­ing stuff relat­ed to design and soci­ety will be going on, such as the third edi­tion of Utrecht Man­i­fest, the bien­ni­al for social design. []
  4. I was turned on to this gig by the ubiq­ui­tous Alper Çuğun. []

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. []

What I’m doing at the Festival of Games

tglobe

I’ve helped out with the pro­gram of this year’s NLGD Fes­ti­val of Games. If you’re into gaming’s fringe phe­nom­e­na, then this edi­tion is not to be missed. The conference’s theme is “play glob­al, glob­al play” and will cel­e­brate the impact of gam­ing beyond the screen. I curat­ed sev­er­al ses­sions focused on urban games and alter­nate real­i­ty games, some of which I will be present at myself. Here they are in no par­tic­u­lar order:

  • Adri­an Hon of Six to Start is com­ing over to Utrecht for a keynote titled “Why sto­ries in games suck”. Adri­an was one of the peo­ple behind the ambi­tious and influ­en­tial ARG Per­plex City. For a taste of what this ses­sion might be like, check out Dan Hon’s1 talk “Every­thing you know about ARGs is WRONG”.

  • Dur­ing a par­al­lel ses­sion, Evert Hoogen­doorn will look at per­for­mance in games. Evert heads up the Design for Vir­tu­al The­ater and Games pro­gram at the Utrecht School of the Arts. Know­ing Evert, this ses­sion won’t be just about per­for­mance…

  • I’ll be mod­er­at­ing a ses­sion con­sist­ing of three case stud­ies. You’ll get an exclu­sive look behind the scenes of the prac­tice of three sea­soned design­ers of urban games and ARGs. The pre­sen­ta­tions will be short but sweet, each fol­lowed by ample time for Q&A. The peo­ple I’ve asked to present are the afore­men­tioned Adri­an Hon, Nathalie Bräh­ler of Cul­tur­al Oil and Ronald Lenz of 7scenes.

  • The elu­sive Min­kette and myself will run a three-hour work­shop, where you’ll get a crash course in design­ing sim­ple but fun street games. We’re hop­ing to make this ses­sion very acces­si­ble, but also very much hands-on, phys­i­cal and active. Min­kette has been involved with Punch­drunk, Hide & Seek and The Soho Project; what bet­ter facil­i­ta­tor can you wish for?

  • The games devel­oped dur­ing the work­shop will be avail­able for playtest­ing dur­ing a sep­a­rate open ses­sion. You’ll get to play fun lit­tle games, and will be asked to vote on your favourite. The win­ner will receive an awe­some prize.

  • Update: Before the open playtest ses­sion, I’ll be host­ing a lunch ses­sion open to all peo­ple work­ing in the area of social and tan­gi­ble play. It’s on the pro­gram as “ARG lunch” but don’t let that fool you. If you make urban games, per­va­sive games, or any type of game that’s not lim­it­ed to what hap­pens on the screen, you’re wel­come to join us. We’ll be look­ing at how we can join forces in cer­tain strate­gic areas, but the ses­sion is also just about get­ting to know each oth­er.

And there you have it. I’m quite hap­py with the way the pro­gram has shaped up, and I am excit­ed to see how the ses­sions turn out (though I’m sure they’ll be great). If this has wet your appetite, why not head over to the NLGD Fes­ti­val of Games web­site and get your­self a tick­et right now? I hope to see you there!

  1. Dan is Adrian’s broth­er and busi­ness part­ner []

The theory and practice of urban game design

A few weeks ago NLGD asked me to help out with an urban games ‘sem­i­nar’ that they had com­mis­sioned in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Dutch Game Gar­den. A group of around 50 stu­dents from two game design cours­es at the Utrecht School of the Arts1 were asked to design a game for the upcom­ing Fes­ti­val of Games in Utrecht. The work­shop last­ed a week. My involve­ment con­sist­ed of a short lec­ture, fol­lowed by sev­er­al design exer­cis­es designed to help the stu­dents get start­ed on Mon­day. On Fri­day, I was part of the jury that deter­mined which game will be played at the fes­ti­val.

Lec­ture

In the lec­ture I briefly intro­duced some thinkers in urban­ism that I find of inter­est to urban game design­ers. I talked about Jane Jacobs’ view of the city as a liv­ing organ­ism that is grown from the bot­tom up. I also men­tioned Kevin Lynch’s work around wayfind­ing and the ele­ments that make up people’s men­tal maps of cities. I touched upon the need to have a good grasp of social inter­ac­tion pat­terns2. Final­ly, I advised the stu­dents to be fru­gal when it comes to the inclu­sion of tech­nol­o­gy in the stu­dents’ game designs. A good ques­tion to always ask your­self is: can I have as much fun with­out this gad­get?

I wrapped up the lec­ture by look­ing at 5 games, some well-known, oth­ers less so: Big Urban Game, Con­Qwest, Pac-Man­hat­tan, The Soho Project and The Com­fort of Strangers. There are many more good exam­ples, of course, but each of these helped in high­light­ing a spe­cif­ic aspect of urban games design.

Work­shop

Next, I ran a work­shop of around 3 hours with the stu­dents, con­sist­ing of two exer­cis­es (plus one they could com­plete after­wards in their own time). The first one is the most inter­est­ing to dis­cuss here. It’s a game-like elic­i­ta­tion tech­nique called VNA3, which derives its name from the card types in the deck it is made up of: verbs, nouns and adjec­tives.

Students doing a VNA exercise

The way it works is that you take turns draw­ing a card from the deck and make up a one-sen­tence idea involv­ing the term. The first per­son to go draws a verb, the sec­ond per­son a noun and the third an adjec­tive. Each per­son builds on the idea of his or her pre­cur­sor. The con­cept that results from the three-card sequence is writ­ten down, and the next per­son draws a verb card again.4 The exer­cise resem­bles cadavre exquis, the biggest dif­fer­ence being that here, the terms are pre­de­ter­mined.

VNA is a great ice-break­er. The stu­dents were divid­ed into teams of five and, because a side-goal of the sem­i­nar was to encour­age col­lab­o­ra­tion between stu­dents from the dif­fer­ent cours­es, they often did not know each oth­er. Thanks to this exer­cise they became acquaint­ed, but with­in a cre­ative con­text. The exer­cise also priv­i­leges vol­ume of ideas over their qual­i­ty, which is per­fect in the ear­ly stages of con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion. Last but not least, it is a lot of fun; many stu­dents asked where they could get the deck of cards.

Jury­ing

On Fri­day, I (togeth­er with the oth­er jury mem­bers) was treat­ed to ten pre­sen­ta­tions by the stu­dents. Each had pre­pared a video con­tain­ing footage of pro­to­typ­ing and play-test­ing ses­sions, as well as an ele­va­tor pitch. A lot of them were quite good, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing the fact that many stu­dents had not cre­at­ed an urban game before, or hadn’t even played one. But one game real­ly stood out for me. It employed a sim­ple mechan­ic: mak­ing chains of peo­ple by hold­ing hands. A chain was start­ed by play­ers, but required the help of passers-by to com­plete. Watch­ing the videos of chains being com­plet­ed evoked a strong pos­i­tive emo­tion­al response, not only with myself, but also my fel­low jurors. What’s more impor­tant though, is that the game clear­ly engen­dered hap­pi­ness in its par­tic­i­pants, includ­ing the peo­ple who joined in as it was being played.

An urban game being played

In one video sequence, we see a near-com­plet­ed chain of peo­ple in a mall, shout­ing requests at peo­ple to join in. A lone man has been observ­ing the spec­ta­cle from a dis­tance for some time. Sud­den­ly, he steps for­ward, and joins hands with the oth­ers. The chain is com­plet­ed. A huge cheer emerges from the group, hands are raised in the air and applause fol­lows, the man join­ing in. Then he walks off towards the cam­era, grin­ning, two thumbs up. I could not help but grin back.5

Happy urban game participant

  1. Game Design and Devel­op­ment and Design for Vir­tu­al The­atre and Games []
  2. point­ing to this resource, that was dis­cussed at length on the IGDA ARG SIG []
  3. devel­oped by Annakaisa Kul­ti­ma []
  4. An inter­est­ing aside is that the deck was orig­i­nal­ly designed to be used for the cre­ation of casu­al mobile games. The words were cho­sen accord­ing­ly. Despite this, or per­haps because of this, they are quite suit­able to the design of urban games. []
  5. To clar­i­fy, this was not the game that got select­ed for the Fes­ti­val of Games. There were some issues with the game as a whole. It was short-list­ed though. Anoth­er excel­lent game, involv­ing mechan­ics inspired by pho­to safari, was the win­ner. []