Death of a column, birth of a movement

Two years ago, I wrote my first column celebrating the best indie games: small, offbeat titles, programmed usually by a single auteur and given away for free. I figured I’d make it an annual affair. For 12 months, I’d scour the net for independent games that had a spark — some innovative bit of design or gameplay — and gather a list of the top 10.

But I’ve decided it’s impossible. (Wired)

Universal Connections

what is the difference between analogue and digital, physical and virtual? what connects and bridges these apparently different worlds?

this is the area we wanted to explore with our universal connections experiment and project. It is a question that each member of dialog05 addresses on a daily basis as an industrial designer creating consumer products. (dialog05.com)

Ground-Up City

Ground-up City. Play as a Design Tool maps the continuing history of an urban design strategy for play in the city. Liane Lefaivre has developed a theoretical model for tackling playgrounds as an urban strategy. She steps off from a historical overview of play and the ludic in art, architecture and urban design, focusing particularly on the post-war playgrounds realized in Amsterdam as joint ventures between Aldo van Eyck, Cornelis van Eesteren and Jakoba Mulder.

The architecture firm Döll – Atelier voor Bouwkunst explored the possibility of applying the model in two urban redevelopment areas in Rotterdam, Oude Westen in the inner city and Meeuwenplaat in Hoogvliet, an outlying postwar district, refining it into a practical design strategy.

A second layer in the book gives an inspirational and refreshing new look at play in a picture essay with a welter of reference images illustrating play as an urban phenomenon.

Ground-up City places the playground high on the agenda as an urban design challenge. It also shows how specifying a generic, academic model for a particular situation can lead to a practically applicable design resource. (010publishers.nl)

More info, review and links: WMMNA

Interesting Responses Abound

…from writers such as Clay Shirky, Jane McGonigal and Imogen Heap, courtesy Zefrank:

I sent the following question to a number of friends and acquaintances who work in a variety of different disciplines. As the answers come in, I will add them below. In addition I posted this on http://www.zefrank.com where there are some excellent responses from the community.

“When you make things with an audience in mind, do you have internal representations of that audience to help guide you in the process? Are you in dialogue with a cast of proto-audience members that somehow represent different facets of your perceived audience? Are there little homunculi that provide editorial voices different from your own? Do you interact with them verbally or do you bounce things off of some sort of an emotional surface? Did some sort of averaging form them or were they inspired by particular moments of feedback? Do they have a shape? How would you describe their points of view? What do they look like? Do they have names? Are there ones you trust more than others? Are there ones you avoid?” (zefrank.com/audience)

Hans Rosling: Things are changing

In a follow-up to his now-legendary TED2006 presentation, Hans Rosling demonstrates how developing countries are pulling themselves out of poverty. He shows us the next generation of his Trendalyzer software — which analyzes and displays data in amazingly accessible ways, allowing people to see patterns previously hidden behind mountains of stats. (Ten days later, he announced a deal with Google to acquire the software.) He also demos Dollar Street, a program that lets you peer in the windows of typical families worldwide living at different income levels. Be sure to watch straight through to the (literally) jaw-dropping finale.

Narrative, Play and Social Space

I’m interested in addressing the question of how an increasingly mobile, ubiquitous and interoperable communications infrastructure can enable new forms of computationally-mediated narrative, both in terms of traditional author-to-audience storytelling and emerging modes of collaborative networked expression and participation. Three broad classes of activity inform this inquiry: the development of cross-media artworks that go beyond the frame of the screen; procedural approaches to drama management; and the role of play in creating hybrid forms of audience and community.

Key questions I will address in this context include: Can highly-mediated approaches to play and narrative, many of which involve the deep and tangled integration of story-telling and story-consuming into the fabric of everyday life, produce emotional and social effects analogous to those produced by the novel or the narrative cinema? What kinds of theoretical frameworks can help us to understand how ruleset-driven cross-media narrative experiences fit into the history of performance and representational art? And finally, as the lines between audience and community, author and participant blur in the context of highly personalized, network-enabled game-like story-activities such as SF0 or World Without Oil, is it even possible to address issues of identity and epistemology without inventing new terms and poetics?

Crucial to this study will be an examination of the intersection between structured social play and computational drama-management systems (e.g. Facade, Oz). How can procedural approaches to story-making help to guide massively-scaled improvisations in social space? What are the limitations of such systems, and what are their core affordances? Can game-like, goal-directed improvisational encounters be mediated by computational agencies such that the end result is a focused and clearly-articulated narrative? Or is the insistence on notions of dramatic unity, parsimony and closure an unreasonable intervention of “legacy” critical modes on a fundamentally novel medium?

An inquiry into the nature of this intersection is essential as we enter an age of ubiquitous information technology wherein the respective agencies of authors, crowds and machines promise to collide in productive and unpredictable ways. Drawing on recent research in the field of computational drama management, I will explore the notion of a “procedurally-authored Alternate Reality Game system,” both as a means of deploying cross-media artworks such as my ongoing Black Sea Tapes project, and as a way to enable massively-scaled narrative play systems wherein player/participants co-create game-like narrative objectives alongside a computational agency. In developing this system, I hope to explore a range of possible futures for the role of computation in cross-media narrative and structured social play.

Key readings include the critical theory of Deleuze and Guattari; drama management research by Michael Mateas, Andrew Stern and Joseph Bates; the “relational aesthetics” of Nicolas Bourriaud; Situationist polemics and manifestos from the “New Games Movement” of the 1970s; notes on the persuasive and political aspects of game play by Ian Bogost and Gonzalo Frasca; Jane McGonigal’s extensive research on Alternate Reality Gaming; and visions of the future of community and ubiquitous computing by Clay Shirky and Rich Gold.

HBR Breakthrough Ideas for 2008: ARG

From the Harvard Business Review’s list of Breakthrough Ideas for 2008:

In the coming decade, many businesses will achieve their greatest breakthroughs by playing games—specifically, alternate reality games, or ARGs. Custom-designed ARGs will enable companies to build powerful collaboration networks, discover solutions to specific business problems, forecast opportunities, and innovate more reliably and quickly.

ARGs are immersive, massively multiplayer experiences that unfold in the course of people’s real lives for days, weeks, or months. ARG designers, known as “puppet masters,” distribute thousands of story pieces, puzzles, and missions via websites, e-mail, mobile messaging, online video, and podcasts. The players who receive these building blocks use wikis, social networking sites, chat rooms, and blogs to analyze clues, debate interpretations, devise mission strategies, predict game events, and ultimately build a common narrative. (Harvard Business Review)

Mariko Takahashi’s Fitness Video

This is a mesmerizing and frightening video. It’s a word-for-word parody of Susan Powter’s first workout video, featuring poodles and a crazy poodle-woman. Absolutely surreal. It was made by Nagi Noda for Panasonic. It was part of 10 films they made for the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Reprap: The self-replicating replicator


RepRap will make plastic, ceramic, or metal parts, and is itself made from plastic parts, so it will be able to make copies of itself. It is a three-axis robot that moves several material extruders. These extruders produce fine filaments of their working material with a paste-like consistency. If RepRap were making a plastic cone, it would use its plastic extruder to lay down a quickly-hardening filament of molten plastic, drawing a filled-in disc. It would then raise the plastic extrusion head and draw the next layer (a smaller filled disc) on top of the first, repeating the process until it completed the cone. To make an inverted cone it would also lay down a support material under the overhanging parts. The support would be removed when the cone was complete. Conductors can be intermixed with the plastic to form electronic circuits – in 3D even!

This process is called fused deposition modeling; machines that do this are called 3D printers, rapid prototypers, or fabbers. They are very useful. Unfortunately they are also very expensive – €20,000 or more – and existing models don’t self-replicate. The RepRap build cost will be less than €400 for the bought-in materials, all of which have been selected to be as widely available everywhere in the world as possible. Also, the RepRap software will work on all computer platforms for free. Complete open-source instructions and plans are published on this website for zero cost and available to everyone so, if you want to make one yourself, you can. (reprap.com)

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