Urban procedural rhetorics — transcript of my TWAB 2008 talk

This is a tran­script of my pre­sen­ta­tion at The Web and Beyond 2008: Mobil­i­ty in Ams­ter­dam on 22 May. Since the major­i­ty of pay­ing atten­dees were local I pre­sent­ed in Dutch. How­ev­er, Eng­lish appears to be the lin­gua fran­ca of the inter­net, so here I offer a trans­la­tion. I have uploaded the slides to SlideShare and hope to be able to share a video record­ing of the whole thing soon.

Update: I have uploaded a video of the pre­sen­ta­tion to Vimeo. Many thanks to Almar van der Krogt for record­ing this.

In 1966 a num­ber of mem­bers of Pro­vo took to the streets of Ams­ter­dam car­ry­ing blank ban­ners. Pro­vo was a non­vi­o­lent anar­chist move­ment. They pri­mar­i­ly occu­pied them­selves with pro­vok­ing the author­i­ties in a “ludic” man­ner. Noth­ing was writ­ten on their ban­ners because the may­or of Ams­ter­dam had banned the slo­gans “free­dom of speech”, “democ­ra­cy” and “right to demon­strate”. Regard­less, the mem­bers were arrest­ed by police, show­ing that the author­i­ties did not respect their right to demon­strate.1

Good after­noon every­one, my name is Kars Alfrink, I’m a free­lance inter­ac­tion design­er. Today I’d like to talk about play in pub­lic space. I believe that with the arrival of ubiq­ui­tous com­put­ing in the city new forms of play will be made pos­si­ble. The tech­nolo­gies we shape will be used for play wether we want to or not. As William Gib­son writes in Burn­ing Chrome:

…the street finds its own uses for things”

For exam­ple: Skate­board­ing as we now know it — with its empha­sis on aer­i­al acro­bat­ics — start­ed in emp­ty pools like this one. That was done with­out per­mis­sion, of course…

Only lat­er half-pipes, ramps, verts (which by the way is derived from ‘ver­ti­cal’) and skateparks arrived — areas where skate­board­ing is tol­er­at­ed. Skate­board­ing would not be what it is today with­out those first few emp­ty pools.2

Con­tin­ue read­ing Urban pro­ce­dur­al rhetorics — tran­script of my TWAB 2008 talk

  1. The web­site of Gram­schap con­tains a chronol­o­gy of the Pro­vo move­ment in Dutch. []
  2. For a vivid account of the emer­gence of the ver­ti­cal style of skate­board­ing see the doc­u­men­tary film Dog­town and Z-Boys. []

Zona Incerta and using ARGs for activism

(Fol­low­ing some recent over­ly long posts, here’s an attempt to stay under 500 words.)

For a while now, I have been lurk­ing on the mail­ing list of the Alter­nate Real­i­ty Games IGDA SIG. ARGs are games that use the real world as their plat­form. They usu­al­ly revolve around a mys­tery to be unrav­eled. I find ARGs inter­est­ing for the way they clash with the game design notion of the mag­ic cir­cle. The mag­ic cir­cle can be defined as the time and space with­in which a game is played. With tra­di­tion­al games, play­ers are aware of the mag­ic cir­cle and enter it will­ing­ly. Not so with ARGs, as the fol­low­ing exam­ple I found on the list shows:1

The pro­duc­ers of Zona Incer­ta, a Brazil­ian ARG, pub­lished a video on YouTube. In it the ‘senior mar­ket­ing direc­tor’ of Ark­hos Biotech­nol­o­gy asks view­ers to help them buy the Ama­zon rain­for­est and reminds them “the Ama­zon belongs to no coun­try, it belongs to the world”:

The video was mis­tak­en by many as real–including two sen­a­tors and one gov­er­nor. On the list, André Sir­ange­lo, the game’s writer, says:

It wasn’t long until some jour­nal­ists con­nect­ed the dots and found out the com­pa­ny didn’t exist. That’s when it real­ly explod­ed — after all, there are lots of com­pa­nies that actu­al­ly do want to buy the rain­for­est, but it’s not every day a pow­er­ful sen­a­tor makes a speech about one that doesn’t real­ly exist.”

Because the game was spon­sored, they had to come out and offer a pub­lic apol­o­gy. Some peo­ple took it in a good way, oth­ers were less amused:

They want­ed to sue and maybe even arrest us for mak­ing a video that was against the nation’s sov­er­eign­ty and all that. It was all BS though, because there wasn’t real­ly a crime. We nev­er pub­lished fake news, we just put the video on YouTube and some peo­ple tought it was real. Not our fault! :)”

Clear­ly, the ambigu­ous nature of ARGs is key to what makes them fun. Know­ing that peo­ple might mis­take things for real is thrilling to ARG devel­op­ers. Play­ers are chal­lenged to rec­og­nize the con­tent that is part of an ARG—rewarding them with the feel­ing that they are part of a secret soci­ety.

So far, the genre remains a niche.2 But what if ARGs take off in a big way? What if the medi­as­cape is flood­ed by ARG con­tent?

Will we, sim­i­lar to what is now being pro­posed for ubi­comp, need rec­og­niz­able iconog­ra­phy that tells peo­ple: “warn­ing, alter­nate real­i­ty con­tent”?

Proposed icon for objects that have invisible qualities by the Touch research project

I won­der what would make a good image. Per­haps the March Hare?

Illustration of the March Hare by John Tenniel

Zona Incer­ta’s aim was to enter­tain. Despite this, they raised aware­ness for the Amazon’s plight. Would the for­mat of ARGs be use­ful to peo­ple with anoth­er agen­da? What if activists start using them to make the future they want to avert—or desire to bring about—tangible to the pub­lic?

Image cred­its: Icon by Touch research project, March Hare by John Ten­niel tak­en from Wik­i­Fur.

Updat­ed with a YouTube embed that val­i­dates.

  1. For more about ARGs and the mag­ic cir­cle also see my Reboot 9.0 pre­sen­ta­tion Mobile Social Play. []
  2. Here are sta­tis­tics of some promi­nent past ARGs. []