Playful 09

I’m at Playful ’09 today. I’m not going to be taking verbatim notes, as is my usual habit, but instead just jotting down a few random notes.

Roo Reynolds
Films based on games, often not very good. Minesweeper film trailer (from College Trailer). The only good film from a game is Tron.

Leila Johnston
Wrote Enemy of Chaos, adventure book written for the aging nerd market, not many books for that demographic. Character believes “Obsessive regulation might stave off decay” [sounds like our government].

Kareem Ettouney
How do large teams collaborate? Given bands, with four people in, struggle to get along. It’s actually quite hard to encourage collaboration. His company started with five people, everyone “had the moans”, critical of past employers. As soon as you start hiring talented people, how do you minimise the moans? People are using 2% of their talent and feel unfulfilled, want to do more. How do you increase their input, get a level of ownership that doesn’t create a mishmash. Traditional pyramid structure with specialists to produce work does function ok, old school model. But when you start working with exceptional people, you remember how you used to feel when no one was listening to your ideas.

So started to talk about ownership. Get people to own – means that there’s a responsibility and accountability, that’s the price. Share the problem, let people have ideas, but the hard part is to give your idea time, investigate it, present it. Email thread is not enough, if you want to own your area, earn it. People love the responsibility. Preconception was that the important bit was the ideas, but that leads to incoherence.

But when you share pragmatic aspects, e.g. deadlines, selling to clients, that allows people to rise to the job. No more old-school artistic direction any more, doesn’t work. Shift artistic director role from mastermind to matchmaker, trying to match skills. Share the journey. Harder than the pyramid style. Important too to have personal projects – makes you less precious. Downside of creativity is becoming precious and losing objectivity, because it hurts. Healthy to have your own avenue. If something doesn’t come out at work, it has to come out somewhere else and better it comes out in your own project, if it doesn’t it clouds your thinking. Companies who say, “Everything you do we own” are shooting themselves in their foot, because their staff are jaded.

Daniel Soltis
Tinker-it. Important to get people to feel that they can take something, like a radio, apart and do stuff with it, and change the way that they relate to it. Made a weekend-long immersive street-game. There are tech problems with games – keeping track of players, game state etc. Then iPhone came out, which changes everything. But walking around starting at an iPhone screen is not really all that great. No tactile pleasures as with game pieces. Cross-over between traditional tactile items and tech, e.g. GPS puzzle box that only opened when in the right place, was made as a wedding present.

Lucy Wurstlin
“Play is nature’s training for life. No community can infringe that right without doing deep and enduring harm to the minds and bodies of its citizens” – David Lloyd George.

Play or Die. 4iP. Education via games and technology.

Robin Burkinshaw with Matt Locke
Robin create two Simms characters, Alice and Kev. These are homeless characters: Kev is a drunken looser, Alice is his daughter. Set personality traits in Simms to negative traits, like quick to anger, says inappropriate things. Gave Kev the goal to try and date 10 other characters – impossible given character traits. Game turned into a moving storyline around homelessness.

James Bridle
Awesomeness more important than innovation. Awesome should be proper, God-fearing awe, in a “Space is big” way. Chap who did an illustration for every page of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Another chap, Tom Phillips, who found a Victorian novel and is drawing on every page, pulling out a hidden possible narrative. Heath Robinson, “I really have a secret satisfaction in being considered rather mad”. Heath Robinson was also name of the precursor to the Colossus computer that helped break the Enigma code.

Babbage, first great weird machine builder. Although he never build his Difference Engine. Wasn’t capable to build it, wasn’t sure it would work, never got funding, but did build bits to demonstrate his theory of miracles: He believed that miracles were just very very unlikely events. Would get his guests to crank the handle of his device at dinner parties to try and demonstrate unlikely events. Calculated odds of the Resurrection – said it wasn’t a miracle just very unlikely. Wrote to Tennyson about The Vision of Sin to correct his poem about birth and death rates. Started designing a Naughts and Crosses engine, analysed the game, and thought he could do it – maybe he could finance the Different Engine if he built a Naughts and Crosses machine.

People have build a Naughts and Crosses engine – MENACE. Was done by one of the Bletchley Park code breakers. Built a computer out of match boxes. Machine could learn – it had beads inside that correspond to each possible move, and you take beads out of failed moves and put them into successful boxes. James built it… lots of matchboxes and beads (well, beans, as ran out of beads).

Go. Simple rules, but very complex to play. Very hard to model on a computer. Tried to calculate how many matchboxes needed to model Go. 304 needed for OX, with 10 beads. Go would need 3.4 x 10^15 matchboxes, each with 3610 beads in each matchbox, each being 18m^2. If you built it, it would be slightly larger than the Crab Nebula.

Katy Lindemann
Would love to talk about robots, but is going to talk about behaviour change. (And robots.)

There was a game where little robots, which needed to cross New York but could not get there without help from humans. For months, none of them got lost because New Yorkers took care of the robots.

Japanese have a tradition of play and robots, very hopeful, love tech and excited about the future of technology.

But these weren’t designed to change behaviour. Play is fundamental to culture and society. Playing is how we learn and grow up. How can we use playful design and experience to actively encourage behaviour change. Games are a gateway drug to learning. But not necessarily best way to change behaviour. How can we game real life and make the every day, mundane things through play. High Scores. Integration about high scores, interesting way to get people to change behaviour.

E.g. housework. Japanese are building a house robot to do the cleaning, but meantime we’ll have to find something else to motivate. ChoreWars – get experience points the more housework you do.

Encourage more efficient driving. Turn it into a game. Fiat EcoDrive: USB stick in car monitors driving behaviour and then analyse on computer. Gives tips. Can set targets, can better own scores, can share scores with others. Collectively shows CO2 emissions.

Getting diabetics to regularly check blood sugar is tough. Digit, glucose monitor that attaches to Nintendo DS. Rewards good behaviour.

But it’s not all about scores. Sometimes it’s just making it fun. Fun makes it easier to rewire the brain. A lot of democracy stuff is not fun – petitions, writing to MP. How do you give kids a voice? Making it ‘cool’ doesn’t give you the sense that you’re being listened to. No pay off.

Writing robot, in Houses of Parliament, could let people write stuff, and Twitter it, and it’d be written out at HoP.

How to get people to exercise more? We know what we should be doing, but don’t do it. Make it fun. Dance Dance Revolution. Schools in US include DDR in their PE lessons. Wii Fit approved by Dept of Health.

But also make everyday stuff fun. About taking the stairs. [Reminds me of the “racing up the stairs to the 11th floor” wiki page we had at DrKW, as was]. This project turns a staircase into a piano. 66% more people chose to use the stairs than normal.

Recycling. Firstly, make it easier, change the infrastructure. But not enough. Pay for recycling? If you stop paying, will people stop recycling. Bottle Bank Arcade – was used 100 times, where nearby conventional bottle bank was used twice.

Tassos Stevens
The Ashes. It’s all about the question, “What happens next?” If you see someone throw a ball to someone else, can you turn away before you see if they’ve caught it?

Sport generally have simple dynamics. Cricket a bit more complex. Ashes decided over two months, no one can watch it all, gives you permission to miss stuff. Punctuated play, and gaps lets you talk about things. Cricket is unclear even who is winning until the end. Lets people tell each other stories, as the potential imagined outcome shifts. Result can be determined by Acts of God – the weather. Strong tribalism too.

Russell Davies
Two types of model railways: ones that try to replicate the world, and ones that put the railway in their garden where you can’t try to replicate anything, building a bubble of suspense. Bubble building vs. world building.

Barely games: collecting, negotiation, pretending, inattention. Most important is pretending. Never hear enough about pretending.

Mornington Crescent, is pretending to be a game, but because it seems like a game it’s almost better than a game.

Collecting: Pokemon. Game you’re supposed to be playing is way too complex, so make up your own, like Top Trumps. Noticing game. About negotiation.

Collecting things is great for pretending. Works when you’re a kid, but good for adults too. We do pretend, all the time.

Luxury items are pretending items, can’t get the case with the machine gun in parts… but you can get a barbeque set.

Pretending metaphor breaks down if it’s too obvious. Computer desk top is… like a desk. 3D Mailbox trying to make email fun, “Every message is a jumbo jet”. Why aren’t we using it? Because it’s tone deaf. Not subtle.

Need to bury the pretending detail, so it’s not in your face.

Lots of games are quite demanding, want us to pay attention and touch the screen. Want to pay attention to the world.

What would a barely game app involved:

– Walking around, i.e. not looking at the screen
– Uncertain or socially decided rules
– Things that either can be useful or stupid
– High pretending value

SAP – Situated audio platform, audio stuff that’s related to geolocation.

Molly Range
Two ways of telling a story: One tells and others listen and react; or everyone co-creates. Scandinavian story telling tends towards co-creation. Opens up to experimental productions. Scandinavians go “beyond fun” to use play for political protest or learning. Engage people, bring new perspectives, create change. But lack standardised way to prove the value of play to people outside of gaming.

Duncan Gough
Kes – film about a boy called Billy Casper, filmed in ’69 by Ken Loach. Bit of a feral kid who finds a kestrel, finds the nest and steals a baby kestrel. Firm roots in theatre and radio plays.

Storytelling has developed, e.g. The Wire. Episode, seasons, story arcs and box sets with developments on all scales.

Language of games.

Stand-alone vs ongoing story
Serial and serial quests in MMOs
What would it be like to play Friends, or The Wire?

Fictive worlds – like virtual worlds or MMOs, but more story based. Sense of player vs environment, bringing a story like Kes to life. Adventure games, if you stand still nothing happens in the world, but you want the world to carry on without you. Want the world to be active, living.

Branching narratives aren’t scalable. But decisions must have consequences.

Prior art? 80s was a classic era for children’s TV drama. BBC was concerned that kids would leave TV for games and the web. Kids TV, e.g. Press Gang about a school newspaper, and Running Scared, about a girl on the run from gangsters. No archives of them though – no way to go and watch them again.

Sad, but a good opportunity for a golden age of gaming to happen. Looking for

– web-based fictive world
– simple, directed story
– interactive, allegorical

Alfie Dennen & Paula le Dieu
Bus Top – city-wide network of programmable LED panels on the top of bus stops, one at least in every London Borough, open API.

Want to let the public actually take part in public art as usually they don’t get the chance.

Routes and pebbles — routes might have 5 or 6 installations, and the pebbles are individual panels. Creates a giant canvas. What stories can be told? What sort of visual narrative?

Will be able to use things like Flickr, Twitter, their API and an online tool to interact with the panels. Very lo-fi, pixelate experience. Canvas will be live for 12 months leading up to and through Olympics.

Rex Crowle
Likes wonky drawing, doodling. People get hung up on drawing and expressing themselves and worry that what they are creating is somehow wrong.
Now works for Little Big Planet – game that’s not finished until people are playing it and making stuff. Customise the character, the world, the soundtrack. Internet makes it much more flexible, and you can fix flaws after launch.

Simon Oliver
Makes games for the iPhone.

How do you design fun? Top-down game design is hard. Prototyping works – find the fun.

Simplicity. Games controllers got more and more complex, and that scares people off if they aren’t familiar. iPhone interface is much simpler and instinctive. If it’s too complex or not fun, chuck it.

Tim Wright
Life’s ambition: To play golf on the Moon with David Bowie.

Read Kidnapped by Robert Louise Stephenson, which features a shipwreck and a walk from Mull to Edinburgh. Book says shipwreck happened on June 29th, and arrived in Edinburgh on August 24th.

Is it possible to walk the same walk as the book in that time?

Kidmapped – recreating the walk, podcasting and mapping the way. Put the whole book up on a wiki, chunked by day and could then comment on it. Read the book out in the locations it was setting. Other people came out to read too. Became not just about the book, but also about the landscape.

Also ended up being sent poetry, art, and ended up playing golf up the mountain.

Writers create maps and date travels through them all the time, so why not, as readers, recreate those journeys?

Chris O’Shea
Interaction design.

We work too much and lose our sense of play.

What if you could see through walls? Installation that uses infrared torch and a projector to mimic seeing through walls.

“Flap to Freedom” remote controlled chickens that people thought they were controlling by flapping their arms. Forget about looking silly and have fun.

Mirror installation where the mirrors will self-arrange to reflect your face back to you, and move as you move. Similar one with police car beacons that turn to face you as you walk amongst them.

Social experiences. Let people play together.