Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Best sentence of the day

Beginning today, I will be posting the Best Sentence of the Day from my continuing dissertation grind.

Best Sentence of the Day is simply the thing I wrote today that I am digging the most.

I hope the cummulative effect of these Best Sentences will be a lovely cut-up version of my dissertation. Also, I like things that are taken out of context.

These sentences will be posted in my new Best Sentence blog.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Maybe I take play too seriously

Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

I was very disappointed and disheartened by a recent Harper's article, in which the organizer of the first New York City flash mob, and the designer of the flash mob rule set that was then interpreted and modified by organizers all over the world, seeks to give the definitive word on the Mob Project. My stomach sank to read Bill call it "the most forgettable hipster fad," to hear him describe the mobs as exclusionary-by-design, and to realize that for Bill it was only the New York City mobs -- 8 out of thousands worldwide -- that mattered. The only other city's mob that he even deemed worthy of describing was the Boston mob dubbed "Ode to Bill", a tribute to... well, go figure.

I started composing a letter to the editor and then saved it in my drafts folder unfinished, determined to make my rebuttal in my dissertation, rather than the magazine. But after stumbling upon a few online responses to the article that expressed similar confusion about the content and cynicism of Mr. Wasik's article, I found myself finishing the letter.

Here it is, in case the editors at Harper's don't see fit to run it.

To the Editor:

Bill Wasik’s account of the mob project is a fascinating perspective on eight of the thousands of flash mobs that were conducted worldwide in the summer and fall of 2003. However, as one of the San Francisco flash mob organizers, I have to take issue with his article as a definitive account of the phenomenon. Here in San Francisco, for instance, we consciously designed events that would be inclusive and inviting to passersby who hadn’t already received the secret “insider” instructions. When we whirled across a pedestrian crosswalk at a famous cable car stop, the mob grew larger over the course of the 10 minutes as tourists and locals joined in. It was “transparent play”, not “dark play”—the rules were obvious to anyone who was watching, and there was ample opportunity to become a part of the experience. When we threw a massively multiplayer duck-duck-goose game in a public park, it was obvious to all nearby what we were up to—and that’s why many more people outside of the original network began to play with us. We picked a familiar childhood game so that as diverse a group as possible could jump in and take part. In short, we were explicitly working against what we perceived to be the exclusivity of the East Coast flash mobs. And that, I believe, is the true story of flash mobs—local organizers making their own decisions about which places are appropriate for play, and what kinds of play to design. Wasik invented the bones, the structure, of flash mobs—yes. But independent organizers in their own cities put their own flesh and blood on top of that skeleton. I have been enchanted and delighted by Capetown’s, Bogota’s, Montreal’s, and Warsaw’s interpretations of the flash mob, none of which looked like each other’s and each of which captured the imagination of local residents in their own site-specific, community-specific ways. That’s what makes the phenomenon interesting and meaningful in the long run: the diversity of spontaneous communities making their own public spectacles. Furthermore, I despaired to read Wasik be so dismissive of flash mobs, referring to them as a vacuous and forgettable trend. When I went to Singapore in the summer of 2004 to give a lecture about flash mobs—a lecture that was almost banned by the government because it was deemed a controversial subject matter—I met individuals who were profoundly moved and energized by the fact that three flash mobs had been successfully conducted in Singapore, despite the illegality of organizing more than four people in a public space without formal government permission. And when flash mobs were banned by the legislature in Mumbai, mobbers from all over the world joined together to offer the sole Mumbai organizer online advice and support (eventually, it was decided to move flash mobs to other cities in India.) Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that flash mobs are significant only in so far as they challenged local law. For me, the ultimate meaning lies in the lingering traces flash mob play has left in shared spaces. On more than one occasion, most recently a full two years after the fact, I have walked past the pedestrian crosswalk where we staged our first San Francisco flash mob and witnessed someone else whirling across it. I myself have continued to lead friends in whirling across it. Through our flash mob, we changed the source code of that site; a crosswalk at 4th and Market now frequently serves as a crosswhirl. Maybe I take play too seriously, but I am proud to have been a part of that change. Mr. Wasik, for many cities, flash mobs invigorated its cites and citizens for a great deal longer than the 10 minutes a traditional flash mob lasts. I’m sorry if ultimately that was not the point or the result of the flash mob experience in New York.


Jane McGonigal


One further point that I didn't make in my letter, but that bothered me immensely about Wasik's piece. He speaks rather harshly about his own flash mob participants, calling them his "subjects", applying insulting labels, and basically making it sound as if he was just using them. I still have hundreds of emails sent among our own flash mob organizers in which we discussed how to make the mob as good an experience as possible for all involved. We debated which locations would give participants the best memories, what activity would leave them feeling positive, what would enable them to feel connected to each other and why that was good, what would make passerby feel magical, what would enhance the location... just all manner of positive things. We had the utmost respect for our participants. I personally felt TREMENDOUS responsibility to them. They trusted us, the anonymous organizers, enough to show up without knowing what they would be asked to do-- to commit to following our instructions--- I felt it was incumbent upon me to make it a positive, safe, memorable experience. During the mob heyday, I corresponded with dozens of other organizers in other cities and this was always the sentiment I saw reflected in their own decisions. The contempt Bill shows in his article to participants (whether he felt it at the time-- and I don't know if I believe he did, I think perhaps this is just posturing now) is the exception, not the rule. And I really want that to be something that is understood about the flash mobs. I believe the vast majority of organizers were benevolent and cared deeply about creating a positive experience.

Werewolf Attack! ETech 2006

Originally uploaded by Mattijn.

Headed next week to San Diego for O'Reilly's 2006 Emerging Technologies conference? Then put the Tuesday night special event, a Werewolf Game hosted by yours truly, on your calendar right now. Or you WILL be devoured by flesh-hungry technologists before you can say "full moon."

My co-conspirator Artur Bergman, one of the world's most dangerous hackers, and I are leading the special event.

It's going to be classic Werewolf play with a couple of extra elements designed to help us test the individual intuition and collective intelligence of the players.

Each round, every player will receive a blank Blink card and a blank Wisdom card, in addition to their role card (werewolf, villager, or seer.)

Before anyone is eaten or lynched, the game will begin with every player, one at a time, stating for the group: "I am not a werewolf." Then, using only their Blinkiest intuition and instincts, each player will fill out their Blink card with the name of someone they suspect is a Werewolf. (Werewolves will write down their guess of who the Seer is.) These cards are collected by the moderator, and then the game continues.

Whenever a player is eaten or lynched, they have a second chance to make a guess. Before leaving the circle, the player will write down the name of someone they suspect is a remaining Werewolf. (Werewolves write down the name of who they suspect is/was the seer.) Cards are given to the moderator.

At the end of the game, we will find out from the Blink cards: Who has the best intuition about other players? We will ask them for their strategies for reading other players. From the Wisdom cards we will learn: Does the group as a whole know more than they are able to collectively act on in the mob-mentality environment?

You are invited to be a part of this very playful research event. See you there!

(Oh, and if you're not going to Etech-- there will be unofficial games at SXSW and GDC this March as well. Come find me...)

Monday, February 20, 2006

Robert Scoble's book with other naked books

How happy I am to see the mission statement of the Ministry of Reshelving evolve and expand to include such delightful interventions as Mary Hodder's and Betsy Devine's relocation of uberblogger Robert Scoble's book NAKED CONVERSATIONS to the art section. As the reshelvers put it: "Oh, look, Mary, it's _Naked Conversations_. But why did the Harvard Bookstore shelve it with the business books? Let's bring it over here with some books that have lots of photos of naked people." Love it!

This is exactly what real-world social bookmarking, the core of the Reshelving project, is all about. Folksonomy in real-media spaces. Design your own mission. Reshelve for your own delight. Reclassify as your own, self-designed statement. When it launched, true, the singular mission involving 1984 was a bit... heavy-handed, perhaps. But catchy enough to get the source code for the Reshelving project out there. Even the intelligent design folks reshelving evolutionary theory books to "Science Fiction" get a Colbert-inspired tip of the hat. By the way, as long as we're doing Reshelving updates... I wanted to comment that although I hoped to collect the evidence and stories of reshelving missions in a central location (the Flickr group), the vast majority of participants staged the action on their own blogs and forums, or simply submitted it directly to me via email. So it turns out to be quite a distributed network of interventions that currently is best explored through Google and technorati searches... and my Inbox. I still get nearly daily emails from people who are engaging with the project.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

GDC roomie wanted for Monday & Tuesday

I might be commuting between San Jose and San Francico for the first two days of GDC, but the possibility of crashing with someone on Monday and Tuesday nights -- primarily so I can stay late and organize massive games of Werewolf/Witchhunt/Mafia/Zombie Village -- is very appealing.

Do you:
-Have a hotel room for Monday & Tuesday night with a spare bed or a rollaway option?
-NOT smoke?
-know me? (like, we have met before)

If so, drop me a line or leave a comment. The main benefits of letting me crash with you are: I will bring you goodies, and/or buy you drinks, and most importantly keep you in the loop for all crazy evening social games.

Friday, February 17, 2006

you'd make such an exquisite corpse

Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

In the words of the most exquisitely corpsed person I know:

Oh God
I’m all sewn up
A hardened razor-cut
Scar map across my body
And you can trace the lines
Through Misery’s design
That map across
my body

A collage
All sewn up
A montage
All sewn up

Hedwig's lament is Meche's lament tonight. Meche was spayed yesterday. I have to admit, I didn't realize what major surgery spaying is. Neutering male dogs is minor surgery-- but spaying female dogs is quite an invasive procedure. She has a very large and wide scar running down her shaved belly, and she is wearing that lovely collar to keep her from opening it up. As the vet technician advised us, "All it takes is you looking away for one minute for her to have a big gaping hole in her stomach." To find out more about the procedure and how to care for Meche afterwards, I did some online research. I accidentally looked at photos of an actual spaying operation, photos I personally consider worse than the goatse. WAIT. If you think you really want to see images of a doctor holding a dog's ovaries, before you click, be warned that I screamed for about 3 minutes straight after seeing them. When Kiyash yelled back from the other room, "Just look away," I wailed: "I can't! They're in my MIND!!" You have been warned.

So here I am, at home on a Friday night, trying to make things better for sweet Meche, even though she can't chew her rawhide or chase her socks or fetch her little pink ball or pull on her little pink rope or jump on the bed or navigate very well (walks like a drunken pirate because the collar restricts her vision and throws off her sense of frame and balance.) Kiyash is as usual editing pods for Current TV, so I am getting used to the home alone all night routine. It's not bad for the dissertation, but kind of quiet and lonely and there have been too many cookies involved lately.

But this post is about Meche (nicknamed "Meche-moo" because she has the markings of a cow, and "little girl" because she is such a little girl!). And about my surprising feelings about the spaying process. She is such a living thing, such a real being, and I can't believe that we have the power to open her up, take away her reproduction ability, and then sew her back up. I know it's good for her long-term health and good for the dog world, but I respect Meche so much as her own little being, she is so brave and has her own mind about things, and I can't believe as her guardians Kiyash and I can make such life-altering decisions for her. I never felt this way about male dogs. I am discovering all sorts of weird gender emotions by having my first female dog. I was having a very rich conversation with danah about this the day before Meche's surgery, about wondering if dogs WANT to be mothers. Even if breeding is instinct... what does it mean to tell Meche she'll never be a mom? Maybe the fact that we met Meche's mom, and I saw their relationship... or maybe this is my own conflicted feelings about having kids. All I know is that I never expected how thought-full the process of having our little girl spayed would be. Weird, huh? This blog post and my reasons for cookie rolling are definitely the closest to TMI I've ever come online.

Okay, in the spirit of more mundane, a list of other life changes happening:

1. Kiyash and I are cancelling our NetFlix service. No time, and I've always been more of a TV girl myself. I love love love the liveness and imagined community of TV (someone else is watching this right now)... it's why I don't Tivo (yet). Whenever I'm with VCs or entrepreneurs who want to know what to make, I always say IM for live TV. PLEASE!!! I want my buddy list for who's watching what. It would make me feel WAY cooler for having Parental Control on right now if I happened to know that some friends were too. When I first went away to college, I used to make TV dates with my dad... usually Law & Order. We would both watch the show live and then call each other after it was over. Wow, this was going to be a rapidfire list and now I'm sharing my deep personal feelings about TV, which I think now and forever is my most cherished medium and artistic format.

2. Because he set such a good example last year, Kiyash's four best friends are all getting married in 2006. Amazing! Even the confirmed bachelor. So we are going to weddings in Yosemite, North Caroline, St. Louis, and some little village in India. Yeah, crazy. We're going to India!

3. I learned 3 basic steps of krumping. The stomp, the chest bump, the arms. Although mostly I am just listening to the Rize soundtrack while running my new 4.3 mile loop to Marin Circle and back. Not, like, actually battling anyone. ^_^

Okay, so the next blog post is all business: My GDC slides are made! My SXSW game is designed! My Werewolf event for Etech is officially on the program! A game I developed with 3 other UC Berkeley professors/designers was accepted for installation at ISEA! I coined the phrase "promiscuous trust" to do some very interesting work for me by way of explaining pervasive games! And I wrote one of the most important sentences of my dissertation! ("From the start, classification and taxonomy have comprised both the rhetorical heart and the central problem of the game studies project.") And more. But tonight, I needed to talk Meche.