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!)


Anonymous said...

This is great! I am a really big proponent of fun. In fact, if there is no fun, why should we even keep going? I think fun brings us together in the same ways that crises do, but in a much more directly constructive way.

Jason DuMars said...

I thought of a game that is a spin off of a scavenger hunt... learn all the wild edible plants in your area, then get a group of people together in a park to scavenge and see who can come up with the widest variety of things to eat. You'd be amazed at how much great food surrounds us. From cat tails to wild peas, it's everywhere.

Thank you for reminding the world that life is ultimately a game of discovery.

YuckyMuck said...

I know, I know! Lark and Clueless (that's me) 2007!

Falling said...

I'm in! I need fun in my life about now :) Hmm. I hope we can have a game festival downtown Chicago in Central Park, I'd be all for organizing it!

Falling said...

Uhh. Somehow it's way to late and I magically traveled from Chicago to New York. I meant Grant Park :/

Falling said...

Oh and is the correct translation of the game "Lewis and Clark, 2007"?

Unknown said...

this sounds like the perfect distraction while trying to walk everywhere now. i can't wait to try it out.

rose said...

I think it is ethical to play during a time of crisis as long as you aren't disrespectful of others. Let's face it, most of the world is in crisis at any given time, it is just the crisis that affect us that we care about. Sitting around and moping about how terrible things are isn't productive. I've found that when I'm down or anxious, I'm less likely to think of good solutions to a problem. When I'm relaxed, I can come up with creative solutions.

There is an Irving Berlin song that goes "Let's face the music and dance."

Anonymous said...

I like it, but it requires a very urban environment, which means I can't play. It seems wrong to drive into an urban area to play a game like this.

Maybe someone would come up with a suburban or rural variant...?

Jane said...

Well, I think you could play LnC2k7 anywhere there are streets, and sidewalks. It would have a very different feel to it in a quiet suburb though.

if someone has a variation or alternate game for a VERY rural environment, please post! that would be fascinating.

Bernie said...

Wait, didn't I write this?

Taken right from my heart. Thank you, o Defender of the Playful. It is a gift. And so are you.