Tuesday, August 29, 2006

PLAY ME! Cruel 2 B Kind Playtests @ Mission Dolores Park

If you are going to be in the Bay Area on Sunday September 3 (yes, Labor Day weekend) or Sunday September 10, I am inviting you to playtest Cruel 2 B Kind, the new game of benevolent assassination that Ian Bogost and I have cooked up for the Come Out and Play festival in New York City.

The playtests will be in my favorite city park, Mission Dolores. They will last about an hour, and be small and casual. We can hang out afterwards, and I will feed you lovely picnic food as we chat about how the game went. I also will be quite grateful to you for testing it out, and will consider you a co-conspirator for life. :) All you need is a partner (game begins with 2-person teams, although you will collaborate with other players later) and one cell phone between you that can send and receive email-based SMS (which is basically everyone who uses SMS/text at all, and our sign up page has a guide to figuring out your SMS email if you don't know it yet)

So: I need about a dozen or so adventurous folks for each.

San Francisco Playtest #1
San Francisco, Sunday September 3, 2006
Location: Mission Dolores Park, all 13.7 acres.
Time: Check-in begins at 1:30 PM. Assassination begins at 2 PM. Game ends at 3 PM, with honors awarded at asassins' picnic.

San Francisco Playtest #2
San Francisco, Sunday September 10, 2006
Location: Mission Dolores Park, all 13.7 acres.
Time: Check-in begins at 1:30 PM. Assassination begins at 2 PM. Game ends at 3 PM, with honors awarded at asassins' picnic.

Please register now or email me or ping with questions!

Monday, August 28, 2006

It's Foo-tacular!

Originally uploaded by GeekyGirlDawn.

Foo Camp this weekend was a happy, play-packed, geek-tacular affair.

Some highlights:

The wonderful Chris DiBona (my new superhero) arranged for a Google Earth/Maps flyover of the campgrounds on Saturday at noon. Several groups created ground installations to be captured at a 3in/pixel resolution; Chris and I headed up the most ambitious effort: to make a flat Cylon Raider replica, at 54 foot x 34 foot scale. We had an outstanding eight-person team working on the project, incuding Zack Exley, Dick Hardt, Artur Bergman, and Dawn Foster. We took a highly methodical approach to the design and installation, involving mapping an overhead photo of the raider onto a grid and then marking out 1 x 1 foot sections of the ground for pixel-by-pixel representation of the distinctive Battlestar Galactica icon. We raced to get everything in place before the plane flew over, and now soon, (in about a month), Google Earth and Maps images of the Sebastopol O'Reilly grounds will reveal that enemy spacecraft has crashed here on Earth! Ground photos of our work are here. However, it's the overflight photos that will be truly amazing.

Saturday night marked the return of the OOF! The Reverse FOO Scavenger Hunt, which I designed and deployed. How the hunt works: teams collect any ten objects they want. THEN they get the list, inspired by themes presented at FOO talks and roundtable sessions. Teams must "find" all of the items on the list in the collection of objects they've already assembled. All improvisational hacks and extraordinary demonstrations are encouraged. The winning team's members included the incredibly creative and gameful Cory Ondrejka, Liz Lawley, Quinn Norton, and Greg Stein, who respectively performed a literally mind-blowing brain hack with a bottle of whiskey, a sensational demo of sleeping-bag as virtual world interface, a hypnotic whiteboard recursion into the land of continuous partial attention, and a very convincing and moving portrait of the first man-pregnancy. The special guest judges for the event were danah boyd, who also helped me plan and stage the foo-tacular event, artur bergman and Nat Torkington. Together, they skillfully managed to bring to the game to a perfect tie among all teams, allowing me to run the special 60-second Death Defying Tiebreaker round. I was awed by the spirit of adventure with which some of the players (especially Paul Hammond) took "death defying" literally. And in general, I was inspired and humbled by all of the players' gutsy, creative participation. The complete rules and scavenger hunt list were as follows:

Please find the following objects:
1. A fully installed functional body modification (demo, please)
2. Spiritual computing object (demo, please)
3. A prop from the set of the 2042 Japanese remake of Snakes on a Plane (scene, please)
4. A viable alternate energy source (demo, please)
5. The new Third Life interface
6. When ThingLinks Go Wrong
7. Evidence of the most insidious viral marketing effort of the year 2007
8. The FOOFRACK™ Continuous Partial Attention Device
9. Proof that one of your team members is actually a Cylon, a Werewolf or a VC in disguise
10. A craft object from the BRAINS! Issue of Make Magazine (Vol. 13)

Rules:You have 60 minutes to “find” these objects.You can only use the 10 objects your team already has—no trading, no substitutions.You can hack and mod your objects any way you want.You cannot use an object to represent more than one item on the list.
Your success in finding these objects will be judged based on your live demonstrations and explanations. Prepare to be persuasive!In the case of a tie, teams will play a 60-second death-defying, single-object tiebreaker round.

On Sunday morning, I conducted a session with the super-sharp Amy Jo Kim about the social life of digital gaming. I gave a short talk exploring how supergaming can be used to open source public and shared spaces. I also had the chance throw a Massively Multiplayer Thumb Wrestling game by way of demonstrating the power of network-inspired grooming networks, always my favorite way to end a lecture.

Finally, Werewolf games from 10 PM until 5:30 AM on Friday and Saturday nights. Huzzah huzzah! At Foo Camp last year, I spent a lot of time trying to introduce certain modifications to the traditional folk version of the game. The most important to me was to change the game from "reveal" (a logic puzzle) to "no reveal" (a psychological and performace puzzle). I was thrilled this year that I didn't need to convince anyone--the change has stuck, and almost all of the games played were no reveal, which is the version I've been organizing with Artur for the past several months in preparation for the launch of our worldwide tournament Werewolf league. As usual, Werewolf masterminds Cal Henderson and Tom Coates were a joy to watch as they slaughtered their way through the village, under the skillful moderation of danah boyd. And through the late, late, late gameplay, I also got to know better some amazing people while watching their lynching and devouring skills grow exponentially! In particular, I was thoroughly impressed by Erik Benson's, Ramez Naam's, and Sam Ruby's Werewolfian prowess. Also, they are really thoughtful, well-spoken, fascinating people with really inspiring work, which somehow Werewolf provides a great platform for getting to know, in the midst of all those heated debates, defenses, and lynching.

As with last year, I found play at Foo an unbelievably effective way to connect with people in a really accelerated fashion. An adventurous ludic spirit is the single most important thing for me to find in future collaborators and conspirators, and running a variety of games is a great way to cut through the increasing morass of people who profess to be interested in games and game design, but who wouldn't deign to actually play one, in order to find the people who are sincerely ready to embrace and to explore ludic possibilities in an increasingly gameful network society. I was really happy to play with so many brilliant people this weekend and to learn about their vision for future technologies and software in the process. I hope to be invited back to FOOcamp next year, but in the meantime, look for me at O'Reilly conferences running evening Werewolf games!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

See Me Feel Me Touch Me READ ME

I've started posting chapters from my dissertation "This Might Be a Game: Ubiquitous Play and Performance at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century" here. Look for a new chapter every couple of weeks.

I'm posting them one at a time, like the chapters of a Dickens novel. Why? I love serial storytelling... and you will probably need to pace yourself as you work through the 573-page text. Feedback, of course, is welcome!

Up as of tonight:

1 Introduction: A Ubiquitous Computing Approach to Play and Performance
2 Three Kinds of Everywhere: The Multiple Genres of Ubiquitous Play and Performance

Friday, August 18, 2006

"What is an exotic animal you have touched?'

Bounce San Jose postcard
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

Last week at the 2006 International Symposium for Electronic Art (ISEA), I had the first opportunity to conduct a public playtest of Bounce, a senior social network game.

The game combines a single-player online flash interface with live multi-player phone conversation... for now, via personal phones, but soon via Skype.

The goal of the project is to connect senior citizens with players of other, younger generations, so that online social networks don't split across generational lines, a kind of My Space versus Eons.com phenomenon. Instead, during the game, players of different generations form social connections with each other, discovering what specific life experiences they have in common, even as they swap stories of very different, rich lives. They seek highly specific, true, common answers to questions such as:

What is an exotic animal you both have touched? What is an unusual body of water you both have been swimming in? What is a fantastic cure that has worked on you both?

The playtest, conducted in cooperation with the Almaden Senior Center in San Jose, was a smashing success. The phones rang off the hook, to the point that we expanded our phone database by three lines to handle the calls. The seniors, most of whom did not prior to the test consider games a medium they would choose to engage with normally, had a fantastic time playing. They wanted to play multiple times, gave us terrific positive feedback, and we had above an 80% return rate from our first day of testing to our second day of testing... that means they liked the game enough to come back to play again! Indeed word of the game spread through the senior center, and I was just thrilled with how engaging and positive and iterable an experience it turned out to be.

Non-senior callers were terrific too-- as the playtest unfolded, we started receiving calls from all over the country from people who had received emails, IMs and phone calls from friends who had just played. These folks essentially told us "A friend of mine just gave me this phone number and told me to call"--so we had the fantastic challenge of engaging them from scratch.

On a sentimental note, Bounce was my last UC project, no doubt, now that I've filed my dissertation. (Bounce is a collaboration with fellow UC Berkeley researchers Irene Chien, Ken Goldberg, and Greg Niemeyer.) However, the playtest was such a success, I am certain at the very least that there will be more bouncing in the future! Look for more public playtests, a more robust online system (the system this post links to is very buggy and unpolished, but if you're curious, it will give you a basic idea of the interactive design), and some research articles.