“When critics coo over museums as aesthetic temples, I get nervous. These same folks prefer their galleries sparsely used and quiet. They are nostalgic for a type of museum experience that is frankly both endangered and dangerous to the long-term future of museums. They remind me of Catholics who miss the old days when everything was in Latin and ignore the fact that the antiquated rituals they long for also led to serious erosion of use and value of the churches themselves. This nostalgia threatens museums’ abilities to engage younger, more diverse audiences. I understand why connoisseurs of classical museum experiences can feel threatened—but that doesn’t mean they get to arbitrate what makes a quality museum experience in an age when museums have gotten serious about universal access, inclusion, and diverse learning styles.”
Dokobots looks to be a great little geogame, with clever mechanics that push pervasive location-based participatory entertainment into some exciting new territory. Here are some highlights from the January 4th, 2011 press release posted by design studio Dokogeo (creators of, among other neat things, 2009 Come Out and Play Technology Award winner Seek n’ Spell and the GeoSeek game engine):
Dokobots adds a digital layer to the real world in this global scavenger hunt. Using an augmented map interface, players search for the objects used in the game. A typical walk to lunch transforms into an adventure as players discover and collect rare and exciting items.
Dokobots travel with players as they go about their day and engage in fun activities. Players mark locations, take photos, and add notes to catalogue the travels and adventures of the ’bots. Dokobots appear in each photo, where players can fit them to the scene — perching them on a friend’s shoulder or posing them in front of a landmark.
Every Dokobot keeps a detailed record of its adventures in a travel journal. The journal automatically charts the ’bot’s route through the world, tracking map locations, host players and user-created photos and notes. Players can check out the photos taken by each of the previous hosts before adding their own, and a newsfeed keeps players up to date about the latest activities of their favorite Dokobots, highlighting new photos and other entries.
Sharing fun entries is easy as the app seamlessly integrates with social networks, email, and the web. “People have these robot pen-pals that keep them up-to-date as they travel,” adds Dokogeo co-founder Dan Walton, “and the game becomes a network of people sharing stories surrounding the Dokobots’ experiences.” (dokobots.com press release)
“Most ‘social games’—and I’m talking primarily about Facebook games here—pretend to be social. They take your list of friends who are also playing the game and turn it into another in-game resource. You do things that can help your friends, your friends do things that help you, but you don’t interact in any real or meaningful way. You exchange pre-written messages that say either ‘Here’s some stuff’ or ‘Can I have stuff?’ or ‘Here’s some stuff, can I have stuff?’, you can visit their playfield, sometimes you can get a few points for helping them out with a problem that they’re never notified about, and you can’t actually, you know, play together at all.”
Hi Jeff, glad to finally get around to this again (click here to read Jeff Hull’s previous interview with Jeff Watson). What’s been happening with Nonchalance over the past few months?
Basically hustling, trying to develop the business so we can continue to do radically creative work. A lot of elbow rubbing and hob-knobbery, presentations and pitches and such. There’s more exciting things, too, like doing a TEDx talk, and winning our first Indiecade Award! We’re quite proud of that.
For those who weren’t there, could you quickly describe what you did at IndieCade?
Without building the “Jejune Institute South”, we were trying to produce a street level installation to give visitors a sense of the real world nature of our game. There were a lot of art and artifacts from the game, with some gritty multi-media to back it up.
I thought of you recently as I was giving a talk on remix culture. We ended up discussing the Situationist concept of detournement, and it occurred to me that this is a good baseline description of the kind of work Nonchalance does. Is that what you’ve been doing all these years, detourning the Bay Area (and sundry other places)?
I never thought of it in that way, but the answer is yes, absolutely. I’ve always been a cut & paste, drag & drop kind of artist, and shamelessly so. I have no qualms about it because I know that what I’ve produced from these other sources is completely original.
One of the things I like the most about Situationist art is how it’s geared toward inspiring the viewer/participant to discover the untapped possibilities of the world around them — “to expose the appalling contrast between the potential constructions of life and the present poverty of life.” What are the potentials you’re exposing, and what kinds of poverty — intellectual, emotional, or even economic — do your projects work against?
“Potential constructions of life” is a great description for what we’ve attempted. We’re presenting this parallel universe in which we’re actively at war with banality and routine. It’s a guerrilla street war, too, not some hypothetical plane. The potential is for collective behavior that promotes warmth and trust, communicating something very meaningful through mass media, and generally allowing for variation, color and fun in the civic realm. The poverty exposed is that of spontaneity and creativity in every day life. We don’t always recognize how confined or restricted or repressed we are, and I’m speaking generally about “us” as a group or society, rather than us as individuals. Re-imagining and then reconstructing how we operate and function as a culture is our greatest aspiration. We can only do it in these microscopic slivers, though. The slivers exist in tandem with the rest of the world, often overshadowed by it, but they do exist, awaiting discovery by the curious dilettante.
Interestingly, the Situationists actually thought through the idea of pervasive or ambient urban/social detournement, which they (somewhat awkwardly) called “ultra-detournement.” In the same passage, they write, “the need for a secret language, for passwords, is inseparable from a tendency toward play.” Is this a need that you have? What needs do you see Nonchalance as being capable of fulfilling?
You always blow my mind with these questions, causing me to deeply reconsider everything I’m doing. The reference kind of evokes “The Crying of Lot 49″ in which secret symbols are leading toward an entire social strata hidden right under our noses. I love the concept because it suggests a kind of sleeping giant in our midst. I suppose Nonchalance is gesturing toward that giant, prodding at it’s awakening.
A wise man once said that “[an] emancipated community is a community of narrators and translators.” This kind of “emancipation” seems to be a core component of some of your recent projects, most notably Scoop!, which invited players to become reporters for an actual (temporary) FM radio station. Are even your more narrative-heavy projects like The Jejune Institute really just sly ways to get people to narrate and translate their own community?
Yes and no. We certainly enjoy superimposing our own narratives over other more dominant stories, especially on the local scale. It’s very liberating. And within that framework we’ve strongly encouraged user generated content, and experimented with “open source” media programming, such as Scoop and the 01 project.
On the other hand, that user generated content is highly facilitated and curated by us (because we consider ourselves the ultimate arbiters of style and taste in our productions). We give people a creative template to work within. There are a few folks who have run with it, though, and gone completely off the map. I’m calling out Garland Glessner, Carolee Wheeler, and Michael Wertz, founders of the Elsewhere Philatelic Society. It borrows themes from Nonchalance, but it is it’s own unique and beautiful world. That’s a great example of people narrating their own communities.
Is this sort of what you mean by “Situational Design”?
Not exactly. To be honest, what I mean is “Lifestyle Curation”. That is; allow us to creatively direct an afternoon of your life. To offer a real world glimpse of the “what if”, and invite you to experience the world around you in a slightly different, although heavily contrived, way. I’m reclaiming the word “pretension” by the way. It is a positive force in my universe.
Do you feel that social media and screen-mediated forms of community are anathema to the kinds of visceral experiences you’re trying to create? If so, how is this conflict complicated/mitigated as pervasive computing and mobile media blur the boundary between the real and the virtual?
Actually, through conversations at Indiecade we began to develop a vision for a game on a traditional platform that promotes user generated content and real world interaction. That’s a direction I’d like to see video games take, where passivity becomes antiquated. Technology both empowers us and disables us to various degrees. It can support or discourage real world experience. I suppose the Games of Nonchalance represents a certain nostalgia for more sensual forms of expression and interaction. But how did we produce these experiences? How do most people discover them? Through computers.
Thanks for doing this again. Let’s catch up soon — and see you at IndieCade!
Always a pleasure, Jeff! Until next time.
“Maybe I am taking conspiracy theories too seriously, but I am worried to detect, in those mad mixtures of knee-jerk disbelief, punctilious demands for proofs, and free use of powerful explanation from the social neverland, many of the weapons of social critique. Of course conspiracy theories are an absurd deformation of our own arguments, but, like weapons smuggled through a fuzzy border to the wrong party, these are our weapons nonetheless. In spite of all the deformations, it is easy to recognize, still burnt in the steel, our trade mark: MADE IN CRITICALLAND.”
“In early 1997, Sokal came to the University of Illinois, and quite graciously offered to share the stage with me so that we could have a debate about the relation of postmodern philosophy to politics. It was there that I first unveiled my counterargument, namely, that the world really is divvied up into “brute fact” and “social fact,” just as philosopher John Searle says it is, but the distinction between brute fact and social fact is itself a social fact, not a brute fact, which is why the history of science is so interesting.”
“Situated software isn’t a technological strategy so much as an attitude about closeness of fit between software and its group of users, and a refusal to embrace scale, generality or completeness as unqualified virtues. Seen in this light, the obsession with personalization of Web School software is an apology for the obvious truth — most web applications are impersonal by design, as they are built for a generic user. Allowing the user to customize the interface of a Web site might make it more useful, but it doesn’t make it any more personal than the ATM putting your name on the screen while it spits out your money.”
“An existing space may outlive its original purpose and the raison d’etre which determines its forms, functions, and structures; it may thus in a sense become vacant, and susceptible of being diverted, reappropriated and put to a use quite different from its initial one. A recent and well-known case of this was the reappropriation of the Halles Centrales, Paris’s former wholesale produce market, in 1969-71. For a brief period, the urban centre, designed to facilitate the distribution of food, was transformed into a gathering-place and a scene of permanent festival — in short, into a centre of play rather than of work — for the youth of Paris.”
“Change life! Change Society! These ideas lose completely their meaning without producing an appropriate space. A lesson to be learned from soviet constructivists from the 1920s and 30s, and of their failure, is that new social relations demand a new space, and vice-versa.”
“The question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from that of what kind of social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyles, technologies and aesthetic values we desire. The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.”