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!