Saturday, December 29, 2007

Work, Work, Work - How I Spent My 2007, or, a Year in Review

I was so busy working in 2007, I forgot to blog about most of it! So here is a top 10 countdown looking back at the ideas and projects that I'm very glad were a part of my year, most of which I didn't give enough attention to on this blog.

I'm including links to my favorite articles, slide decks, and videos so you can go check out anything you missed. Happy New Year!

1. Favorite Change in Mission Statement - "Happiness Hacking"

Early in 2007, I was wrestling with my purpose in life as a game designer. I think a lot about human suffering, and how we don't suffer when we're immersed in games. There's clearly a lot of benevolent power there waiting to be tapped in everyday life and society.

An so I crafted a new mission statement my work as a game designer -- the goal of using new scientific research on well-being to develop technological systems that actually improve quality of life. If you need a quick crash course in well-being research, I recommend two places: All of the great field-building positive psychology work done by Martin Seligman at U Penn, and the work by Allister McGregor and other to look at well-being in developing countries at the ESRC Research Group.

I was able to present "happiness hacking" as an emerging design imperative in a few high-profile contexts this year: keynotes for ETech, the Web 2.0 Expo, and the Web 2.0 Summit. This helped it gain a lot of traction, and I'm happy to see ripple effects in a lot of new games and Web 2.0 projects. If you missed the talks, one of the best slide sets I created on this topic is on slideshare: "Creating Alternate Realities: What the new game designers understand about improving quality of life".

2. Favorite Research Theme - Collective Intelligence Gaming

Thanks to a small grant from the MacArthur Foundation's digital youth research initiative, I was able to spend part of 2007 writing up the most rigorous and detailed explanation of how I tackle the design problem of creating collective intelligence in a gaming community.

My article "Why I Love Bees: A Case Study in Collective Intelligence Gaming" is probably the best paper I've ever published, and you can read it on my website or on the new MIT Press volume Ecologies of Play, which was edited by the fabulous Katie Salen and also includes great new essays by Mimi Ito, Ian Bogost, and Cory Ondrejka, among others.

I also had a chance to break this research theme down for a broader audience with my first major editorial ever -- "Gamers Have Skills -- Let's Tap 'Em" for the Christian Science Monitor.

3. Favorite Deliverable - "The 10 Collaboration Superpowers"

For my first major game at the Institute for the Future, I worked with the amazing Jason Tester (who, among other things, designs tangible artifacts from the future) to create a half-day immersive experience for the 2007 Ten Year Forecast. (If you're curious, you can read the executive summary of the Ten Year Forecast.)

A major part of the game, which was MMO/quest-like, was a set of skills we originally dubbed "superheroes 2.0", but which I'm now calling the 10 collaboration superpowers. We had players self-identify their core superpowers, and then features a dozen missions requiring different combinations and quantities of superpower strengths.

Executives flew in from around the country to take part in the game, and it was written up a New York Times article about innovative uses of gaming in the business world ("Why Work Is Looking More Like a Videogame").

The superheroes game was a blast, and since then, I've found so many different ways to use the superpowers. I'm constantly thinking of games and missions to design that test and strengthen these skills.This list has become an integral part of most of my presentations and design processes. If you haven't seen them yet, you can get a quickfire summary is this short slide deck: "10 Collaboration Superpowers".

4. Favorite New Crazy Idea - Massively Multiplayer Science

In a nutshell: Wrapping serious scientific work in an alternate reality game framework to engage interdisciplinary researchers, knowledgable amauters, and even the general public in massively collaborative scientific research. I can't explain this idea any better than I did in my talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) earlier this year. Here's a summary and slides about Massively Multiplayer Science.

I was also thrilled to be invited to keynote at IIASA's 35th Anniversary Meeting, along with Thomas Schelling and Jeffrey Sachs, to talk about the potential future intersections of scientific research and collaborative gaming. You can read a transcript of my talk "Amplified Intelligence Games for Global Development", as well as watch a streaming video of it, and look at the slides on IIASA's conference website. This might have been my favorite talk of the year -- although it was quite nerve-wracking to present these ideas to a room full of scientists and senior government officials (presidents, ministers, and so on) from more than a dozen countries.

The best part: IFTF is letting me push this idea forward with an alternate reality game for scientists. It's called the X2 Project Game, and it is a great, crazy idea that is getting oversight from the National Academy of Sciences. More on that in 2008!

5. Favorite Game Project - World Without Oil

Looking back, I'm so happy with how this project, which was conceived and directed by the brilliant Ken Eklund, played out. It was a highly successful proof-of-concept: the first "serious" alternate reality game, explicitly designed to harness the collaborative imagination of gamers to tackle a real-world problem.

It also revealed, somewhat unexpectedly, that alternate reality gaming can serve as an extremely powerful new, massively multiplayer forecasting platform -- something I'm particularly interested in developing further in my role as resident game designer for the Intsitute for the Future. I'm going to write up some research about it in 2008.

In the meantime, if you haven't been to the World Without Oil website in awhile, check it out -- it has been transformed into an immersive archive of the game, with multiple themed guided tours of the player-created content, lesson plans for teachers, a seven-minute behind-the-scenes mini-documentary about the project, and lots more.

6. Favorite Live Game Event - Cruel 2 B Kind World Championships

In April, I ran a Cruel 2 B Kind game in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco that wound up featuring more than 200 players from a dozen different states and four countries. So I turned it into an impromptu world championship for the game.

The SOMA game was captured brilliantly by Current TV, and in fact, the short video was just named one the top stories of the year at Current! If you haven't watched it yet, see Cruel 2 B Kind in action on Current TV.

This particular event was also was prominently featured in my favorite press clipping of the year -- a great SF Weekly Cover story by Eliza Strickland: "Future Games."

7. Favorite New Terminology - "Amplified Individuals"

This fall, I had the chance to co-author a really exciting research article at the Institute for the Future with Mike Love, the collaborative media designer at IFTF. The article is called "Amplified Individuals", and it looks at "extreme network users" as a new class of highly innovative thinkers and producers.

Mike and I outlined four new modes of amplification that are enabling individuals to do more, learn faster, and leverage the power of human-human and human-computer collaboration. We call these four modes "highly social", "highly collective", "highly augmented", and "highly improvisational". We presented the research at the annual Technology Horizons conference in October.

For now the complete paper is available only to research members of the Institute. In about a year, it will show up in the public IFTF library. (Plenty of treasures to read there now.) In the meantime, here's a very short excerpt. And stay tuned for the term trickling into my work and presentations!

"Amplified individuals share four important characteristics. First, they are highly social. They use tagging software, wikis, social networks, and other human intelligence aggregators to supplement their individual knowledge and to understand what their individual contributions mean in the bigger picture, giving meaning to even the most menial tasks. Amplified individuals are highly collective, taking advantage of online collaboration software, mobile communications tools, and immersive virtual environments to engage globally distributed team members with highly specialized and complementary capacities. Amplified individuals are also highly improvisational, capable of banding together to form effective networks and infrastructures, both social and professional. Finally, amplified individuals are highly augmented. They employ visualization tools, attention filters, e-displays, and ambient presence systems to enhance their cognitive abilities and coordination skills, thus enabling them to quickly access and process massive amounts of information."

8. Favorite Follow-Up - The "Ministry of Reshelving" Lives

You probably remember the controversial Ministry of Reshelving mini-game that I developed in 2005. I was finally able to publish some design notes and results of the project in a great new game studies collection called Space Time Play. (I also have another more theoretical essay in that volume, called "Ubiquitous Gaming - A Vision for the Future of Enchanting Spaces".)

The essay, "The Ministry of Reshelving: Political, Pervasive Game Design" includes a kind of Harper's Weekly Index style report, with fun and highly interpretable statistics as:

"Participants prefered to submit evidence of their missions via email rather than contribute to a central public pool by a ration of 23:1. Book sellers, librarians, and writers were more supportive of the project than bookstore customers and library patrons by a factor of roughly ten."

I wish I had time to write up all of my game experiments this way, but I'm really glad I made time to this year for the Ministry game.

Also, and more importantly, two of my partners-in-crime for this project (Monica and George) were married this fall (yay!). (I married the fourth partner-in-crime shortly after the project launched in 2005!) I was asked to give a toast at Monica and George's wedding reception, and so naturally I quoted George Orwell. That was about as happy a wrap to the project as I could imagine.

9. Favorite New Allies - my new friends in Sydney, Orlando, and Detroit

I traveled a lot and spoke at many conferences this year, many that were completely new to me and outside my typical domain of game or technology conferences. Three in particular stood out to me as being amazing events, organized by brilliant, passionate people, and I consider myself extremely lucky to have crossed paths with them. Indeed, I hope to be able to continue crossing paths with them in 2008!

Without babbling too much about why I love them and why they are so awesome, let me just mention them, so that if you are ever invited to attend, talk, or otherwise cross paths with them, you can remember to say yes! They are: the AMP Innovation and Thought Leadership Festival, organized by the amazing Annalie Killian; the astoundingly well-designed and programmed Learning Conference, put together by the brilliant Elliot Masie; and the meeting of the Council of Michigan Foundations, led by the fabulous Rob Collier, and who as a group are doing some of the most innovative and fearless foundation work I've come across. I'm so grateful to have met these three individuals and to have learned about the great work they're doing with their organizations.

10. Favorite Secret Project - "you don't think I would actually give away the name here, now do you?"

If you have me on your AIM buddy list, you may have noticed something strange. For the past six months, I have been describing my current location as "at the secret office" with increasing frequency. That's because I am working with a very large team on a very secret game!

Obviously, I can't say much now. But roughly half of 2007, I have been directing the design and development of what is the biggest, and I honestly think best, game I have worked on. No kidding. The scope and scale of the project is insane. And the playtesting has been off the charts in terms of fun, fun, fun.

It's not serious, it's pure entertainment, although I frankly think that it will be a force for good in the world and something that players will remember for the rest of their lives. So, yeah, I'm incredibly excited. I've been funneling everything I've been learning and developing about happiness hacking, collaboration superpowers, amplified individuals, and collective intelligence gaming into this one. Plus a lot of new high-tech toys and tricks.

You'll see it in 2008.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Play, Play, Play - How I Spent 2007, or, a Year in Review

I'm grateful that in 2007, I was able to introduce more social life and fun back into my life. 2006 was the year I devoted to finishing my disseration, and I really look back on it as a pretty miserably solitaire and austere existence -- at least up until the round-the-world-trip Kiyash and I took when all that was over. I was determined in 2007 to spend a little less time working and a little more time with other people. It made a huge difference to my quality of life -- and I still managed to get a hell of a lot done!

So as a way of remaining conscious of everything I have to be grateful for, here is a top-of-the-head review of the fun I had in 2007:

I spent a ton of time playing Werewolf and SF0 and the Nintendo Wii -- not to mention co-hosting improvisational truffle night and improvisational champagne cocktail night(cooking parties for hackers and gamers).

I went to a ton of Long Now Foundation talks (and become a charter member!), along with other awesome Friday night events like the Geek Nights at Squid Labs and Heather Gold's live talk show.

I cookie rolled like crazy, and I finally learned how to drive (I got my permit in the spring and will be taking my test in the next couple of months!)

I discovered the genius of Scott Westerfeld (Pretties, Peeps) and read five of his books, thank god there is still one left I haven't read (Extras) and get to read in 2008.

Thanks to ebay, I obtained six vintage, in-the-box, props-included original Infocom games for the Commodore 64. I also shopped online for girly things I love beyond all reason, like MAC lip gloss, Juicy Couture tube socks, Marc Jacob sunglasses, BCBG sweaters.

I reveled in new episodes of my favorite tv series: The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, So You Think You Can Dance. And I cheered on my good friend Ian Bogost when he was on the Colbert Report! TV is awesome.

Kiyash and I had the best meal of the year where we always have our best meal of the year -- Cosmopolitan Cafe -- and also had amazing Bay Area meals at Slanted Door and Sea Salt, our other local favorites.

Also, there were a few unexpected challenges I wrestled with, which weren't exactly fun but are all positive memories in retrospect -- largely because of the amazing support my husband Kiyash provided through all of them:

In January, I had all four impacted wisdom teeth removed, and then suffered from multiple dry sockets, subsequently gaining an awful lot of weight from sucking down only mashed potatoes and gelato (and if you saw me in February or March, you know what I mean!).

I had my suitcase stolen and as a result lost a lot of my favorite things. But it was a good reminder of the relative unimportance of things.

Kiyash and I took on an extraordinarily difficult and extremely isolated hiking trip (10 days in Aragon, the brutally hot, arid, mountainous region of Spain) that I look back on somewhat less fondly than my husband Kiyash, mostly because I can't believe we didn't die, although I'm glad we did it. At any rate, the four months we spent training for the trip was extremely fun, even if the trip was somewhat traumatic, and really, I mean traumatic in a mostly good way. Flow, and all that.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Help me find the next great puppet masters!

I've caught wind of an amazing opportunity for someone who is bilingual and who would like to get hands-on experience as an alternate reality game puppet master.

This paid, part-time position is for a "jr. puppet master" and "community leader" on a very big, professionally produced alternate reality game. The work is entirely online and can be done on a flexible schedule from anywhere in the world.

This kind of position is just about the best way to break into ARGs there is.

Being a jr. puppet master comes with a lot of creative responsibility, including writing and online performance. It also invovles the amazingly fun challenge of interacting with players via email (and sometimes in real life!) and overseeing forums and blogs for a large online player community. Also, this particular position would also entail lots and lots of close mentoring from a very experienced ARG designer.

The only catch: the puppet master must be either a native speaker of (or near-native fluent in) Japanese or Mandarin Chinese, with English as their second (or first) language.

It's also possible that the position could be modified for native speakers of other languages (parlez vous francais? Você fala português?) so if you or someone you know might be a terrific bilingual jr. puppet master, go ahead and email me.

Sadly, I know that the bilingual requirement won't apply to most of the up-and-coming puppet masters out there. But... if this describes you or anyone you know, I think this would be a really cool project and a great chance to make a name for yourself in the ARG world.

So drop me a line or send potential candidates my way! I have a more detailed job description to pass along and can make all the introductions necessary.

(Email me at [my first name] @ [the name of this blog] .com)

I really, wholeheartedly recommend this opportunity -- so if you are game, let me know!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Adventures in Cookie Rolling - Vienna!

Vienna_November07 009
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
I landed in Vienna after 18 hours of travel and two sleepless flights. It was snowing, and it was late, and I was exhausted.

The conference organizers had arranged a car for me, and the driver met me after baggage. He was just a little older than I am, very energetic, and we struck up a conversation right away. When he found out I had flown in from San Francisco, he told me that his daughter lives there, or near there – Union City. I told him my husband and I lived in Berkeley, and he seemed to know a fair bit of the local Bay Area geography.

The drive into the city center turned into an impromptu city tour, and a historical introduction to Austria. I was regaled with information about the countrywide use of spring water as tap water, the utter absence of street crime, the great art museums, how highly Austria’s neutrality is valued by OPEC, the best wine shops, the pedestrian friendly city center, the rational design of the numbered city districts, how to read the street signs, and on, and on, and on. It was quite awesome.

Considering the fact that I obviously had a local expert on hand, I decided to ask the driver about local cookies. I planned to cookie roll the next day, and I didn’t really have a good lead on a quintessential Viennese cookie.

At first, the driver wanted to tell me all about the famous Viennese strudel and the many outstanding varieties of kucken – but I quickly explained that it had to be a cookie, like a biscuit. (Kiyash had advised me before leaving on this trip to use the word “biscuit” to better communicate what I was looking for – and he was right!) To explain why I specifically needed a biscuit and not a struden or a kucken, I vaguely mentioned that it was a kind of project I’m doing in different cities around the world – getting local cookies. I left out the rolling, the spelling, and the Sisyphus part. He took my question quite seriously and thought for a moment before offering up what he thought the best cookie for the project would be.

It was the vanillekipferl, he decided – a kind of small, crescent shaped, power-sugared, nutty shortbread. He explained that it was a very old, traditional cookie, dating back centuries. He mentioned some great time of poverty in Austria, during a royal era (my history is a bit foggy on Eastern Europe, and I didn’t quite follow his references). He said, to my delight, that apparently one faction of people living in Vienna would throw these cookies at the other, poorer faction, “to taunt them, because they had no food.”

This was definitely the best history I’d heard of any cookie ever.

And of course, any cookie with excellent aerodynamics would certainly have outstanding rolling affordances as well!

So I said I was absolutely certain I would use that cookie, and I had him spell the name twice so I would remember it. “V-a-n-i-l-l-e k-i-p-f-e-r-l.”

As we neared my hotel, I explained my purpose for being in town – to talk about games at a scientific meeting – he talked about having studied digital aesthetics at university, and he told me about his interest in new media and architecture. I thought that was a very interesting coincidence – and having just published an essay and a design manifesto in Space Time Play, a book on the relationship between architecture, public space and games, I gave the driver my business card just as we were pulling up to the hotel. I told him I’d send I’d email him my article if he wrote.

This seemed to catch him off guard a bit. The last thing I remember as I was dragging my suitcase up the red carpet toward the hotel lobby was him looking me directly in the eyes, smiling, with an expression I interpreted as somewhat happy surprise to have had made a small, but meaningful, connection on the ride over.

I went to bed immediately – I hadn’t slept on either of the flights over – and I was extremely confused and groggy when the phone in my hotel room rang about an hour and a half later.

The woman at the front desk said, “Someone has just dropped off milk and cookies for you, and the porter is outside your door right now if you would like to accept them.”

With my earplugs still in, I stumbled over to the door, opened it, and the porter began apologizing quite profusely when he saw how asleep and bedgraggled I looked. He was holding a pint of milk and a box of cookies in a small, clear plastic grocery bag. Along with the pint and cookies, stashed inside the bag was the name card from the airport – the sign that the driver held up so I would find him at arrivals. Here’s what the surprise special delivery looked like, and from another angle.

They were vanillekipferl cookies.

It felt quite strange and magical. I thought at the moment I should take some photographs of me being startled and half-asleep with the cookies, and so I did, including one of me holding my earplug while I ate a cookie. At the time, this detail seemed really important to capture. I actually about five or six, okay or maybe seven or eight, of the cookies before going right back to sleep.

I dreamed about the cookies all night long.

The morning, I went cookie rolling with them in Stadtpark. I considered a few different locations for the installation – a small statuary of penguins, a funky bridge over the Danube canal. But I knew the ideal location as soon as I saw it. And so with the help of an unexpected skateboard park, I was able to get quite a good amount of rolling action, down a ramp, before the final spelling of the word commenced.

The word was “grund” – “reason” in the local German language. What an interesting juxtaposition – reason from magic, “grund” created out of a box of utterly fantastic, magically appearing cookies.

As it turned out, the shape of vanillekipferl is ideal, I mean IDEAL, for spelling “grund”. It is hard to express how overjoyed I was to discover the perfect match between the shape of the cookies and the shape of the letters.

In fact, in the great history of cookie rolling (two and a half years and going, unbelievably), I would say that only the affordances of stroopwaffel for spelling “Sisyphus” in Utrecht compares to the affordances of vanillekipferl for spelling “grund”.

This experience in Vienna was without a doubt a perfect illustration of why I cookie roll. I am taken out of the otherwised tightly controlled agenda of my trip, and I am left open to unexpected encounters. And it is with the help of a concrete and absurdly specific mission, that I find my strongest connection with local reality.

See for yourself.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Do I know anyone in Vienna?

I'll be in Vienna Monday through Saturday, November 12 - 17.

Do I know anyone there? I'll be at a science summit all week (yay -- more about that soon -- big new science game is happening!) but will have some time for fun, if I know anyone in the city?

Also, I need to go cookie rolling and would appreciate any advice on the best cookie in Vienna!

Email me at my first name @ the name of this blog dot com!

Monday, November 05, 2007

"Gamers Have Skills - Let's Tap 'Em"

I have a full-length Op-Ed in the Christian Science Monitor today. The topic: harnessing the power of gamers, naturally... from Halo 3 to World Without Oil!


Halopedia is currently the fourth most active wiki on the Wikia network, with almost 4,000 articles and counting. In fact, three of Wikia's top five most active wikis are dedicated to creating shared knowledge about digital games.

These gamers' collective knowledge-building projects represent one of the most important aspects of contemporary video game culture, but also one of the most overlooked. Despite stereotypes of antisocial gamers who prefer to consume rather than create, most video-gamers are in fact engaged in a highly collaborative effort to exhaustively understand their favorite games. The video-gaming community is, quite simply, engaged in intense and highly successful "collective intelligence."

Read the rest of "Gamers Have Skills - Let's Tap 'Em."

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Alternate Reality Society

November 2007 246
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
Kiyash and I spent Friday night alternate reality gaming in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco. Along with our co-conspirators and ad hoc teammates -- Kid Beyond, Kristian, Robin , and Cate -- we dedicated the entire evening to completing a custom-designed itinerary of SF0 missions.

SF0 is my favorite game these days, besides Werewolf. I call it the world's first Alternate Reality Society -- we're talking about a 24/7, 365 real-world MMO that emphasizes face-to-face gameplay, making, crafting and hacking, and creative intervention in public spaces. It also has a really great, functional interface that allows you to submit, organize and annotate all kinds of mobile evidence of your gameplay. Their social network features are really fun and functional, too.

I spent a large part of Chapter Seven ("Powers and Superpowers") of my dissertation This Might Be a Game writing about the SF0 game, in its earliest incarnation. If you're interested, download the full text and do a PDF search for SF0.

These are the three missions we completed Friday night. Clicking on the links above will take you to our mission reports, with stories and photo sets, for each.

Something Very Good

INSTRUCTIONS: Go to a street corner of your choosing and wait for something fantastic to happen.

Seeing Beyond Sight

INSTRUCTIONS: 1. Blindfold yourself. 2. Go out in public and make your way in the world. 3. Photograph things you notice - while blindfolded.

Object Annotation

INSTRUCTIONS: Pick a local public object that you enjoy and leave a note on it describing your feelings in great detail.

SF0 is brilliant and I'm so happy it exists. You can play it anywhere in the world, and if you're not playing it yet, I encourage you to sign up -- and make me (I'm "avantgame") a friend! (Or a foe... if you dare...)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Chess, Ping-Pong, or Torture?

I've never met another digital games researcher as interested in this topic as I am, but I'm convinced that the World War II era is a treasure trove of brilliant and highly revealing, if sometimes disquieting, historical anecdotes about when and where humans choose to play games to achieve specific psychological and social benefits.

For example, I can't recommend highly enough George Eisen's "Games Among the Shadows -- Children and Play in the Holocaust". It really opens huge insights about why quality of life inside a game is higher than quality of life outside of a game. The Holocaust is perhaps the most extreme imaginable scenario for comparing the experience of a game-world with the experience of a real-world, but I believe so much of it applies to ordinary, contemporary everyday reality as well.

But that's not the main topic of this post. Here's the new piece of treasure I found this weekend.

Frank Rich's Sunday opinion piece introduced me to a powerful new piece of gaming history: the use of games (as opposed to, say, torture) after WWII to create affinities between interrogators and Nazi officials taken prisoner by the U.S.

Rich describes
a reunion of an elite group of two dozen World War II veterans in Washington this month. They were participants in a top-secret operation to interrogate some 4,000 Nazi prisoners of war. Until now, they have kept silent, but America’s recent record prompted them to talk to The Washington Post.

“We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture,” said Henry Kolm, 90, an M.I.T. physicist whose interrogation of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, took place over a chessboard.

(Read the full opinion piece: "The 'Good' Germans Among Us".)

Wow. I love, love, love this revelation. It's a perfect, serious example of using gameplay to create shared affinities among people on opposing sides of a real-world scenario.

Why is this important? When I talk about why so many gamers prefer their quality of life in virtual worlds or multi-player game networks, one of the points I always drive home is that playing a game with other people creates an overwhelming experience of a shared world view, a common perspective and POV. Staring at the same chess board, thinking in the context of the same chess rules, pursuing the same goals -- even as competitors, the players are at heart collaborators, sharing and co-creating an alternate reality (the game reality) together.

And, as evident in Kolm's story, that dynamic of sharing, that common platform for experience together, can lead to collaboration beyond the core activities of the game. That's the power that the interrogators were drawing on by playing games with their subjects. And that's the power that games today can use to drive collective action, diplomatic exchange, global development, and more. This is precisely where the Nobel Peace Prize for gaming is going to pick up momentum -- our growing understanding that playing a game together is a powerful force for creating affinities that drive collaboration.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Will You Have Fun With Me in London Next Week?

I'll be in London Sunday afternoon September 30 through Thursday morning October 4.

Just a few things on my schedule currently -- mainly, a keynote on collaborative mobile gaming for Mocollywood on Tuesday afternoon. Hopefully a few of the coolest folks in the world -- the London werewolvers -- are working on a game for Wednesday night as well. (Update: It looks like it's on! If you're interested and a savvy Werewolf/Mafia player, email me for time and location...)

As for the rest of my time, I'm not sure what to do with myself! Any ideas -- or more importantly, any willing co-participants? ^_^

I've never been to the Tate, strangely enough, so I might do that... or I might hop on a train somewhere out of town to do some cookie rolling (in Oxford, maybe?) since I cookie rolled hob nobs in London already (in May 2005). I'd certainly be interested in any suggestions or company for some out-of-town cookie rolling!

Ping me at my first name at the name of this blog dot com if you're in London next week and have ideas or time for fun! Yay!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fun Face 2 Face Time on 9/21 in San Francisco!

On Friday 9/21, I'm going to be a guest on the Heather Gold show, a very cool, very out-there hybrid talk-show baking-event performance thingy here in San Francisco.

I beseech you to come!

I am expecting it to be a pretty memorable occasion and am looking forward to the after-party as a good opportunity for face 2 face time with fun people (like yourself!) This is part of my new Must Socialize With People Other Than My Dog on Friday Night life plan.

The show is $15 and you get entertainment and baked goods, I think. It's free if you bring something that you baked or if you're a starving artist/student. (You can buy online or at the door; email Heather in advance claiming baked goods status or starving-ness!) Full deets below:

Next Show: Does Art Change Anything?
Our 2007-2008 Season Opener!
When: Friday, September 21, 20078:00–9:30
pm, afterparty 9:30 - 11:00 pm.
Where: Luscious Garage at 459 Clementina Street San Francisco, CA

Join Heather and otherworldly beatboxer + live looper Kid Beyond (Coachella), queer writer and activist Kirk Read (How I Learned to Snap, Sex Worker's Art Tour), and ubiquitous game designer Jane McGonigal (Institute for the Future) who makes games that take place in “real life” as they discuss whether or not art creates tangible social change. And if it does, how?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Cruel 2 B Kind Is Now 100% DIY

It's the one-year anniversary of Cruel 2 B Kind. And to celebrate this milestone, Ian and I have updated the C2BK game website to be 100% do-it-yourself all the time.

For the first time, we're making our super secret database of weapons public. We've added a brand new, behind the scenes puppet mastering guide. And we've replaced our Host a Game application with instructions for how to go ahead and host it yourself.

This new do-it-yourself version features a much more ad hoc, lightweight technology infrastructure: you, your email, and your cell phone. Unlike previous versions, which were entirely automated through our mobile email-based Web app, you now will have to have a few people skills and not mind adding up player scores yourself. The downside of this is that you can't mindlessly run a game, or play it yourself if you're the host. The upside is you will learn l33t puppet mastering skills and can run a game any time, without syncing up with our system or worrying if your players know how to use mobile email.

The new website also features the amazing Cruel 2 B Kind feature from Current TV, which is ideal for showing new players how to kill with kindness.

Ian and I are so proud of this game. It's been played in more than 20 cities in 8 countries on 4 continents so far, and now that it's 100% do-it-yourself, we know it will spread farther, faster. So have at it, assassins! Menace with compliments, attack with helpful gestures, and slay with serenades!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

My Secret Burning Man Game - Please Help!

I have a confession. I am a Burning Man widow.* And therefore, I have designed a Secret Burning Man Game.

If you or anyone you know is going to Burning Man, I need you to play! So please spread the word.

The game is simple. There's only one mission, and it's called "Jane Says Hi."

How it works: If you see the man in this picture -- he is six-foot-three, will be at Burning Man for 10 days, usually wearing an orange jumpsuit, sometimes wearing goggles and/or a white muslin head wrap, and possible hanging around a bunch of people with TV cameras -- please go up to him and say "Jane says hi."

Or, if you want to get creative, please find this man and tell him "Jane says {... anything nice. }"

He has no idea we will be playing this game. He will be confused, at first -- especially if you are the first person to accomplish this mission! Therefore you may choose to smile mysteriously, or to explain about the game, or make something up.

I'm not publicizing this secret game. I'm just going to blog about it right now, and then leave it be. I am basically counting on a few folks reading this who know a few folks going... well, it's a long shot, but I've got my fingers crossed. So if you're reading this, you may be one of the few people who can make this game work. It really may be up to you to spread the word that the man in this photo MUST be found at Burning Man and the secret message "Jane says hi" MUST be delivered. So please help however you can!

If the message successfully reaches this man, I will blog about how it happened and all the folks who helped. So feel free to email or comment if you join the secret Jane Says Hi game.

UPDATE: As of August 30, 2007, no one has found Kiyash yet and delivered the cryptic greeting! He has however been spotted camping out directly next to the (prematurely burned) Burning Man, to narrow down your search. Meanwhile the game is very much afoot....!

* The Background: My husband Kiyash left yesterday for a 10-day gig on Current TV's awesome live news team, Burning Man Free TV. It's an amazing opportunity, so yay and all that. But with minimal access to email and VOIP, Kiyash will be out of touch, and I miss him! And so I thought up this strange little game to see if I could find a way to play with him, even remotely. I am really, really curious to see if it works! Fingers crossed!

Friday, August 24, 2007

I invented the cookie goggles.

Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
Perfect for sight seeing in Barcelona.

More photos from my cookie rolling installation (with alfajores) in Barcelona are in this slideshow.

As you can see, I installed a period... which means, I have reached the end of my first sentence in the essay!

Only several hundred sentences to go...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I heart the guerilla drive-in

One of my favorite Friday night things to do is to go to the guerilla drive-in called
(short for mobile movie). It's the perfect combination of introversion and extroversion. For the most part, you're in your own car with close friends and family. But before the show starts, and during an intermission, you get to mingle around and meet folks and share candy and pet each others' dogs. Interaction lite -- just enough to feel social without having to be "on" all evening.

Invented by the talented and awesome web developer Bryan Kennedy and pioneered in Berkeley (woot), mobmov is basically a ongoing series of flash mobs to watch independent and cult movies in cars, in oddly underutilized public spaces. For example, in the photo here, we are at an empty parking lot on San Francisco's demilitarized Treasure Island.

Kiyash and I have been mobmoving since summer 2005, and I'm so happy that the mobmov community is still thriving -- and in fact, getting bigger all the time.

Read more about mobmov in the great SF Chronicle story here or check outmobmov's FAQ!

Also, I am always looking for this kind of good, clean, slightly geeky fun. Please always feel free to invite me and Kiyash to anything like this you organize or know about!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

If I had a secret diary...

... I would write in it tonight. Not because I have anything scandalous or intimate to report. I just feel like talking out loud to myself. And a secret diary really listens in a way that blogs, Word documents or even ordinary journals don't.

The view from La Costera
Originally uploaded by superkiy.

Instead, without a secrety diary, I'm lying in my hotel room bed, on the 12th floor of the Grand Hyatt, typing on my laptop and looking out over the Convention Center neighborhood of Washington D.C., staring out into a kind of void. It's the void formed by my not engaging with the city -- by my visiting for just two nights and seeing only conference meeting rooms, my hotel, and the 3 blocks that separate them.

It makes the city streets just 12 stories down look blank and far away.

In the past month, I have been in 9 different hotels in 8 different cities on 3 continents. One of them,in Spain, is pictured here. I have managed to cookie roll in 3 of those cities, and hopefully tomorrow DC will be a fourth -- the next word is "They", but I have no idea what a good, authentic, local DC cookie is yet. I scouted today, but nothing jumped out at me. This is the closest to local engagement I have come with DC so far on this trip. Of course, having run graveyard games here in the fall of 2005 makes it feel closer. I've actually considered taking a cab out to Historic Congressional Cemetery tomorrow afternoon just to play a few solitaire rounds of Tombstone Hold Em myself. And I would love, love, love to cookie roll there. Before this trip, there were also the annual high school road trips for national Model Congress, but somehow that feels like it must have been a different city, because I was only 15, and 16, and 17 then and wanted to be a lawyer or congresswoman when I grew up. Thank god I got distracted by Tony Kushner and other rhapsodous, cerebral theater.

Sometimes I do better at engaging than I have on this particular trip-- going out in the evening, making time to meet up with people. But here in DC, I'm at a conference in a field that is very different from the fields I usually intersect with, and I literally do not know one other soul among the 3000+ attendees. After giving a talk today, I kind of know some people -- to the extent that we exchanged business cards, although I haven't really processed those connections yet.

There's nothing sad or awful about this blankness of travel. It's actually fairly interesting when you can step outside of it and observe it. I rarely have the total quiet that I have tonight, the quiet of a private room where no one is going to talk to me and I have no where to go and for the next 10 hours -- before I lead another conference session. For the next 10 hours I have no real agenda except to try to sleep. And I am away from the distractions of my "real life" in Berkeley.

Except the more I travel, the more traveling becomes my real life -- so I know I need to start filling it with more than marathons of bit torrented Degrassi episodes. It will certainly stay like this for awhile. I just finished making arrangements to give 3 consecutive talks in Orlando, Detroit, and San Diego on 3 consecutive days. Next week, I go to Seattle before a brief reprieve and then it's back to London. And there just aren't that many The N shows to download. But for the time being, I'm jet lagged therefore not sleepy yet even though it's 12:47 AM here, and waiting for sleepiness is its own special game.

Here's the thing. When I first started this blog, it was designed as a work-free zone. If you go back to the earliest entries, you'll see they're all about hikes Kiyash and I were taking on the weekends, and my experiences at weird art and experimental game events I was going to. I tried not to mention my own work at all -- I wanted a space to tell stories not bound up with the stress of work, or the ambition of getting serious ideas and theories across. But then I got an audience for the blog, somehow, what you would call a professional audience -- people interested in my ideas and theories and projects who knew me professionally and wanted bloggy insights in addition to random life reports and well -- I started writing about work stuff and big theories and all of that.

Well, I don't have a secret diary, and if I did have a diary, I probably wouldn't keep it secret because I really don't like keeping secrets. Other than big secret game projects, which if I were working on one now, I wouldn't be able to admit it here and would deny if you asked, and that's certainly the last I'll ever say about that for months and months and months.

But I do have a blog, and according to Technorati and Alexa, the daily traffic has died down a bit to the point that I think it's a good idea to go back to a Work Free and Serious Idea Free zone for awhile.

Tim O'Reilly has good ideas, and one of them is this: he proposes that the best way to learn about what's really cool and interesting and that most people don't realize is cool or interesting yet -- but that will soon matter to a lot more people, say a few years down the road -- is to ask interesting people what they're excited about outside of work, what they're concerned about and experimenting with outside the domain of their jobs and industry. I want to spend time in that mental space for awhile. I have this intuition that writing about non-work stuff is going to open up a space for a lot of important signals, things that really do matter that will eventually get folded back into my game work.

So for now, welcome to my not-secret diary, in which I will resume the original plan of talking out loud to myself.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

We're fine! = y hola de Santa Cruz de los Seros

We are fine! Just without internet!

Hiking for 2 weeks in the mountains of Aragon. 25 km/day and lovely summit hikes.

Back in the U.S. on July 20!

Monday, July 02, 2007

What alternate reality gaming really looks like...

Jane McGonigal
Originally uploaded by juliancash.
Photographer, artist and magical realist Julian Cash took brilliant photos of Foo Campers last weekend. Here I am, with my Werewolf-until-4-AM hangover face. ^_^ grrrrrowl!

I do think this photograph effectively documents the aura of alternate reality in which I am constantly suspended. Perhaps not quite as effectively, however, as this photograph documents the secret mask of genius of my good friend Artur!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cookie Rolling "Melting Moments" in Sydney

Yesterday, I cookie rolled at The Gap, a popular suicide leaping off point along the Sydney bluffs. The spot was recommended to me by a local, and it was definitely sufficiently dramatic to pay respects to Sisyphus! Unfortunately I was so busy trying to spell that I forgot to make any cookies leap to their demise by pitching them over the fence. Next time!!

For Sydney, I rolled yo yos or melting moments, my absolute favorite cookie in the world. I have been waiting 4 years to eat another one since my first trip to Australia in 2003. I literally ate about 100 yo yo cookies during my 6 week stay then. So far I have eaten 7 in my 2 days in Sydney, which puts me on a similar pace. ^_^

As you can see, I cookie rolled immediately after delivering two back-to-back keynotes, so I am still dressed in my heels and suit and lugging my laptop around in a backpack. Heels on slippery rocks in the rain on unstable bluffs, even with a fence, made it feel like quite the adventure!

But -- I need your help! Please check out this final shot of my cookie rolling word. Can you read it? What do you think it says? Melting moments were a very difficult medium for writing, the cookie is incredibly crumbly so I had to try to carve out the letters in the cream in the middle. It was fun and funny, but I don't know if it's legible! Please check it out and comment here or on flickr with your guess of what the word is. Thanks!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Do I have any friends in Barcelona or Sydney?

IndiaDay1 062
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
I'm traveling to Sydney June 25 - 29 and then Barcelona July 5 - 8 and July 16 - 19. I'll be on my own in Sydney and traveling with my husband Kiyash in Barcelona.

I am wondering -- do I have any friends in either city? Maybe we met at a conference or through a game or we've exchanged emails but never met...

Anyway, if you are reading this and you are in either city during that time period, and you are up for a drink or for coffee or for showing a first-time visitor some cool fun place I wouldn't likely stumble onto myself, or even for throwing a Werewolf game, please email me! I'll be cookie rolling both cities, too, yo yos in Sydney and I have no idea what yet in Barcelona, so if you don't know me but want to come roll some cookies with me, that's cool too.

(email me at My first name at avantgame dot com)


(This photo is from a trip to Hong Kong in November intended to illustrate how *happy* I would be to find out I have a friend in Barcelona or Sydney!!)

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Lol dogs

Lol dogs
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
Happy Thursday, everyone. I am having a great week. Unfortunately most of what made it so great, I can't talk about publicly. (The one thing I can talk about is that yesterday I met John Edwards at a private lunch, and he was awesome, squeee.) Instead of blabbing the other good stuff, I offer you my own handmade Lol dogs art. Whee!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Think Negative! Play Negative?

John Gravois has an excellent essay in Slate today about The Awesome Power of Negative Thinking. An excerpt:

Karen Cerulo, a professor at Rutgers University, wrote a book last year called Never Saw It Coming. In it, she argues that we are individually, institutionally, and societally hellbent on wishful thinking. The Secret [and so much of popular psychology] tells us to visualize best-case scenarios and banish negative ones from our minds. Never Saw It Coming says that's what we've been doing all along—and we get blindsided by even the most foreseeable disasters because of it.

In her research, Cerulo found that when most of us look out at the world and plan for our future, we fuzz out our vision of any failure, fluke, disease, or disaster on the horizon. Instead, we focus on an ideal future, we burnish our best memories, and, well, we watch a lot of your show. Meanwhile, we're inarticulate about worst-case scenarios. Just thinking about them makes us nervous and uncomfortable.

I'm excited to see such a well-researched critique of our cultural obsession with positive thinking. One of the first things I learned when I joined the Institute for the Future six months ago is the importance of capturing all plausible futures, including the less-than-optimal ones. (I'm now a research affiliate and resident game designer at the non-profit think tank.) The only thing we know for certain is that not all future developments will be desirable ones. To make good decisions in the present, we need to imagine, understand, and evaluate a whole range of future scenarios. Not only the best-case scenarios that pose the most exciting opportunities, but also the the worst-case and mixed-case scenarios that pose the most challenging dilemmas.

As Gravois points out in his essay, we need only think of "the Bush administration, which has been roundly condemned for planning the Iraq war around a set of best-case scenarios.... 'We will be greeted as liberators' was good, but 'Mission Accomplished' was even better. Visualize, guys, visualize! A little negative thinking might have gone a long way in all those situations."

Indeed. I am coming to realize the importance of thinking negatively about these kinds of really big picture, world-changing issues. Global politics is a good place to start. So is the environment and oil dependency.

I may not have explicitly realized this when we first started the project, but it's so obvious now: World Without Oil is at its heart an experiment in negative thinking about the oil dependency issue. Historically, in this respect, is the first game to engage a public collective intelligence (over 35,000 players currently) in explicitly negative thinking about a major social and political issue. (The military and other crisis-response agencies have doing it privately for decades, of course, in things like "war gaming" and "crisis simulations".)

World Without Oil's rather earnest embrace of non-wishful thinking is what really makes this project so risky--and, I think, so important. We're more than two weeks into the live game, and so far a lot of the player-created content is documenting a rather dire alternate reality. You can see explicit fear, pain, and suffering in their creations -- even some apocalyptic undertones. In the first two weeks of play, the game has received over 1000 blog posts, videos, podcasts and other submissions -- and a lot of it is like this letter about separated families in California, this video about rolling blackouts, this blog post about a crumbling IT infrastructure, this voice mail message about taking refuge outside of cities, this video about getting stranded abroad by folded airlines, this video about closed and empty grocery stores, and even this email about civil war.

The latest headlines from the World Without Oil "reality dashboard" mirror the dark aspsects of the reality that the players have imagined and collectively documented. They report: "FUEL RIOTS: Violence Erupts in Seven Cities":

Furious mobs smashed windows and set fire to cars across the nation after disclosures that a number of oil company lobbyists were present at last week's closed door hearings on the proposed National Mass Transit Initiative. The Bill's defeat in the House, followed a day later by the announcement of yet another record breaking quarter for 2 of the nation's largest oil companies had left a sour mood in cities struggling without adequate public transportation.

Is there any real benefit to an alternate reality that identifies more problems than it solves? Shouldn't this kind of game try to produce solutions -- and not just detail the myriad and diverse aspects of a potential crisis? This is a question I've asked myself as I've watched the game unfold.

But Gravois' essay and Cerulo's book reveals the importance of telling a compelling story about potentially negative outcomes. Just the act of imagining something other than our desired solution can be a major turning point, a breakthrough. In the case of World Without Oil, players are vividly imaginging something OTHER than the hoped-for scenario in which U.S. easily weans itself off of oil through a combination of alternate fuels and reduced consumption, without any disruption to our country's way of life or any real breakdown of society.

It's not all negative, of course. But the negative is necessary to change the conversation; out of negative thinking, a different - and more realistic - positive effort can emerge. Perhaps the most rewarding part of puppet mastering World Without Oil so far has been to watch the players start to find pockets of optimism - potential ways out - of the "think negative" scenarios they have helped to construct. They have fully embraced a rather dark vision of a future oil shock. Now they are beginning to focus their efforts on generating responses that make the best of the worst-case scenario.

You can really start to see this in action, for instance, in this beautiful web comic about creative transportation "by any means necessary" (it's the seventh in a series of comics by the same player). Or in this fascinating journal entry about the comforts of a new kind of government rationing (the 12th in a series of fictional journal posts from the same player). I adore this series of photo-blog posts about a whole family doing guerilla gardening in their neighborhood. (Just one of many player groups living at least part of their real lives as if the fictional oil crisis were true.) It's really an amazing process to watch overall, and one that I'll look forward to seeing play out over the remaining two weeks of the game, which concludes live play on June 1.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Do you drop spot? (plus: Go get this right now!)

Do you drop spot? I do! A drop spot is a kind of alternative mailbox -- hidden in plain sight.

Drop spotting is just plain awesome, and I love it. It's a lot like geocaching, only:

-no GPS coordinates or GPS device required!
-less rooting around in remote areas!
-more visual clue-iness!
-and usually less driving involved to get there.

So instead of creating geocaches in the wilderness or out-of-the-way place, drop spots are hidden in plain sight, often in crowded urban environments. I learned about it last December from a very cool, smart undergrad in ITU-Copenhagen - drop spotting is very global!

Here's why I bring up drop spotting now. Drop spots are becoming an increasingly important part of World Without Oil.

One WWO hero in Illinois is doing guerilla gardening and is using Drop Spots to mark the sites of the secretly stashed seeds. He writes:
According to John Jeavons "how to grow more vegetables", the bare minimum it takes to grow a subsistence diet is 4000 square feet per person. My yard total has less than 2000, and now I can't use the best parts of it without getting evicted. So what am I doing? I'm planting my food wherever I can. I've dropped a few fruit trees around town, in public spaces I walk by daily. I dress them up with mulch and the like to make it look like the decorative ones the city puts in. So far noone has notices. I got some "volunteer" tomatoes that grow like wildfire at my mother's, and spread them around town. I hide seed potatoes in the carefully landscaped city flowerbeds. I've found where the wild onions grow and spread them. I blow dandelions in the wind, even though I'm not eating them yet. This is called "guerrilla gardening", and it's very civic minded. In some ways I reclaiming the Commons, making public land productive for the citizenry. Anyone who wants to can help themselves to the food when it's ready, I'm planting enough to accommodate."

A WWO hero in Kentucky is using a Drop Spot to trade life tools to help others get through the oil crisis. She writes:
This Drop is on Preston road, right under I-64 and across the street from the "Green" parking lot. There is a patch of wild bushes/trees, concrete, another patch (where the drop is located), concrete and then a final patch. You shouldn't have to actually step into the patch, I placed it about 2-3 feet in and covered it up with some leaves/branches. It's a plastic "gallon size" ziplock bag.

And for all of your San Francisco area readers who might not be playing WWO yet, this is your chance to get involved. Emil, one of the original WWO team members, writes:
i've set up a San Francisco drop spot for exchanging essential goods, notes and anything else you can shove in this strange little stash. hopefully only fellow world without oil heroes will use it. i've kicked it off by leaving one of evie's favorite books (you know her as mpathytest). the chapter 1 explanation of how we got into this oil mess was, well, mindblowing. and the rest of the book should help any wwo hero think of some ways to innovate our way out of this crisis. if you pick up the book, leave something else behind for me or other wwo heroes. cool.a few hints for finding the spot: it's at ground level. it's about halfway between bluxome and brannan. it's on the east side of the block. if you see a statue of a saint or a monk watching over you from behind a gate, you're in exactly the right spot. no digging required. just stick your hand in and reach to the right.

If you are reading this in the SF/Bay Area, GO GET THIS SOMA drop spot (near the CalTrain) RIGHT NOW! It's your perfect window into the game. Jump through it! Go!

What are you waiting for? The world needs saving, and if you live in San Francisco, you are the person to do it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Is it ethical to play during a time of crisis?

I honestly never thought I'd live through this kind of turmoil in the U.S.

Burning cars, vanadlism, looting. EVERYWHERE.

Even here in Berkeley. 3 women were attacked and robbed yesterday at the biodiesel refueling station. It's come to that. It's not enough to fight over oil, now we're fighting over alternative fuels?

8TSOC's Week 10 Update pretty much sums up the current state of the domestic crisis for those of you reading this from other parts of the world. Not that you're necessarily better off, what with the Australian secesssion conflict, the Chinese warships in the Straits of Malacca, the rebel forces in Nigeria... well, all I can say, seriously, is: WTF, World? WTF!!

If you're like me, you're probably reading this at home, hunkered down in front of your computer, because you're basically in hiding. You don't want to deal with the reality of all of this. You don't have the freaking gas to go anywhere anyway and are afraid to use your bike because you'll probably be mugged for it.

For most people, it's hard to live like this. It's REALLY hard to get any work done. It's hard to go about the everyday business of life. Let alone any play.

Here's the thing. I think we need to play. Well, yeah, of course you knew I was going to say that. For years, I've been saying that pervasive games are a powerful way to exert influence on spaces, to change public behaviors, to alter reality. So now I'm feeling like I shouldn't be at home cowering behind my laptop. I should be out in the real world, playing in the now ubiquitous empty parking lots, gathering people together. Maybe if we start playing together, we'll remember how to live together.

I know what you're thinking. It doesn't feel reasonable or ethical or productive to play during this kind of total societal breakdown. Part of me feels that too.

But maybe the opposite of all that is true. Maybe to rebuild our institutions, we need to play together. And maybe we need play to make it safe to go outside again.

As you know, I've been teaching ubiquitous game design at San Francisco Art Institute this semester. Through that class, I've met a lot of amazing young game designers. And so last week I asked them to help with this. I've asked them to design some real-world games for people like us to play in this new world without oil. I asked them to design physical games that we could play together in public, keeping in mind the fact that we basically can't depend on driving anywhere and are dealing with so many different kinds of everyday chaos.

Several of my students have masterminded one. It's an adventure walking game, and it's called LnC2k7. (Bonus points if you can post in the comments a correct translation of the name!) And I have to say, it is brilliant. I went out and played it last night. It was definitely weird to be playing during crisis. But it felt right. And we met so many people as we played, and that felt right too, talking to them, not being scared of strangers but friendly again. In a way that we were before all the oil was lost. You can download the rules here. You can see photos of other people playing it here. Or you can just start by calling this number: 1 888 349 6448.

So here's the big announcement. When we have some more of these games, I'm going to hold a public game festival. That's right. In the middle of this crisis, we are going to go to a park, or an empty parking lot, and we are going to play. Games. Big games. Playground games. No technology, no boards. The games we used to play when we were kids, in the streets, or at recess. This will happen soon. Probably in just a couple of weeks. A playground festival for a world without oil. You heard it here first.

If you want to help, play the games we come up with, or make up your own games. Be brave to play them, out in public, in the midst of the chaos. Let the games put a little structure, a little sociability back into the world.

Post here a link to anything you create, and I'll make sure other netizen heroes find out about it. (While you're at it, follow that link and sign up to be a hero yourself, okay? There are 1342 of us so far and counting.)

(No idea what I'm talking about? Go here immediately!)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Play Now! World Without Oil is LIVE!

Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
Play it-- before you live it.

Stop whatever you're doing. Take the next 30 seconds to sign up as a citizen hero for World Without Oil.

WWO is a game for good -- the first alternate reality game to tackle a real-world problem. Gamers to save the world? Hell, yes!

The game is live as of yesterday, and I hope you will check it out. It runs until the first week of June. There are all kinds of ways to participate -- you can read the fictional characters' team blog, you can browse real-character player-submitted blogs, videos, audio messages and images. If you're inspired to really get involved, you can tell your own story by submitting your own original content imagining and documenting YOUR real life during an oil shock. You can send us URLs, emails, or call our game hotline (1.866.WWO.TSOC)

If you want the fictional backstory on the game to help you imagine what to create, you can start here. And if you want the REAL backstory on the game (warning: ARG spoilers!), you can check out these quick project facts.

And finally, a great background article on the game.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The C2BK Video is here! Watch the game now!

Watch a 5-minute piece on Cruel 2 B Kind (see what it looks like in action) here. (This video was produced for Current TV by Kiyash Monsef.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Cruel 2 B Kind: LA, Seattle, Toronto, and more!

Originally uploaded by thebruce0.
We've hit a real sweet spot in our Cruel 2 B Kind design and local puppet master mentorship. Games are popping up everywhere now! You can sign up to play in games all over the world right here.*

In the next month alone, you can play Cruel 2 B Kind run by local PMs in LA, Seattle, Toronto, and Gotenberg - and we're adding more games every week, so keep checking the C2BK schedule! (Of course, you can just host the game yourself, anywhere in the world, anywhere there is cell phone coverage.)

This makes me happy. A real ubiquitous game isn't a performance that happens once or twice, in a particular context, and never again. It's run multiple times, in multiple social contexts, in multiple built environments, at different times of day and night, with different numbers and styles of players. We have finally crossed that threshold, I believe.

*(Okay, not all over the world yet. We need games in the Southern Hemisphere! If you live south of the equator, host a C2BK game and make C2BK history!)

Friday, March 30, 2007

To the man who stole my favorite things

Dear 30 year old thug who jacked my suitcase on the train last night,

I woke up still feeling very sad and sick about the loss of my things. Sad, because those things had tremendous personal value to me. Sick, I guess because that's what it feels like to be a victim of crime, sort of violated, and because other people saw him steal the bag and didn't stop him.

Kiyash drove me to the train stop where yougot off and we found some of my things stuff in a trash can and other things scattered on the sidewalk like trash. Not all of my things, not even most of my things, although I was relieved to get back a few of my things. But you took a lot of things that mattered.

You stole the stack of business cards I collected at Etech this week, many from people I met playing Werewolf and would really like to know and talk to again. Maybe the people I met at Etech will read this and email me instead (jane at the name of this blog dot com) so they don't think I am blowing them off.

The suitcase was full of clothing I picked for a week's trip that I was really excited about. Favorite things. Favorite shoes, favorite jewelry, favorite dresses, favorite makeup. My favorite things.... I guess it's not such a hardship to lose favorite things. As Kiyash said, "you're safe, that's the most important thing. "It totally is the most important thing. I guess I am feeling mostly sorry for myself in that third-person way, the way you would feel sad for a close friend. I can see myself third-person style picking out all my favorite things to pack, not knowing that I would be using them all for the last time. Like feeling sad for a character in a short story. "Self-vicarious-empathy", perhaps.

I have no idea what you are going to do with my my black patent leather heels, favorite black shift dress, my MAC cosmetics, a stack of World Without Oil postcards, Institute for the Future business cards, and a bag of Etech swag.

I guess I will keep my out eye in Richmond for a cross-dressing thug tech geek promoting alternate reality games.

I do wonder who you are and what your life is like that you have to resort to stealing bags off trains. I realize I am very lucky that I am not living that life. You hurt me by stealing my things. But I couldn't possible take it personally, really. Yes, it's a pain that I have to spend my day going around replacing everyday things like cell phone chargers and contact lenses. But it's fine, because I also have a dog and a husband and work I love and enough money that I dont' have to steal things.

I gave a talk at Etech this week about the science of happiness, and the different classes of happiness, and how alternate reality games have been helping people experience the world differently by learning those classes. The very strange thing about having my favorite things stolen last night is that I feel ARGs have taught me to see what happened in a different way. Not as a personal interaction between me and the thief, but rather as an exchange in a bigger system involving massively multiple people who COULD have been affected. I appreciate that the man who stole my bag was going to steal someone's bag, and perhaps the other people's bags in the system (the train) were more important to them and their week than mine was. I was returning from a trip; it would be much worse to have a bag stolen at the start of a trip, in a strange city, with no belongings whatsoever. And maybe other people's bags had more important or irreplaceable stuff than mine. Maybe I'm in a better position than the other people with bags are to deal with this, to replace lost items (I'm not completely broke) or to get emotional support after being robbed (I have a great husband who was waiting to meet me at my station.)

So by letting my bag serve as the Stolen Bag, I was saving someone else the grief of losing things. So at least a little part of me is okay about it. I appreciate the opportunity to be the one to take the hit here. I am framing this experience as an opportunity to prevent other people from having suffered, and accepting that maybe I was the best person on that train to have their luggage stolen. This is totally a way of thinking that relates to MMOs for me.

P.S. Also missing: the small diamond on my antique art nouveau engagement ring. I still have the setting, which dates to 1896. It looks very strange with the diamond popped out, a big empty setting. I am glad I will have the chance to refill it someday. I am sad about that, but Kiyash said not to be too sad. And I agree. Losing material things, even sentimental ones, just isn't that big a deal in the big picture.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Live from Etech - my keynote on Happiness Hacking

I just finished my Etech keynote "Creating Alternate Realities - what the new game designers know about improving quality of life." Yay! It was a totally new presentation, created this week from scratch, and so I was a bit nervous about debuting it. I am happy that it was very well-received.

Here's the abstract:

This talk will explore what the new game designers know about improving everyday quality of life, and how non-gaming companies can become a part of the solution. Alternate reality game designers are solving problems that other technology companies have yet to discover. Cutting-edge collaborative, reality-based games are addressing a whole new set of social needs and personal desires, individual challenges, and collective wants. But games are not the only way to meet these needs and desires. In this talk, McGonigal explores how other technology products, services, and brands can capitalize on the key signal - a desire for a life more worth living - that is coming out of the most innovative game genres.

My slides are here. I'll have a webpage with links and references up on my Avant Game site on Friday. (Here it is - references for Hacking Happiness!) In the meantime, here is the text from my four favorite slides to give you a sense of the stakes and claims of the talk!

3 things you need to know about me:
1) I’m a hacker. I hack the real world to be more like a game. (that’s what I mean by creating alternate realities)
2) I think a lot about the future. What are today’s game trying to tell us about tomorrow?
3) I’m an existentialist. I identify with Sisyphus. My primary goal is to reduce human suffering.

The future forecast (Think: 2012)
Quality of life is the primary metric for evaluating everyday technologies
Positive psychology is a principal, explicit influence on design
The public expects tech companies to have a clear vision for a life worth living
To succeed, a brand, product or service, must increase real happiness – the new capital

Do our technologies pass the “deathbed test”?
“Though we must live our lives forward, happiness is gained by assessing it backwards. Only on your deathbed can you see your life complete and so judge its happiness.” – ancient Greek wisdom
How will the time spent with our technologies look in retrospect, when our users are on their deathbeds? What kind of life will they have enabled, afforded, or supported?

An ETech’07 call to action:
Invest a portion of your time, energy and resources towards understanding and innovating happiness. It’s the new capital.
Make your technology not only feel good (more pleasure), but also do good (more engagement)and expose good (more meaning).
Build your brand's culture around quality of life.
Together we can hack our everyday reality into a collective life worth living.
Hack Happiness!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Top 10 List is In! Game Studies Download 2007

The top 10 academic research findings about digital games are now available for your review.

This list was compiled by Ian Bogost, Mia Consalvo, and myself. Our criteria:

-novel questions are asked
-surprising results are found
-direct relevance to the design and development of digital games

Topics covered this year include the importance of humor in dark or violent games and opportunities to design death better in multi-player games.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Future of Collective Play (report on GDC keynote)

Yesterday I gave my Research + Design keynote at GDC on the topic of "The Future of Collective Play."

CNET has a great summary of the talk in "Future games to harness gamers' collective wisdom".

Rather than posting complete notes from the talk here myself, I'll just excerpt from the intro and point to the online slides in a day or so from this blog:

Today, I’m going to talk to you about the future of collective play. By "future of collective play", I mean two things: first, the new kinds of collaborative games we might pioneer over the next decade, and second: the real-world future we might build for ourselves by playing more collectively.

Last fall, I left my position as lead designer at 42 Entertainment, a commercial game development company, to become the resident game designer for the Institute for the Future— an independent nonprofit research group based in Palo Alto. As a result, I am now officially the first person in the world to claim in my daily job description that “I design games from the future.” But, what exactly does it mean to design games from the future?

At the Institute, we develop long-term future forecasts to help companies, government agencies, and private foundations make better decisions today about the uncertain future. We create detailed, plausible, and internally consistent scenarios of how important emerging trends today might intersect and play out over the next decade. So, as the Institute’s new resident game designer, I spend a lot of time these days thinking about two questions: First, how are the specific kinds of games we choose to design and to play today most likely to impact our future culture? And second, what kinds of games will we need to play in the future in order to learn whatever social, technological, and organization skills emerge as the guiding principles of global culture?

Today, I’m going to argue that over the next ten years, a particular kind of digital game-- the massively collaborative puzzle genre known as alternate reality gaming -- will become increasingly important as both a way to imagine and engineer a best-case scenario future. Alternate reality gaming will also assume the role of a central cultural activity teaches and trains us to be successful and ethical actors in a global, networked culture--particulary as that culture is increasingly chaotic, democratic, commercial and cooperative.

So the problem I want to consider today is this: Can a computer game teach collective intelligence? I believe the answer to this question is absolutely, yes—and moreover, I believe that collective intelligence is the single most important thing we can be teaching through serious games as we attempt to build a better future, and to prepare for its uncertain challenges. Of course, this problem begs several additional questions: namely, why should we care about teaching collective intelligence? Who should be taught CI? How, exactly, does an alternate reality game teach CI? And, finally, what kind of future will we shape by playing alternate reality games?

[Come back in a couple days for the slides for the rest of the talk!]

Monday, March 05, 2007

Erasing the delta: Games that alter reality!

Here are my notes for my first Game Developers Conference talk, as part of a serious games summit panel on “Erasing the Delta - Games that Accomplish a Specific Task” The theme of the panel is about moving away from games that just prepare you to do something (learning/training games), or help you think about something (simulation games, persuasive games) and games that actually enable and indeed require you to do that thing, or to produce that thing, simply by playing them (games that work).

(Fellow ARG travelers Brian Clark and Brooke Thompson were there -- yay! we are so totally going to alter reality through play...)

(UPDATE: There's nothing that makes me post-talk happier than when multiple different communities take away ideas they're excited by. So I'm happy to see, for instance, some great responses to the talk at MTV, ARGN, and Destructoid!)

My spiel follows:

Erasing the Delta Gap is really about two different practices:

Making a new kind of serious game: Games that are designed as functions with an end result that is a measurable difference in the present state of reality. Serious games now are viewed as “resources” (for education, training, instruction, simulation) or “platforms” (for messages, persuasion). We must start to create serious games as “generative processes” or “solutions to problems”

Redefining what we define as a “serious impact”: We must move away from “preparation” and “knowledge” and “skills” and “rhetorical effect” as our only serious impacts. We can also consider for example “improved quality of life” and “better health” and “improved social organization” and “future resources produced”. In these terms, many games are already closing the delta gap, particularly in the area of health -- if we think of something like “reducing human suffering” as a serious impact (games for pre-surgery sedation) or intervening into the obesity epidemic (physical activity games) or, in the future, things like serving as a live suicide prevention resource (instead of calling 1 800 suicide) or facilitating global security through youth cooperation and co-immersion
So: What is the role of Alternate Reality Games in erasing the delta?

The new opportunities for ARGs to do work is best understood as a movement through different definitions of “realism” in gameplay

Realism in ARGs
1st wave ARGs: they’re so real! Real Life (embedded in real, working life): operational, everyday technologies, intimate
2nd wave ARGs, they’re so real! Real World (moving into real-world spaces): social, physical, face to face, everyday spaces, public
3rd wave ARGs, they’re so real! Real Impact (starting to solve real-world problems, for example: global relations/world peace, massively multiplayer science, quality of life, learning): intentional, effective. Games that alter reality!

Two factors that make this third wave possible:

Our culture is becoming more ARGlike (CI culture, participatory Web culture/2.0, creative commons, science commons)

Our culture WANTS to be more ARGlike (the spirit of massive collaboration saving the world)

Examples of ARGs that start to erase the delta:
Past - Tombstone Hold ‘Em – putting live bodies back in cemeteries, creating a public culture for a dying public space
Present - World Without Oil – generating a massively collaborative map of potential, citizen responses to oil shock; constructing a database of lower-consumption practices that might prevent that shock from happening
Future - Massively Multiplayer Science – games with real scientific data embedded in them, and gameplay to collect, analyze and process the data in massive parallel

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Massively multi-citizen science is almost here

Can a game developer be nominated for a Nobel Prize in one of the sciences by the year 2032? That's my plan, which I presented this past weekend at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

You can download the slides from my talk, or read the related research paper (hot off the press!), or peruse some related links, on my AAAS webpage here. (Or see what Newsday took away from it here.)

My goal over the next decade is to support the development of a massively multi-citizen science through massively collaborative games (think: alternate reality games with real-world data embedded inside.)

So in the near future, when the most creative, collective-intelligence gamers are grinding away 10, 20, 30, or more hours a week, they're grinding on real scientific research problems wrapped inside a yummy fictive or fantasy shell.

Yes, I am calling for a truly popular scientific research practice that engages the global public in hands-on, brains-on collaboration, via sites Citizen Science and Amazon's Mechanical Turk and through immersive, story-driven play. Amateur participation + a creative commons for science literature + the stickiness of a well-designed game and well-told story = radically interdisciplinary mash-ups accessible to lay people and productive of real scientific insight.

Sound crazy? No way. This is seriously possible, and plausible. Here's three reasons why:

1) Science practice itself is increasingly leaning toward a kind of collective intelligence, amateur participation. You can read about it in the incredible Institute for the Future report: Delta Scan: The Future of Science and Technology, 2005-2055.

2) Meanwhile, there is no doubt -- as I argue in my new 50-page case study for the MacArthur foundation -- that alternate reality gamers are doing real CI investigations that would fully prepare them for real-world collaborative research. Their gameplay is already fundamentally a CI scientific effort to undertand fake (fictive) data. I'm just proposing that we shove some real scientific data in there, while they're at it.

3) And perhaps most importantly, as Sean Stewart - the original and most esteemed alternate reality storyteller around - has famously said: "I do NOT assert that [alternate reality gaming] is the first, or greatest, example of massively multi-player collaborative investigation and problem solving. Science, as a social activity promoted by the Royal Society of Newton's day and persisting to this moment, has a long head start and a damn fine track record.... We just accidentally re-invented Science as pop culture entertainment."

So, yes, If this sounds interesting, get the slides. And here are a couple of other sites to get you thinking: "Fostering Scientific Habits of Mind in the Context of Online Play" and MacArthur Spotlight on Digital Media & Learning.

If you want to propose a data set, scientific problem, or research focus for a massively multi-citizen science game, or if you want to be notified when there's such a game to be played, email me at jane @ thenameofthisblog dot com.