Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I'm Throwing Down a Dance-Off Challenge

On behalf of Guilt-Edged Blonde, I challenge ALL YA'LL to summon even a small FRACTION of the UNPRECEDENTED choreopowers of SNEAKINESS such as I unleash up on you in this dance.

Guilt-Edged Blonde allies, please unleash your own SNEAKINESS to this song -- Busta Rhymes' Don't Touch Me Now (Throw Da Water On Em) -- which you can grab from Youtube here:

P.S. This is a solo dance-off. No one else in this video helped in any way with this dance-off. Especially not any Who Said I Was Dead members.

Find more videos like this on Top Secret Dance Off

Monday, December 29, 2008

Top Secret Dance Off Playtesting

Adventurous playtesters wanted.

UPDATE: Cool... playtesters have joined from all over the world already: Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Italy, U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Scotland, Switzerland, Argentina... please join us if you are adventurous, creative, and like to help make your own fun.

UPDATE x2: Now, you can win real loot! I couldn't help myself when I found these gorgeous masks. Complete dance quests and win dance-offs, and you could earn this loot... I like to give playtesters something nice in return for their brave efforts. ^_^

UPDATE x3: I just completed my first dance quest! Here it is. The rules, in a nutshell: disguise your face and keep your secret weapons in check -- that is, dance without moving your feet.

Find more videos like this on Top Secret Dance Off

Top Secret Dance Off is a personal project. No funding, no sponsors, no reason... I just want to make this game.

There is nothing to do in this game site yet... but you can sign up now as a playtester, create your top secret dance-off handle, and pick an alliance. The alliance names should tip you off-- this is a noir-themed game.

Playtesting can be done from anywhere in the world and will begin shortly in 2009. No dance skills or talent required. However playtesting will involve undertaking a variety of challenging, top secret dance missions on video. You may find yourself rewarded more for awkward dancing than for a virtuoso performance.

You may play alone, or with up to four friends. Mask-wearing or other disguises is required.

So, I'm excited to undertake this project, which I am making in my spare time, because I really want to make it. No funding, no team of developers, no saving the world (at least not on purpose -- just me and Kiyash making a game -- just something I think will be a fun adventure that helps you develop a real superpower. This project is similar to when Ian and I made Cruel 2 B Kind, or when Kiyash and I made Ministry of Reshelving. I am pretty sure it will only be fun for people who like to participate in making their own fun. And I am definitely sure it will only be fun for people who like challenge and adventures and who want to develop an elusive superpower.

Go to the Top Secret Dance Off site now to learn more about the dance secret..

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I am on a ninja quest (to clean my apartment)

My Chore Wars character

I love Chore Wars. If you've seen me give a talk in the last year or so, you know this, because I almost always talk about Chore Wars. In case you're wondering, yes, I actually play this game, and in fact I am a gold level subscriber! (For only $10 annually, you get access to much more interesting data about yourself. I strongly encourage you to go gold!)

Kiyash and I moved to San Francisco recently, so we rebooted our characters from scratch and renamed our Chore Wars party -- we are now the 41st Floor Ninjas -- and set up a whole slew of new adventures, like "Ninja brush Meche out" (our version of saving a (dog) damsel in distress) and "Ninja wash the dishes". Together we will ninja rule the universe (of our apartment)!! We also have one-off quests like the one above, typically annoying things like confirming airline tickets that become fiero-inducing challenges when experienced through the Chores Wars system.

You can follow my personal progress here or subscribe to our party's RSS feed. Because you know you really want to keep track of how often we vacuum or do laundry. Or mostly, you want to see when Kiyash or I contribute the most to keeping home in order.

P.S. Despite loving them greatly from afar, I've never met the folks who make Chore Wars. If you are reading this and YOU are the folk who make Chore Wars, you are awesome and I hope we meet someday and you should email me (my first name at the name of this blog dot com) so we can offically meet. In the meantime, thank you for your brilliant idea and amazing work and massive cleverness and awesomeness!

UPDATE: Kevan Davis the creator of Chore Wars emailed me. FIERO!! (if YOU pointed him to this blog, thanks ^_^)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

These Games are Experience Grenades

Just Do It
Originally uploaded by What What.
Okay, I had a revelation.

Games like Superstruct and The Lost Sport and World Without Oil and Reverse Scavenger Hunts and Tombstone Hold 'Em and SF0 missions and The Go Game are "experience grenades".

That's a new term. I throughly Google-checked it.

Experience grenades: You play them, and that's like pulling the pin on the grenade. Nothing has to happen right away. Nothing has to change or be solved right away. Then, you wait. It's later -- an hour later, a day later, a week later, a month later... it goes off in your head, like the delayed explosion of a grenade.

You realize: You've learned something. Your cognitive patterns are different. Your view of the possibilities in the world around you has changed. Your sense of your own potential is changed. You're ready for something you didn't even know was coming. You understand something intuitively that seems alien or confusing to others

The thing is: This doesn't necessary happen DURING the game. During the game, you might not believe the game is working. in the best case scenario, you might think you're JUST having fun. Worse, the game might seem silly. You don't trust the design, it seems to be asking things of you that you don't naturally want to do. Or it might seem abstract -- what's the practical takeaway? IOr even worse, it might seem wonky or arbitrary or broken from your POV.

But it's working. If you're playing, the pin has been pulled. If you're really participating and immersed in the game, the work is happening in your brain. It just is. I've seen it again and again. The experience happens now, the payoff comes later.

Sometimes I know what the payoff will be, sometimes I just trust that a good game will produce something interesting. And the best thing that can happen in a game community is for players to trust that something interesting will happen, and to play as if it's an experience grenade, rather than instant satisfaction.

That's a strange thing to say about a game -- something we play to produce in-the-moment fun. But some games are fun later. They just are. Like trying adventures you have that you hate at the moment but looking back they are the adventures of your life, the stories you cherish, the bonds you made and the way you discovered who you could be.

Yes, that's a different kind of fun, a different kind of payoff. But games can be that, and it feels different in the moment than immediate and obvious fun (like Rock Band or pinatas).

I see a new class of trusted game designers who are like personal trainers. The trainer tells you to do something, and you do it -- even if it HURTS! Even if it isn't fun in the moment! And the benefits come later. Not necessarily during. You trust the trainer's process and you do it to be a better person and a happier person in the long run.

There are a few designers that I trust like this. Simon Johnson, who made the Comfort of Strangers and Hip Sync. The SF0 designers. Kati London at AreaCode. If they make it, I know I can show up and play it and I will have an experience that explodes later in my mind and stays with me. I trust them and don't care what they want me to do. I know they have a design process that works and that they're tring to make people happier and more aware of the possibilities in the world around them. And I am trying to be that kind of trusted designer myself to as many people as possible.

So I thank people who show up to play my games and trust the process. People who played Superstruct -- I know that experience grenade will be going off literally for months and years to come. We've already celebrate how much we've achieved during the game - -but the real effects will unfold for years. That's just how they work. That's just how they're designed.

Someday I hope game designers really are seen as trusted personal trainers, and that we have the chance to take people through proven processes that pay off in the long run. More gamesight, a surprising social safety net and support system, a more engaging environment, a higher quality of life.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Special Mission: Inventing the Future! UPDATED with 300 micro-forecasts


At our Fall 2008 Technology Horizons Conference, we crowd-sourced five questions (via Twitter, blogs, email, and SMS) about the Blended Realities that we will likely all be living in by 2019.

We received over 300 micro-forecasts in less than 24 hours. Here are the massively collaborative results! (Posted in order of how many contributions were made -- the future of society won in a landslide!)

The future of SOCIETY: Now that it is 2019, how do you share your feelings?
The future of HEALTH: It's 2019. Describe your experience with health care.
The future of FOOD: In 2019, how do you decide what is fordinner?
The future of SECURITY: In 2019, who defines your identities, and who governs them?
The future of ENERGY: In 2019, what are you energy sources for your mobile, home and business life? How are they advantageous? Disadvantageous?


We're competing to invent the future! PLEASE JOIN OUR GAME!

At 5 PM Pacific Time on Tuesday November 18, 2008, this blog post was updated with the following five questions about the year 2019. Each question is posed by a different forecasting team at the 2008 Blended Reality conference at the Institute for the Future. Each team is competing to collect the most answers, and the most interesting examples, from the most diverse community possible.

PLEASE JOIN OUR GAME! Answer one, answer two, or more BEFORE 12 NOON PACIFIC TIME WED NOV 19, 2008.Update: TIME'S UP! 30,000 words worth of ideas received in 19 hours!!! Results will be posted soon on ... stay tuned!


You are invited to post your reply to one, two, or more of the questions in the comments.

We're racing to see which future gets the most replies, as well as the most INTERESTING replies, in just 19 hours!

Please share this post with friends, followers, and colleagues and help us see how much participation bandwidth we can harness in less than one day!

Ask folks to Twitter their reply (using #2019) or to send email reply (to or to paste a blog comment on this page (URL:


Who won top Superstruct Honors from Bruce Sterling, Warren Ellis, Ze Frank, Tim Kring, Jimmy Wales, Chris DiBona, Tim O'Reilly, and more? How many years did we add to our human survival horizon? How many millions of people achieved SUPERSTRUCT awareness? Which celebrity guest showed up live to surprise everyone?* What will happen next to the world of Superstruct we've all created together?

Find out now! Watch this special hour-long Superstruct celebration -- broadcast live on Monday November 17, 2008/2019, and captured and hosted on Ustream.


Free video chat by Ustream

*Okay, it's Tara Hunt. YAY!!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

While I await 2008 results, I live in 2019...

Originally uploaded by superstruct2019.

Today is a historic day in America. Many people will vote for the first time in their lives. There will be record turnout in many parts of the country. We are on track to elect a leader that many people (myself included) feel is moving us toward a better way of governing like it matters -- a potentially transformative, once-in-a-lifetime leader.

Since I can only hit refresh on election tracking pages so many times while I wait for exit poll and voting counts, I am channeling my eager anxiousness into Superstruct today.

In addition to the 450 active discussions that you can comment on, and the 777 (lucky number!) stories that you can browse and rave, there are currently 500 ideas to change the world in the Superstructure database. While many have the ring of the familiar, employing popular 2008 ideas for saving the world, many are also eye-popping, mind-expanding ideas I literally never heard of, thought of, or imagined before.

So I'm working my way systematically through every single Superstructure today (it's easy, just clicking through the sidebar working my way backwards from 500 to 1), joining and editing every single Superstructure I can make a meaningful comment on. When I come across one that is a new idea I've never heard of before, I join and add an idea or ask a question even if I'm not sure how exactly I could help -- because I want to propel the strange new idea forward.

I hope some of you will join me today. As we change the world in 2008, and we can also get a head-start on the problems that are going to take more than one historic day to solve. Some problems will take years to solve, and that's why we're getting a head start on 2019 today.

I know that helping to develop someone else's superstructure can feel like an intimidating mission, but it's really quite easy and you can develop quite a rhythm. You don't have to add solutions -- even just asking smart questions is a huge contribution.

I'm loving right now:

I Voted in 2008 Hacking the democratic process to have perpetual feedback

Catalog of Feedback Failures How to make better decisions

Think fast. Slow Down. Reintroducing regular days of fast

Speculative Culturesmithing "We can rebuild that culture for you wholesale"

Government, Inc. Better services for discerning citizens

The Dewey Decimal Human Organic Taxonomy Project Celebrating and classifying our differences, one digit at a time -- for better interaction and collaboration and alliances

Stop Being in the Wrong Place The transit problem becomes a stasis problem

The Global Village - A third place for refugee women where YOU live. it takes a village in your city to raise the world

The Esoteric Pony Express Shop and swap until you drop, via slightly absurd methods!

Also loving ReDS Air+:

The process of helping these and other superstructures develop is really simple. And we could REALLY use your help!

1. Register if you haven’t yet:

Log in if you have:

2. Go to the superstructures
That's the green button on the upper righthand side of the screen -- or just paste the URL

3. Scroll through the sidebar, raving, joining, and editing!

3. JOIN! It (orange button)

4.Go back to the superstructure and click EDIT next to one of the sections (“HOW THIS SUPERSTRUCTURE WORKS” e.g. or "DISCUSS THIS SUPERSTRUCTURE") and type your ideas/advice/questions! Sign your edit like this – POSTED BY [username]

So what do you say? After you've done your part in 2008, help me do our part in 2019!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Superstruct: We're half-way to saving the world. Here's the Story So Far...

Justice for Audrey
Originally uploaded by jfpickard.

We're halfway through the Superstruct experiment. Want to catch up on the story so far? Here's the latest news and gossip from 2019. As you can see, there's a lot going on in our future. But don't let it intimidate you. If you haven't participated yet, it only takes 5 minutes to make your first contribution to the future. Please register and complete your survival profile now -- we need your help to win the game by November 17!


The future's changing us faster than we're changing the future. … In response to the World Health Organization’s suggested limits on gatherings of more than twelve people, Assembly12 is leading other superstructures in creating voluntary systems for crowd reduction. And the New Modesty is coming into fashion, thanks in part to the superstructure of the same name. Covered heads, covered hands, covered faces ... all can save lives. But fashion is one thing and violence is another. As the Administrator for Zone M17 reports, Taliban-like attacks are taking place in the street on men and women (mostly women) who are not "modestly" dressed…. Take the second Quarantine tour.

Other breaking Quarantine news:

Governments around the world step up quarantines, despite promises: Injunctions filed in US, UK, and Mexico

Biowarfare Claims in Pakistan-India Tensions: Guerilla groups use asymptomatic carriers as "Bio-Bombs"

ReDS Collaboratory Initiative Launched: Global open source project begins developing ReDS treatment

Businesses Closed in San Diego: The San Diego city council has issued a closure order for most businesses in fight against ReDS

Mybu4 Virus Spreads: The anti-ReDS bacteriophage Mybu4 has been found in the drinking water of London, Rio


We're just past week two of the global Superstruct push, and SEHIs are attacking the problems of food-supply from every angle -- from Vat-grown Protein to Stone Soup. As solutions continue to arise, however, so do the challenges. We're getting reports of continued battles on the home front for personal food security -- and SEHIs in California are advised to guard against robotic food collectors, a.k.a. RFCs, raiding community gardens. Such thefts certainly aren't a problem for producers only, increasing reports of grocery store robbery have surfaced as food prices rise…. Take the second Ravenous tour.

Other breaking Ravenous news:

Fears of food tampering intensify as more poisoned food discovered: European Justice Ministry suspects coordinated attacks

US Wheat Crop Shows Signs of Blight Infection: A wheat blight Ug99 outbreak has been confirmed in the US harvest for the first time

Food Riots Spread: Violence in France over rumored food supply problems have spread, despite government pleas

75% of New Trees Must Be Fruit-Bearing: Washington DC adopts local-food ordinance to replace ornamental trees

Transgenic Contamination Throws Winter Wheat: Source and impact of the genetic modifications are as yet unknown


The worrying development this week has been the arrest of GEAS president Dr. Audrey Chen and her team by the US Department of Justice. The one organisation that's actually doing something concrete, organised and constructive about facing up to the challenges of our times and this happens. It seems the proverbial ostrich not only has its head in the sand - it's also blindly kicking out at anyone who might want to take a look around...There's all sorts of speculation as to the reasons behind all this, but for now the most important thing we can all do is show our support for Dr. Chen. Meanwhile, a brilliant Superstructure has just been launched by lehall and some co-conspirators - if you feel that your own Superstructure has stalled, or you're not sure how to move it forward and contribute to a better future then get in touch with the Mission Makers…. Take the second Power Struggle Tour.

Other breaking Power Struggle news:

Survey shows that governments, corporations not trusted as energy information resources: May make public more susceptible to energy scams

Sea Power Piracy: Portuguese wave power system hijacked

Solar is Civil Defense: Solar Power advocates offer demonstrations, advice

Oil-Eating Microbes Found in Alaska: Level of disruption of reserves unknown

TransAfrica Power Backbone Begun: Individuals help generate power from Cairo to Pretoria


in the last update, we asked you whether noble ends could ever justify morally questionable ways of getting there. 20 days in, and we're starting to settle on an answer. We might not like what the outlaws mean for our day-to-day existence. But that isn't something that's stopping us from using their methods in the name of a greater good. Looking at superstructures, The Society for the Creative Breaking of Shit ('strategic griefing of the unacceptable') has been at the head of this shift. And on a more personal level - some SEHIs have been re-evaluating their choice of hat.... Take the second Outlaw Planet tour.

Other breaking Outlaw Planet news:

GEAS Leadership arrested, Director Audrey Chen remains in custody: US Justice Officials call the GEAS report "a brazen act of psychological terrorism"

Cal-Threat Hacked: The California Superthreat Warning Network has been hacked, with no resolution in sight.

Attacks on GEAS: GEAS personnel and volunteers are being targeted, and all Superstructers should be careful.

Micro-"Spore" Spy Swarms Pose Security, Health Risk: Tiny drones cause big problems by capturing and transmitting nib pen movement

"Countdown" Malware Mystery Deepens: Virus surfaces again in networked refrigerators, stereos, AR headsets, and more


The superthreats are converging for climate refugees. Displaced persons who have become infected with the ReDS virus are facing yet another danger, of the human variety. In Nevada, roving gangs have been reported abducting ReDS victims from their homes and executing them. And, as if that wasn't bad enough, GEAS volunteer noplacelikehome tells a story of being abducted by a terrorist group who is trying to accelerate the Voluntary Extinction Movement by making people believe that they are infected with ReDS! Meanwhile The Democratic Central African Republic, or DCAR, has recruited a group of 16 million African refugees from various warring countries who "lost the will to continue fighting but will not allow each other to declare victory"... Take the second Generation Exile tour.

Other breaking Generation Exile news:

Refugees now being used as unconventional weapons, according to UN: Mass migration seen as a form of warfare

"Can't Go Home Again": Central American returnees meet resentment, fear.

Kashmir Conflict Pushes Migration: Rising tensions along the India-Pakistan border have increased migration from the two nations.

Nomads in the American Desert: Burning Man organizers plan for a new refugee promised land

New Orleans Diaspora Launches Virtual Museum: A "reunificaton portal" seeks to provide history, community, and connection


Breaking news and urgent alerts from GEAS:

GEAS Superstructing Tips from Senior Participation Architects: IFTF's director of game R & D gives a "how to play" Superstruct update -- plus GEAS issues the 14K point challenge!

Participation Bandwidth Strained! GEAS recommends a Top 3 Superstructure strategy: Senior participation architects at GEAS advise SEHIs to consolidate and declare their top 3 superstructures.

“Grassroots is not enough – critical failure looming”: Supercomputer predicts bottom-up efforts will lose momentum by late 2020

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

MISSING OUT ON THE YEAR 2019? Go on a whirlwind tour of Superstruct now!

What players are saying about Superstruct so far…

“Superstruct is making my brain unfurl in the most hopeful ways…” - RachelAnnYes

“It’s my favorite vision of the future ever. Because it’s a future that I can actually be useful in.” - Andrew

“We need a SEHI brain-matter reclamation service, for when our heads explode from the possibilities.” – NordicNinja
If you haven’t had time to explore the world of 2019 yet, don’t worry – it’s easy to catch up!

Each week, our Superthreat guides publish a summary highlight of the most important ideas, the most dramatic stories, and the most ingenious superstructures… think of it as a whirlwind tour of the future. Take one tour, or take all five! Below, you’ll find links to the first round of reports.

If you’re inspired along the tour, please take a minute to leave a comment on a story, add a discussion post, or join a superstructure… Every time you log in and make a contribution to the site, you’re making a valuable contribution to our future. You’re helping other superstructors build their ideas, you’re adding to our research database, and you’re developing your own Superstruct powers…

So please don’t be a silent observer of the future. Log in, do something, say something, and help invent a world we want to live in!

Take a whirlwind tour of the future!

Fear is turning out to be as big a threat as disease. But the arts community and the tech community are fighting back… TAKE THE QUARANTINE TOUR

Can you hear the thunder, people? It's the sound of several billion rumbling stomachs: the portent of a coming storm. The whole world is ravenous, and feeding time is nigh. TAKE THE RAVENOUS TOUR

A lot of people are suffering, but there is also a real groundswell of practical and ingenious solutions emerging… TAKE THE POWER STRUGGLE TOUR

Blocking griefers, repelling trojans, and bootstrapping the site seem to have taken precedence over our superstructing mission…But do desperate times call for desperate measures? Could hackers play a positive role in tackling the superthreats – by forcing transparency, revealing hypocrisy, and breaking up the dinosaur instititutions which are resisting change? TAKE THE OUTLAW PLANET TOUR

The GEAS report is enough to scare the living daylight out of any human being. But never give up, SEHIs… TAKE THE GENERATION EXILE TOUR

Sunday, October 19, 2008

RAVENOUS!! grrrr - plus, the Superstruct Meetup (you can still come!)

One thing I'm really proud of -- Superstruct is REALLY preparing its players for the future -- by engaging them in thinking and talking about some of the biggest, most potentially world-changing issues that SHOULD be on our collective radar but aren't quite yet. Issues like disruptions to the food supply chain, the coming wave of climate change refugees, and "social terrorism" in the form of mass network griefing.

That's what the Institute for the Future specializes in, of course -- helping people play attention to what's on the horizon before we're full-on wrestling with it. And it's something World Without Oil did amazingly well, too. (Hardly anyone was thinking about the reality of the end of cheap, abundant oil back in the spring of 2007 when we ran the game -- more than a year later, finally everyone is grappling with it.)

To Superstruct's credit, I think, here's a fabulous article by Michael Pollan warning that the food chain disruption (exactly what the Superthreat RAVENOUS is all about!) is an issue we should be thinking about, but aren't.

With a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close. What this means is that you, like so many other leaders through history, will find yourself confronting the fact — so easy to overlook these past few years — that the health of a nation’s food system is a critical issue of national security. Food is about to demand your attention.

And that's just one reason that people who play Superstruct will be more ready to survive and make a difference in the future than anyone else! JOIN NOW and get ready for the future!


Also: If you're interested in attending the Superstruct Meetup at the Institute for the Future on Monday October 20, we have room for folks to just show up. So consider youself invited, and here's a sneak preview!


We can't wait to see you at the Superstruct meetup. This confirms your RSVP... and here is a sneak preview of the event! (And yes, if you have friends or colleagues who want to come but haven't RSVP'd yet -- feel free to bring them along!)

*The meetup starts at 4:30 PM and goes 'til 6:00 PM. Get there early if you want to be sure to get some of the bootleg 2019 champagne -- we were only able to smuggle one magnum past the "Zero Tolerance - No Food Imports" picket line.
*At 6:00 PM, adventurous friends are invited to join us on a short downtown game mission as we embed 2019 artifacts in the real world. (The Analog Superthreat Warning System mission will last half an hour, and will earn you the superstruct badge of your choice! Find out more about the mission. If you want to make a flyer or poster in advance of the meetup, that's great! You can email me or yourself the digital file, or bring it on a thumbdrive, and we'll color print them for you at IFTF.

*We're expecting a small crowd of some of the most interesting future people we know, including:
-- Jamais Cascio, the Director of Impacts Analysis for the GLOBAL EXTINCTION AWARENESS SYSTEM;
--Steve Puma, manager of a 3D virtual think tank for sustainable management and our lead GENERATION EXILE guide;
--Kiyash Monsef, a senior member of XTV -- the alliance of blacklisted TV journalists and hackers dedicated to disseminating reliable information "by any platform necessary", and the producer of the SUPERTHREAT VIDEOS;
--and of course, FUTURE YOU! (If you don't know who you'll be in 2019 yet, don't worry -- we'll help you figure it out.)
*We'll also be joined by a SUNDANCE CHANNEL crew. The event is being filmed by Sundance for a short TV documentary about Superstruct. If you're willing to be interviewed or filmed playing the game, that's fantastic! Otherwise, keep in mind you will probably be in a least a few background shots.

To get to IFTF, check safe face-to-face celebrations!
*Due to the RAVENOUS superthreat, we encourage you to bring a snack to share.

Thanks for helping us invent the future. We'll see you at IFTF!

Jane McGonigal
Director of Game Research & Development at the Institute for the Future
Founder of the Make Your Own Reality Network, which is celebrating its 5-year anniversary in 2019

Friday, October 17, 2008

Time to bring back Best Sentence of the Day!

Time to start posting again on my Best Sentence of the Day blog...

From the world of publishing news:

Researcher at the Institute for the Future and alternate reality game designer Jane McGonigal's REALITY IS BROKEN: Why Games Make Us Happy and How They Can Change the World, an examination of how games function as "happiness engines," and how the lessons from game design and game play can be used to solve real-world problems, to Vanessa Mobley at Penguin Press, at auction, by Chris Parris Lamb at The Gernert Company.

I'll start writing after Superstruct reaches its profoundly amazing conclusion on November 17, 2008.

(By the way, in case you didn't realize it, you can play Superstruct for literally just 10 minutes and STILL make an important contribution to the future. Just join the community and fill out your personal survival profile -- that's all it takes to complete your first game mission! So if you think you don't have time to play some big elaborate forecasting game... you DO have time! Don't miss out because the game will end a month from now!)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Invitation! Superstruct party/meetup in Palo Alto October 20!

What will the year 2019 be like? And who will YOU be in the future?

You’re invited to a SUPERSTRUCT PARTY & MEET-UP!

Learn all about, and try out, Superstruct, the worlds’ first massively-multiplayer forecasting game

If you've been meaning to check out Superstruct but haven't had time yet...
If you've poked around the site, but haven't registered yet...
If you've been playing the game and want to learn more about how it was designed and what comes next in 2019...

Monday October 20, 2008 (2019)
4:30 PM – 6:00 PM
at the Institute for the Future

*This meet-up will be filmed for the Sundance Channel, which is doing a show about Superstruct*

Address: 124 University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA (across the street from the downtown Palo Alto Cal Train station)

FOR NEW PLAYERS: Learn how the game works, register, and complete your first mission

FOR EXPERIENCED PLAYERS: Meet other SEHIs, talk to the game director and scenario director about what should happen next in 2019, earn a rare badge, and complete an advanced game mission

FOR ADVENTURERS: The meetup is followed by an optional “downtown mission”. Are you ready to take Superstruct to the real world?

Please RSVP by Friday October 17 to

Due to the Ravenous Superthreat and the globally disrupted food supply chains, this party is BYOS – bring your own snack to share with others with others. (We’ll provide drinks, including bootleg champagne!)

P.S. It will be my birthday party, so we'll be blowing out an extra 11 candles on a birthday cake -- you know, what with it being 2019 and all ^_^

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Superstruct Updates -- the future happens fast, and a party invitation!

Superstruct has been live for 60 hours, or 2.5 days! Join us now -- it only takes 20 seconds!

The Superstruct community is growing FAST! We are averaging a new player -- or Super-Empowered Hopeful Individual (SEHI), as they are called in the world of 2019 -- every 90 seconds, around the clock. That means we're at over 2300 SEHIs already, so this is a great time to get involved, make allies and contribute something new to the game world.

Your first mission when you join is to invent your future self by filling out a social network profile for the year 2019. It is super-fun to read some of these profiles and find out what people hope to be up to a decade from now. Here is my 2019 profile, and here is my husband's 2019 profile. His really surprised me -- does Kiyash really plan to be an kind of outlaw news producer in 10 years? Uh oh!!

There are too many exciting things going on in Superstruct to name them all here. I'm particular excited about the Art Replacing Knowledge superstructure and some potential pro-social shaming campaigns getting underway (yes, I am curious if something like shaming can become a benevolent gesture... do for transparency what Cruel 2 B Kind did for assassination??) My own superstructure that I founded is Gamedemic -- the goal is to make games so sticky that people voluntarily quarantine themselves during pandemic outbreaks. If you can describe your favorite game in 2019, you can join Gamedemic!

Finally, an invitation -- Kiyash and I will be going to the first known live Superstruct event in Santa Cruz this weekend. It's a player-organized potluck dinner party IN A CAVE for members of an "underground railroad" for climate refugees on the California Coast. Now you can't seriously tell me you have something more interesting to do on Saturday night than go to a dinner party for climate refugees organized by an underground railroad network IN A CAVE. Whoo whooo!!

(As our potluck contribution, we're bringing "bootleg 2019 champagne" which we're not supposed to be drinking because we're part of a local food economy and importing champagne is very taboo)

RSVP here and I'll see you there!!

P.S. Here's an awesome immersive invitation to the event -- fast forward to the final 30 seconds for the fun invitation!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Superstruct Sneak Preview - The "How to Play" Video

How can you invent the future by playing an online game?

As the official new Director of Game Research & Development at the Institute for the Future -- yay -- I am happy to finally reveal the details of your seven Superstruct missions... AND the top seven Superstruct secrets to becoming an amazing player!

The game site goes live late Monday, October 6.

In the meantime, if you want to be READY to GO! when the game begins, you can watch this sneak preview "how to play" video. You'll become a Superstruct expert in just seven minutes!

(Thanks to Creative Commons artist D-Brane for providing this video with a great and apt soundtrack: the track "How to use a Timeship".)

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Superstruct Story begins today!

What does the world of 2019 look like? Find out now! The Superstruct Story begins today.

It's September 22, 2019, and the five superthreat videos are LIVE. (produced by the amazing Emmy-award nominated Kiyash Monsef!) Watch the five superthreat videos now -- follow this link to the Superstruct sneak preview site, or just watch the embedded videos below! See news from the future, and find out exactly what dangers and challenges we face with Quarantine, Ravenous, Power Struggle, Outlaw Planet and Generation Exile.

Superthreat #1: QUARANTINE

Superthreat #2: RAVENOUS

Superthreat #3: POWER STRUGGLE

Superthreat #4: OUTLAW PLANET

Superthreat #5: GENERATION EXILE

After you watch the videos, dig deeper... the Global Extinction Awareness Report is live as well. Read the GEAS report!

Here's a sneak preview...

The Final Threat:

Outputs of the Global Extinction Awareness System's
2019 Petabyte-Scale Global Simulation


The human species has a long history of overcoming tremendous obstacles, often coming out stronger than before. Indeed, some anthropologists argue that human intelligence emerged as the consequence of the last major ice age, a period of enormous environmental stress demanding flexibility, foresight and creativity on the part of the small numbers of early Homo sapiens. Historically, those who have prophesied doom for human civilization have been proven wrong, time and again, by the capacity of our species to both adapt to and transform our conditions.

It is in this context that the Global Extinction Awareness System (GEAS) offers its forecast of the likely extinction of humankind within the next quarter-century....

And join the Facebook group to disuss which Superthreat you plan to adopt first, and more! (~500 members and counting...)

See you again on October 6, 2008 (two weeks from today) when gameplay goes lives -- and we take this scenario and start superstructing!

UPDATE: Lol, Superstruct players are AWESOME. Here's an amazing reply to the Outlaw Planet superthreat video... that was FAST!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

On my mind this week - awesome things other people said

Here are some awesome things I heard or read other people say this week.... things that really click with how I'm thinking about game design these days.

"One day we will look back with embarrassment on this era when all of our virtual experiences were trapped behind a screen. This advance will have great implications for the role of games within society, and the wider possibilities of tangible game experiences could make the word 'game' insufficient to describe what we are doing." - game design legend Masaya Matsuura, on how the videogame industry needs to involve into more environmental and physical gaming

"It's all fun and games... until somebody changes the world." - Austin Hill, co-founder of Akoha, talking about the potential for reality-based games to change the way we go about our real lives

"I want more out of life than just Experience Points. I want meaning too." - Ian Bogost, games theorist + designer, also talking about why reality-based games you play in your real life need more than metrics

"The situations mirror real-life problems and let us gamers feel as if we're accomplishing something, even though it's completely in a fake world." - Jason Mitchaeli, Live Action Role Playing gamer, talking about how LARPs can make you a happier person in real life.

"The day before a major breakthrough, it's a crazy idea. That's by definition what makes it a breakthrough. No one else thought it would work. To make a genuine breakthrough, you have to find things that have a high probability of failure to work on." X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis, talking about why the best thing to work on is something that most people believe is impossible.

These great quotes are just bouncing around in my head! Love them.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Whoah -- I just got rabbit holed to my own game - UPDATED

UPDATE: Apparently, lots of people want to get a head-start on the game. Join the Superstruct Facebook Group to start meeting other players and inventing your future selves! And as always, check out the amazing dinner 2019 stories -- now counting in the hundreds -- that just wow me everytime I read one.


As you know, Superstruct hasn't launched yet. (Stay tuned -- the story starts September 22, the game starts October 6.) But people are already playing Superstruct. I mean REALLY playing.

I'm working from home today. Just got this email from a colleague at the Institute for the Future:
“we received a strange package in the mail today. Addressed to SuperStruct, return address 'fragile'. Inside are 8 separate envelopes containing small glass bottles and a letter from The 2019 Weather Project asking us to 'empty the contents of the bottle' - air from england - and entering our own sample. Then we can send it back to them for a tracking system. The website is the 1st superstructure! Really cool!!”

Indeed, if you go to the 2019 Weather Project, you'll find that an unknown Superstruct player has already launched an in-game weather data crowd sourcing project and is actually sending out physical kits.

TOTALLY INSANE!!! I was rabbit holed to my own game!! (I'll update this post with photos of the rabbit hole when I get to the office next week.)

Go Superstruct players… I don't know you yet, but I already love you.


In the meantime, allow me to introduce you to our amazing team of honorary game masters for Superstruct:
  • Tim Kring, creator of the NBC TV series HEROES
  • Warren Ellis, superhero comic book author and novelist
  • Tara Hunt, social network expert and author of The Whuffie Factor
  • Bruce Sterling, science fiction writer and essayist
  • Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and Wikia
  • Ze Frank, funniest person on the Internet
  • Chris DiBona, Open Source program manager for Google
  • Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media
  • and more surprise guests to come!
They'll be giving awards out to their favorite superstructures at the end of the game. Can you guess which honorary game masters are giving out the following: the "Pandora's Box award", "The Greatest Amount of Soul Award", and the "Most Heroic Award"?


Discover Magazine has a great story by Eliza Strickland about Superstruct out today. You can read it online: "Forecasting the Future May be a Matter of Fun and Games."


While you're waiting for game launch, I guess you can make like our 2019 Weather player and start playing (!!!) Or you can visit just the website now and request an alert email when we launch.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

We Found the Lost Ring - UPDATED

UPDATE: If you had any interaction with The Lost Ring (including just watching some of the fun videos!) please take this short survey, which is designed to help figure out how to make awesome ARGs in the future working with big companies who want to invest in the future of the genre. THANK YOU!

After 10 days in Beijing, and six months of live game play, and more than a year of game design and development, I am exhausted and thrilled.


This week, the lost ring community ran the lost sport championships! Salvador, Tokyo, Wellington, San Francisco, London and Beijing earned the right to compete in the finals. Two-time gold medalist Edwin Moses coached us all week long and came with us to the Great Wall for the championship event. You can watch the six-city race play out simultaneously in six different time zones in this amazing Lost Sport World Championship video directed and produced by Kiyash. Close-ups of our Beijing races are here and here.

Here in Beijing, we also ran game missions on the Olympic Green and at the Temple of Heaven at at the Olympic Athletic Finals, before playing out a two-part dramatic finale at the Great Wall of China, sending our global cast of characters home and embedding special Lost Ring easter eggs at the closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics, with all of our Lost Ring characters appearing in the worldwide broadcast. (Did you spot me and Kiyash there, too?)

The Lost Ring was all about giving gamers worldwide the opportunity experience the best of the Olympics firsthand, instead of experiencing them vicariously. There were two main parts to this mission. First, the global hunt for the Lost Ring Codex and the Sixth Ring, which we hoped would bring players worldwide together, give them a spirit of global collaboration and unity, and give them a chance to make friends from many different countries, just like the athletes in the Olympic Village. Second, the revival of the Lost Sport of Olympia, which gave players the chance to train for real and compete with a team at a world-class level in an alternate reality Olympic sport. From where I stand, looking at what the players accomplished, I know that we achieved our goal of creating a new kind of game in the Olympic spirit that the world came together to play.

Thank you to all of the players worldwide. We had live game missions and events in more than 50 countries on every continent except Antarctica, and our top 5000 players came from over 100 different countries. In total, more than 2.5 million people watched the game play out online and learned new Olympic legends as our most active players discovered lost secrets of the Olympic Games and revived the traditions of the Lost Ring codex.

A special thanks to the game communities on Unfiction, Orkut, MSN Live, and Mixi for leading the world in this game. And a hero's ovation to everyone who worked on the Lost Ring wiki, which made the game easy for new players to follow (and easier for us to keep making!).

As the game ends, I'll say this: No one is luckier than the people who make ARGs and other reality-based games, because we get to play with some of the smartest and most interesting and most creative people in the world. We get to spend time with them online and in the real world, and we get to create with them and learn from them. Making an ARG feels like a team sport, and the creators and the players are on the same team. With the Lost Ring in particular, I really do feel like the Olympic athletes who get to make lifelong friends in the Olympic village. I feel like I have (I hope) made friends around the world and consider all of the star Lost Ring players potential allies for life!

So... since you never really know when or if an ARG is over until the game masters tell you, I wanted to put up this post as an official goodbye (until 2012, fingers crossed) and share some of the behind the scenes secrets of the game.

The Lost Ring alternate reality game is officially done... for now. I plan to see you all again in 2012 for another round of lost sport world championships and hopefully (who knows?) another Olympic final. (And in 2010 -- a lost winter sport???)


Full credits for The Lost Ring will appear soon somewhere on one of the game sites. In the meantime, I wanted to share a little information about the amazing team that put this project together, because it's been so hard not to talk about the incredibly talented people who made this game.

As you already know, this project was conceived by digital creative agency AKQA - San Francisco, with McDonald's, as a celebration and extension of their historic sponsorship of the Olympic Games. The game was produced in collaboration with the International Olympic Committee, and once the plan to make an Olympics-themed ARG was in place, I was lucky enough to be invited on board as the game's director.

But what you might not know about The Lost Ring:

This ARG was unlike previous commercial ARGs in that our characters were played almost exclusively by our own puppet masters. So almost 100% of the time, whenever a character emailed or texted or chatted with a player, or whenever they blogged or twittered, it was really the same person you saw in the videos and photos. We did this for several reasons. One, to dramatically expand the creative team, so that more people could contribute to the storytelling and interaction design and create a much faster, more fluid ARG. We didn't have to teach actors what to say or write scripts or train the characters for live events-- the puppet masters did it all themselves. Two, we wanted to be able to run the game simultaneously in multiple languages. All of our PMs were multi-lingual, allowing us to quickly create and distribute our game continent in 8 languages simultaneously.

I have never had so much fun in my life as working with the international team of puppet masters. I am humbled by their awesomeness. They ARE their characters and created them and really built their part of the lost ring world. They are all future stars in their own fields and I feel extremely lucky to have worked with them. So, introducing the tremendous cast of international puppet masters:

  • Diego - Andres Quijano, an amazing game designer and performer, based in Buenos Aires
  • Noriko - Kazumi Zatkin, a super-talented actress with a background in MMO game moderation, from Okayama, now based in San Diego
  • Markus - Lawrence Dudley, a rising star photographer, based in York
  • MeiHui - Jemmy Chen, a brilliant actress from Taipei, now based in New York City
  • Lucie - Tessa Poncelet, a super-adventurous filmmaker and photographer from Brussels, now based in Paris
  • Larissa - Denyse Cohen, an artist from Sao Paulo, now based in Los Angeles
  • Monica - Tatiana Delgado, a brilliant game developer and LARP goddess, based in Madrid
  • Kai - Glenn Lovely, an up-and-coming writer at AKQA, based in San Francisco
Look for them on Facebook and friend them! They are all amazing people in real life and they literally created their characters and drove the game in their languages. They are creative forces to be reckoned with, and I love all of them and am so grateful to have worked with them.

(The only exceptions to the PM/actor rule were Ariadne and Eli Hunt, who were played on film and in podcasts by incredible actors based in London -- more on that in a minute -- and who I had the fun of playing in email, chat, twitter, etc. Also, the role of online Kai was shared by several people -- the actor, Glenn Lovely, and two PMs, when the real Kai aka Glenn was too busy making important stuff to check his character's email.)

Also, in case you were wondering, Edwin Moses really DID watch all of your lost sport training videos and really DID coach all of us. If you ever get the chance to meet him, and you mention the lost sport, you will have lots to talk about!

And of course, Ariadne: played by the fabulous Natalie Jade Foster, who you will no doubt see in many films and television shows over the next few years, was amazing to work with. Although she wasn't playing her character in email, chat and blogs, she has been making her videos live throughout the game based on what the players have done -- everything was shot in real time and posted on the same day the players saw it. So she followed the game and watched the players and learned the legends thoroughly so that she could interact at live events and lead the characters in our Beijing missions. Really awesome to have Natalie on board for this role.

Finally, one puppet master/character deserves special recognition -- that's "James Mutters" in the game, or in real life James Tinsley (look him up on Facebook and friend him if you played The Lost Ring!) He started out on The Lost Ring as a producer at AKQA, working primarily on one of the toughest producer missions: he has to find and coordinate all the great artifact hiding locations in 27 cities on 5 continents. He did an amazing job, and eventually we wrote him into the game in April because 1) he knew so much about the game and 2) we needed someone at the first San Francisco lost sport training event to represent The Opposition. James has a BFA in theater, and so he took the reigns of his character and rode it further than any of us thought possible, turning James and Theo into some of the most interesting characters in the whole game, and creating some of the most unforgettable game moments. I knew James was born to puppet master when he agreed to let us duct tape hin on the roof of the AKQA building and opened himself up to an hour-long no-holds-barred interrogation from some of the best ARG players in the world. I hope to see James Tinseley running many ARGs in the future.

Also, names you will see in the credits later but who deserve recognition right away: a few of the key people at AKQA who drove this project and who will make many brilliant immersive experiences in the future are Julie Channing and Edwin Veelo, who worked on this project for 18 months and are here in Beijing to bring the game to a successful conclusion -- remember their names! Also, check out the fabulous work of PJ Periera, Gary Theut, and Toria Emery, who also had a HUGE hand in conceiving and developing this project early on at AKQA. And also at AKQA, Nancy Cardillo and Steve Sherwood and Jason Welch drove key parts of the experience: the trailers, the web development, and project management. These are all brilliant people, if you have the chance to hear them talk or work with them, do it!

We were also lucky to be able to tap the creative genius of David Moles and Benjamin Rosenbaum, award-winning fantasy/science fiction writers based in Switzerland, who worked very closely with us in the summer of 2007 to develop the key world-building details of athletic synchronisation and multiverse Olympics. Those early concept/story meetings produced some of the strangest ideas I've ever heard in my life. Someday, ask me about ghost multiverse photography and Ariadne's dead twin sister who didn't make it into the game.

For me personally, this project was the biggest creative challenge of my life. I wrote more and designed more than on any project before.

Just to reminisce a bit, and also for those of you who wonder what it is that a game director does... Here was some of my favorite work on this project:

  • writing the 27 chapters of The Lost Ring Codex, which broke my brain, in a good way
  • re-inventing the Omphalos Code so we could hide things all over the world using ancient Greek GPS, and getting to consult with my dad (!!) on this -- he is a history teacher and ancient Greek scholar, and it was his idea to make omphaloi a central part of the lost ring legend
  • creating the "ancient strengths" descriptions and quiz, which is based on a real positive psychology inventory of "personal strengths". I wanted players to have the chance to level up in things that they're good at in real life, not just virtual attributes -- and so this was really a favorite part of the game for me. Players, if you want to learn more about how your ancient strengths translate to real life, take the 240 question free Via Inventory of Signature Strengths quiz (registration required)
  • designing the city-scale trackstick missions, and playtesting them with three of the best ARGers and people I know. I think I'll be making omphalabyrinths for the rest of my life, kind of like cookie rolling
  • running Lost Sport training events at big game festivals in London and New York City
  • creating props and physical clues to give to players, such as the 1920s Olympic rabbit holes and the "clews" that started the game, because I LOVE making tactile game artifacts
  • updating Ariadne's blog with all of the amazing player-created content, like lost sport videos, Youtube oaths, omphaputer tools, ring retrieval missions and of course city labyrinths
  • running the weekly Sunday conference calls with our global puppet masters so everyone could give updates on their game communities and plan our next plot twists and game missions.

But the MOST fun and most satisyfing things I had the good fortune to do with my truly talented husband Kiyash Monsef:

  • inventing The Lost Sport of Olympia
  • writing Eli Hunt's podcasts

Kiyash and I have worked together many times before, on everything from the Go Game and I Love Bees to Tombstone Hold 'Em and World Without Oil, and I really couldn't make games without him. But this was definitely Kiyash's most central collaboration on an ARG, co-inventing the lost sport and co-writing all of the podcasts. (He also directed and produced all of our Beijing videos for The Lost Ring.) I'm so glad we were able to work together on this project, and as a result of this experience, after Superstruct concludes, we'll be co-directing and developing a major game for 2009. (If you liked discovering and using your 6 ancient strengths, you'll love this next project.)

Some other interesting facts about this game:

The Lost Ring was world-building project. We wanted to create an immersive legend that players could share and that could collectively change the way they thought about and experienced the Olympics for the rest of their lives. To do this, we emphasized the legend and the world-building content, such as the podcasts and the codex, and created missions to turn the legend into real-life action.

The rhythm of this ARG was different from most previous ARGs. Typically, ARGs have a set series of missions and puzzles that must be completed and solved in order to advance the game. In The Lost Ring, we had only a few of these. The players had to find all of the characters in the different countries at the start in order to really launch the game; the players had to find all 27 artifacts of the Lost Rig Codex in order to understand the invented Olympic legends; the players had to re-create and play the lost sport in order to bring the central element of the game to life; the players had to complete 27 city-scale labyrinths; and ideally, the players would perform a massive syncrhonised action (such as a lost sport championship) on August 24.

Beyond that, we just wanted players to LIVE in this alternate reality and create their own journeys. So we invented legends with almost infinitely extensible elements and supported players who spun out sub-plots and new theories. (The philosophy of The Opposition, for instance, was heavily influenced by player discussions of the mechanics and moral dilemmas of the multiverse.) We created characters who could be interacted with however deeply players wanted -- Larissa, Diego, and Monica were really engaged by players online and in the real world, along storylines the players helped invent, in a way that took ARGing to a new roleplaying level.

All of the missions our characters performed in Beijing -- from Ariadne's dance of the 11 circuit labyrinth to the Couberteam desynchronising mission to bringing back the Bacon cipher and using the team San Francisco patented labyrinth drawing method -- all of these events were directed by the players. Beijing was really our turn to play the game YOU designed. And we loved doing it.

And like the best videogames, The Lost Ring had missions and puzzles that developed key themes of the game -- and we made them available to players -- but they weren't necessary to advance the game. We wanted players to be able to play more with the themes they loved and the characters they were most curious about. But we weren't going to push them along a track toward a single pre-determined outcome. This is a game about the multiverse, after all! We were perfectly willing, for example, to keep some of the characters in this world and force the players to choose who to send home if they didn't get the omph strength high enough to send everyone. And in a parallel world, but not this one, I imagine that players proved a scientific theory of the multiverse layout using the Pancosmologizer (one of my favorite mysteries of the game). And perhaps they learned more about the life and adventures of the original six travelers by studying the locations of the hidden artifacts and Monica's uncle's clues. Of course, these mysteries remain solvable and new player fictions remain creatable even though the live game is over; these legends can be explored long after the game ends and there is enough information about The Lost World out there to tell many more stories and explain many more mysteries.

And now, I will find myself with a tremendous cognitive surplus -- what on earth will I think about while running, in the shower, on the train, at the dog park, falling asleep at night, when my brain isn't full of thoughts of what The Lost Ring players are doing and how the puppet masters are developing their stories and what Olympic secrets we reveal next?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

See you in Beijing, everyone!

Picture 10.png
Originally uploaded by Mnemonix.
warning: this post contains geek-related TMI!

3:30 AM this Saturday, Kiyash and I are off to Beijing for the second half of the Summer 2008 Olympics, where we’ll be overseeing a week of The Lost Ring game production all over the city, including in public parks, on the Olympic Green, and some surprise Olympic venues.

I’ll post from Beijing on this blog as often as possible, or at least on Twitter, to share stories from trying to run an alternate reality game on the ground at the Olympics!

Before I go, I wanted to reminisce a bit.... forgive me if this story borders on Too Much Geek Information. ^_^

My first Olympic gaming experience came in 1988. That was the summer we got our first home computer – it was a Commodore 64, and I was 10 years old. I spent A LOT of time playing games on it.

We had bought the computer used, and it came with three games that delighted me to no end: Castle Wolfenstein (the original! which always scared the bejeezus out of me when I played it, all those soldiers shouting “atchung!!!” and having to picking loot off of dead bodies!!) , Lode Runner (the game I was most devoted to, and which I would dream about at night and often solve puzzles of in my sleep), and most importantly: Summer Games (in which you could toggle your joystick frenetically to compete in events like pole vaulting, gymnastics vaulting, swimming, and running around a track).

During the real Olympic games that 1988 summer, I held my own Summer Games for myself on my Commodore 64. I would start up the computer game and enter 8 players. They were all made up versions of myself from different countries – you could play with 8 at a time -- "Jane" from USA, “Juana” from Mexico, “Janelle” from France, “Jana” from the Netherlands (I don’t know why I thought that was a Dutch name), “Enaja” from Australia (Jane backwards, plus an extra “a” because it sounded prettier, ha ha thought my clever 10 year old self), etc. I would run every Summer Games event as all of my different Olympic Janes. The game was asynchronous multiplayer, rather than synchronous multiplayer, so I could try to do equal justice to each avatar. I would keep track of medals in my pastel pink Cool Shades notebook, and then after all the avatars ran every event, I would see which country had won the most. I was extremely methodical about this. And this would take pretty much an entire day. And THEN I would start over, and run the “simulated Jane Olympics” again, doing exactly the same thing with 8 more international Janes and see how THAT medal count went. And on and on and on. The main difference was you would hear different midi-versions of the countries' anthems depending on who medaled. (To this day, this is why I recognize some national anthems.) I would occasionally call my twin sister, who was probably doing cooler things like learning the choreography to Janet Jackson videos, into the computer room to see the Awesome Results.

Looking back, this story is a clear sign of the fact that I was BORN a big game geek. I have to say, though, in 1988, I SWEAR TO YOU this was seriously High Fun.

So now, TWENTY YEARS LATER (omg), instead of playing pixilated, simulated Olympic games, I’ve spent the summer training in real (lost) Olympic sport, running around and REALLY sweating with lots of other people. I’m actually in amazing shape right now, the best I’ve been in years, because pretty much every day I’ve been working out for an hour, running or whatever, and hearing in my head “You are a lost sport Olympian! GO! GO! GO!”

And now I’m going to Beijing to synchronize real Olympic running and sweating on every continent for the grand finale. Lots of real running and real sweating all over the world, thanks to a computer game!

Can I tell you how happy that makes me? Computer gaming + live sports = My Best Summer Ever. Thank you to everyone who has run and sweat and trained with me this summer. It has been amazing fun 4 real!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Lost Sport Olympics are Coming! Are you Ready to Play?

Yes, that is a blindfolded young woman RUNNING through a 40-foot wide 7-circuit labyrinth, with the help of her humming teammates. What are they doing? They're training for the 2008 Summer (alternate reality) Olympics.

The real Summer Olympics start on August 8, 2008. But the Olympic moment I'M waiting for is August 23/24, when players of The Lost Ring alternate reality game will run their own world championship race in the Lost Sport of Olympia.

Back in February 2008, the lost sport was just an urban legend. Now, thanks to the online community that researched the legend, found historic artifacts detailing its ancient gameplay, and created a wiki for reconstructing the rules of the game, we know how to play it.

Teams everywhere from Beijing and Singapore to Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires and Madrid have been perfecting their strategies and training their athletes. A team is even being formed in Capetown! Here are a couple recent videos from experienced teams in Shanghai and Tokyo:

We've been practicing all summer and all spring. Here's a video from a training camp in Northern California, where team captains from New York City, Vienna, and more gathered to compare strategies.

So, what's the endgame for these athletes? On August 23/24, six cities will race virtually on six continents, and right now, it looks like Team Wellington, New Zealand is the front runner for the gold.

YOU CAN STILL PLAY! Other teams with a lot of training and skills accumulated this spring and summer include Team San Francisco, USA and Team London, UK. If you live in Wellington, San Francisco, or London, they can still use some team members for the championship race. Email me at my first name at the name of this and I'll introduce you to their team captains! There are no front runner teams in South America or Africa yet, so if you are going to be on those continents on August 23/24, you should jump over to and introduce yourself to one of the bloggers and let the world know you are ready to compete at the Lost Sport Olympics!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Memories of a Dead Seer: Werewolf at Foocamp08!

Werewolf at Foocamp08
Originally uploaded by nickbilton.

Foo Camp, a.k.a "shangri la for geeks", is, among other things, the premiere laboratory for Werewolf hacks.*

We get to play A LOT of Werewolf. Typically at least 12 solid hours of Werewolf play, divided over two nights. This year, we played 10:oo PM until 3:30 AM (Friday) and then 11:00 PM until 6:30 AM (Saturday). It's the perfect way to interact with people who might otherwise intimidate you with how awesome they are, and to crush your own introverted instincts if you have them. That's why, I think, it's become such a staple at tech and geek events.

But nothing compares to the Werewolf @ FOO. We play it iteratively -- usually more than one circle is going at at time, in nearby rooms, and we move across circles and rooms, ultimately playing many, many games together in different combinations and size groups. We also play with a lot of history -- many of us have played dozens or even hundreds of games with each other, and we have a lot of information accumulated over those games that we use to try to analyze each other.

The end result is an extremely high level (you might say professional level!) of Werewolf gameplay. A lot of people stand around watching the games like a spectator sport (cool) -- at least 'til midnight (And by sunrise, it's only the hard-core players playing). Newbies get brought up to speed VERY quickly and are expected to play quite well (and actively) or get picked off early by the villagers ("Lynch the quiet people! They're not contributing!"). The expectation for elite gameplay can be seen on the Foo schedule in the photograph "new players welcome; experts really welcome!!"

It varies from conference to conference and year to year how well we hit the "sweet spot" of newbie/expert balance, but if you're curious, after this year's Foo, I can say pretty confidently that we've determined the ideal ratio for Werewolf innovation is between 25% and 33% first-time players in any given circle at the start of the night, and working it down to less than 10% first-time players in any given circle in all subsequent rounds. It's good to have some first-time players around because sometimes they think of weird ideas unbiased by previous experience. It also makes it more challenging for experienced players, since the new players' tells haven't been learned yet. (Yes, Werewolf players have tells just like poker players -- and learning to control and misdirect others with your tells is one of the most important meta-stratgies!) Most importantly, to spread the Werewolf phenomenon, you have to let new players play! And a big part of the fun is finding out who is surprisingly awesome. You never know who will turn out to be an amazing player... Last Foo, I thought Kati London was the big surprise star player. And this year, for instance, I was particularly impressed by the gameplay of newbie Nick Bilton (R & D/Future thinker for the NY Times).

As may already be apparent from the discussion in this post, in addition to the gameplay there's tons of theorizing. At previous Foo Camps, we've held extremely useful informal game theory lunches to discuss and create charts and tables of "optimal villager strategies" and "optimal werewolf strategies" and most controversially "optimal seer and healer strategies" (often very dependent on each other). We always say we're going to start a wiki to share these, but we haven't yet. Last year, we held a formal session to discuss Werewolf game strategy and thought just a few people would show up for an intense conversation; instead we had one of the biggest rooms packed and overflowing with people on the floor and out the door. I might be crazy, but I don't think it was JUST curiosity about game theory -- I think there's actually a little bit of social currency and prestige involved with being a good Werewolf players in the tech community. I don't think that's the main motivation of Werewolf players, but you certainly do have an easier time striking up conversations and meetings with fellow players if you do something clever in a game. For me, I usually throw out business cards I get at conferences (whoops, did I admit that?) but I always Google/Facebook friend/Twitter follow people who were interesting Werewolf players.

So, what happened at our Werewolf hacking lab @ FOO this year? Well, last year, at FOO ’07, Avi Bryant and I worked out on paper an Ultimate Optimal Villager Strategy for a Small Village playing “no reveal” (12 or fewer players, with both a seer and a healer). This is basically a PERFECT strategy that would work ruthlessly well to detect and lynch all of the Werewolves every single game, in almost any circumstance. We did all the math, we ran all the scenarios, and then we tested it in a bunch of games with lots of different players. And in ~20 games, the villagers won every time. (Since then, I’ve only seen the Ultimate Optimal Villager strategy fail once, more on that to come).

Here’s how it works. But before I walk you through the logic, please note: this is perfect from a GAME THEORY perspective only. It only works when 1) all of the villager players accept the premise and agree to play according to this strategy and 2) all of the villager players are acting rationally, in the best interest of the village. As we all know from attempting to apply game theory to real life, people are often irrational and don’t follow optimal strategies. So, while villagers win 95% of the time in an ideal mathematical/game theory world, in reality I would say that irrational actors and recalcitrant healers could probably drop the success rate as low as 80%, but only if at least several players were acting like complete and total idiots in combination.

Okay, so the BEST village strategy EVER:

1) The HEALER must heal him or herself on the first night. This ensures the healer is alive on day one, and everyone in the village will know that.

2) The SEER must reveal him or herself on the first day, immediately upon awakening, assuming they have not been killed. (WEREWOLVES have only a 1/10 or 1/9 chance of successfully killing the SEER randomly on the first night, so in the vast majority of games, the SEER is still alive.) There should be no discussion, no thinking, the SEER must simply REVEAL their identity. They should also say what they learned in the night (who they investigated, and what they found out.) At this point, one of two things will happen: Someone else will claim to be the SEER, or no one else will claim to be the SEER. If no one else claims to be the SEER, no problem, the village trusts the SEER. (Keep the other option in mind for a moment, we’ll come back to it)

3) At this point, the OTHER VILLAGERS should accept that this is the real SEER and trust all information the SEER provides for the rest of the game. The SEER becomes a de facto leader of the village. The VILLAGERS can advise the SEER on who to investigate based on their suspicions.

4) The HEALER must heal the SEER every single night, no matter what.

5) If the VILLAGE attempts to lynch the HEALER, the HEALER should out themselves as the healer only as a last resort if it looks like they are going to lose the vote. They should plead not to be lynched, hopefully save themselves from the lynching, and then alternate between healing themselves and the SEER randomly each night, thwarting WEREWOLF efforts to get one of them and prolonging the number of rounds the seer has to investigate.

6) The SEER must reveal what they found out straightaway every single day, no matter what. The VILLAGE should reseat itself, for visual clarity: safe “investigated” players who are proven villagers sit together with the SEER, uninvestigated/unsafe players sit together awaiting their fate.

7) If the WEREWOLVES got the SEER on the first night, then normal Werewolf odds apply. This would be 100% effective if the SEER couldn’t’ be killed on the first night; averaging normal village success rates (~55%) with the perfect success rate at the right weights (90% of the time the SEER isn’t killed the first round) results in a success rate of 95.5% for villagers under this strategy, NOT allowing for awesome and unlikely Werewolf counterstrategy. Which goes as follows…

If a VILLAGE plays this way, the WEREWOLVES have only a few viable strategies to stop their inevitable discovery and lynching.

So here’s the counter-strategy that rarely works, but are the only viable options if a VILLAGE really has its game together:

A) It goes without saying that the Werewolves must always kill “investigated” players so that the pool of “uninvestigated” players remains as big as possible, for them to hide in.

B) After 2-3 nights, they should attempt to kill the seer in the hopes that the healer has died. This is really their only chance to get far enough in the game that enough uninvestigated villagers remain.

C) One of the WEREWOLVES can claim to be the SEER immediately upon waking up, either before the real SEER does, or right after, claiming “WAIT A MINUTE! But I’M the real SEER…” At this point, they have to out-perform each other to earn the village’s trust, and in a best-case scenario, the Werewolf has a 50% chance of winning the village’s trust. The villagers know one is the real SEER and the other is almost certainly a Werewolf. (Well, they could be a drunk, reckless villager – see the note on “irrational players” and game theory above. ^_^)

From my experience, however, this gambit almost always fails. Here’s why. 1) Most Werewolves REALLY don’t want to draw attention to themselves, so they VERY rarely claim falsely to be the Seer, even though it means they are doomed not to claim it. In that first day, they have a powerful instinct to try to “fly under the radar” and an aversion to being called out right away. So you very rarely see two battling Seers. However, if they do take the risk, villagers almost ALWAYS can tell the difference between a real seer and a lying werewolf. You have to trust my observations on this, or try it yourself. It is pretty easy to tell the difference in the first daytime between an honest seer and a lying Werewolf. The Werewolves almost always fail on this gambit.

Having played nearly 100 games with the Ultimate Optimal Villager strategy, I have only ONCE seen a Werewolf play this strategy and pull it off. (In games where the village isn't playing by this strategy, it's actually quite common for a Werewolf to successfully claim to be the Seer.) It will probably hurt me in future games to admit that this was a game in which I was the Werewolf and Jimmy Wales was the Seer and investigated me on the first night. So, um, forget that I said that. There is ONE advantage the Werewolves occasionally gain by this gambit, even if the villagers correctly identify the Werewolf as a liar. In an imperfect world, the villagers will decide at this point to abandon the strategy and lynch BOTH the so-called seers, knowing they will get at least one werewolf out, guaranteed. This is not technically a valid move in the optimal strategy, which says you just HAVE to play as if you believe the seer is the right seer. But it happens, and it mildly favors the villagers, so even in an irrational world, it still helps to have the seer come out round one.

D) Alternately, a Werewolf can claim privately to be the HEALER to the SEER, through whispering or eye contact or such. The advantage that could be gained here is that the SEER might forestall investigating the Werewolf because the SEER now trusts that person and concentrates on investigating others. I’ve never seen this work, but it theoretically could improve the Werewolves’ odds of surviving long enough to get the SEER and outplay the rest of the VILLAGERS.

(by the way, how awesome would it be to teach a beginning game theory class using WEREWOLF instead of that idiotically simplistic prisoner’s dilemma?)

So, the cool thing about FOO is that more than half of attendees from year to year are new, and hardly anyone in my Saturday night Werewolf circle had been persuaded of the Ultimate Optimal Villager Strategy the year before. So I had to try to persuade a whole new set of players of how amazingly effective it was. THIS WAS A HUGE CHALLENGE. Mostly because it’s totally conventional wisdom that the seer and healer should keep their identities secret as long as possible, so they don’t get eaten by werewolves.

So, one game, sometime after midnight, I got the Seer card in a small village, was nominated for lynching the first round, and so of course I outed myself and said “But don’t worry! This is fine! This is perfect!” At which point I tried to introduce the other players to the Ultimate Optimal Seer Strategy. It was NOT well received! OMG. They thought I was crazy, crazy wrong. It was SO counter-intuitive. (And hard to walk through all of the game theory and get people to listen and not seem crazy while actually playing a game, lol.) They went through all the arguments: It was too dangerous for a seer to come out in the first round, you couldn’t count on the healer to heal them, the werewolves could be too tricky and the village would fall for their lies, and so on. And naturally, the healer refused to heal me that night, the werewolves got me, and on it went. I was so mad that I scrawled across the whiteboard “THE HEALER NEEDS TO LEARN MATH!!!!!” in the middle of the “night”, and once the healer got picked off, he and I and another dead villager went out in the hall and had a raging argument. REALLY raging. Friendly, but wild. The argument was only settled 5 games later... five games in which we had agreed to test the strategy and saw the villagers win perfect games lasting about 10 minutes each (that’s really short!!!). In fact, after that point, when it was conceded by all that from a game theory perspective this was really ridiculously effective, we had to stop playing with that strategy. It was too boring to be that good of a village! (And really stressful to be a Werewolf in that environment) So we told the Seer to do something crazy, abandon that strategy, and on we went for another few hours…

I could write for hours more about the interesting Werewolf phenomena at this camp, but I’ll close with just one more story. With the help of co-conspirators Cal Henderson and Kati London, I decided to moderate a final game at 6 AM – what we called “The Meta Game”. I would put ZERO Werewolf cards in the deck, and NO Seer and NO Healer. But the PLAYERS would be told that there were 2 werewolves and a seer and a healer. They would each get a VILLAGER card and assume the special roles had been received by others in the group. I would go through the night as usual, “waking” people up, getting their input, and so on. I would just decide who to kill based on who was actively participating (I killed off the least active participant from the previous day each night.) So I faked the whole game that way. I killed Kati first so she could “welcome” each killed/lynched player and convince them to keep quiet while the rest of the game played out. Cal I kept alive a few rounds because he’s funny, but eventually I had to kill him so that the endgame could play out with truly “in the dark” players.

When there were only 5 players left, I decided to announce no deaths in the daytime, thus convincing them the healer was still alive and had saved himself or herself. They were quite flustered when no one would admit to being the healer! (They assumed the seer was long dead). They descended deeper and deeper into truly spectacular confusion, and we played to a final endgame of 3 people, which in normal Werewolf would mean that there was 1 werewolf in the circle and 2 villagers. They went nuts trying to persuade each other that they were really villagers and not werewolves. This was great, because they were all telling the truth! They were so infuriated with each other they were throwing food and such. Literally. Throwing food. At each other. It was awesome beyond awesome. They finally settled on one last person to lynch, at which point I perversely announced that the Werewolves had won. Meaning they would have lynched the wrong person. Their jaws dropped, they stared at each other, frantically trying to figure out, “Who was it? What just happened?” It was pretty priceless. At which point all was revealed. To much celebration. The next day, one of the final 3 players came up to me still excited and said he hadn’t been able to sleep for an hour and a half, he was so keyed up thinking about the final game. AWESOME.


* One of the first Werewolf hacks that the FOO/O'Reilly community has been really active in propagating is the fact that we call it "Werewolf" instead of "Mafia", which is the original variant's name but was re-proposed by this guy as Werewolf. I love this, because I spent about a year observing the difference in roleplaying strategies that emerge when people play "Mafia" versus "Werewolf" versus "Vampires" versus "Witchhunt" versus "Zombie Village." I find that Werewolf killing seems to be taken less personally -- players are less offended being eaten by Werewolves in the night than picked off by the mafia in the night. Because there is the potential for a little bit of actual bullying in a game like this and a lot of potential for hurt feelings (why did you kill me??!!!), I think it's important to stick with metaphors that de-personalize the process. Werewolf also seems to evoke the least amount of fictional role playing/posturing and the most game theory and real-person interaction. All of this probably sounds hard to believe -- why would the game metaphor change interaction so much, and is it really consistent across groups? I haven't done a scientific study, these are only ethnographic impressions, but I have a gut sense they are pretty valid. Chat me up about this sometime, I have lots more to say on the subject! At any rate, some of us would like to see wikipedia stop redirecting the Werewolf article to the Mafia article, but we haven't really made a good case for that yet to the wikipedia elite. Maybe at Foo '09 we will stage our wikipedia revolt!

UPDATE: First, in the comments of this post, some EXCELLENT ideas and strategies. Take a look! (And thank you to everyone for adding them.) I am particularly enamored of the "neighbor" strategy, which I have never encountered in Werewolf play. I will DEFINITELY be trying it at the next Werewolf night! Second, this is a really interesting analysis of this post from the angle of "What does it mean to 'solve' a game?" Maybe it's a little meta to link to it, but I'm just such a geek and who could resist a blog called "Geek Out New York"? Third, I just wanted to add that I love playing in different combinations of characters: Seer/No Healer, Reveal/No Specials, No Reveal/No Specials in REALLY small groups, like 5-7 (we call this "Speed Werewolf"), Medical Examiner (my own invention, play with me to find out how it works!) and so on... the great thing about Werewolf/Mafia/etc. is that there are endless variations, and EACH has its own optimal strategy. So the game theory and the geeking out never has to end!