DiGRA 2013 Talks

digra2013conf

I’m presenting a paper and a workshop at this year’s Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) Conference in Atlanta. The paper, “A Reality Game to Cross Disciplines: Fostering Networks and Collaboration,” co-written with Benjamin Stokes, Tracy Fullerton, and Simon Wiscombe, “introduces a new possibility: that games can directly shape real-world networks, even as they educate.” We illustrate this possibility via a case study and network analysis of our pervasive game, Reality. You can download a copy of the paper from the proceedings here.

The workshop, “(Re)conquering Space: a Reality Game Workshop” (Aug 28 @10:15am), co-presented with Simon Wiscombe, is a remix of my “Stirring $#!!* Up With Games” talk. This is a hands-on workshop where we’ll be coming up with prototypes for games that address lived environments and spaces such as the DiGRA conference itself.

Readers who are interested in a more complete breakdown of the design approach discussed in the workshop may want to check out my dissertation, “Reality Ends Here: Environmental Game Design and Participatory Spectacle” (.pdf), or the project page for Reality.

Here’s an extended description of the workshop:

This workshop is intended for those who wish to explore how games can be designed to directly impact the social and cultural fabrics of lived environments such as public institutions, workplaces, and neighborhoods. In specific, this workshop is about how artists, entertainers, educators, policy-makers, and activists can design games to embolden and empower communities to actively engage in the creative construction of their own realities.

The kinds of games explored in this workshop vary wildly in terms of the ways in which they employ technology. Many draw more on the praxis of party games, Happenings, and Situationism than they do on traditional computational games. What all the games mentioned and imagined in this workshop have in common is that they are woven into or layered upon the lived environments of their players, and have an immediate impact on the ways that these environments are used. These kinds of games go beyond merely calling for change by actually bringing it about through playful interventions that both embody and enable transformation, discovery, and social engagement.

Attendees of this workshop will emerge with an understanding of the key principles of reality game design, including:
1. Design Around the Local
2. Action, Not Simulation
3. Optimize for Agency
4. The Social is the Medium
5. Iteration and Permeability

This is a hands-on workshop. It does not require any special technical abilities, but it does demand a willingness to play and experiment. Working in groups, attendees will use a flexible methodology to create prototypes for reality games. Using the play experiences that take place in the workshop as a touchstone, broader questions regarding the relationship between reality games and social/cultural impact will be addressed and discussed.

More info: DiGRA 2013

The secret #scareality experience at #diydays

Thanks to Lance Weiler and the rest of the DIY Days crew for helping us run a “bite-sized” version of Reality Ends Here/SCA Reality at this year’s conference.

The game as we ran it was very lightweight. We kicked things off by announcing in the conference program that a secret experience was afoot. We then left little black cards bearing the game logo in various locations around the venue. Everyone who knew about the game — initially just me, my co-designer Simon Wiscombe, and a handful of others — wore small pins bearing the game logo. Gradually, attendees noticed the logos and asked us what was going on. Doing so earned them special packets of game cards — and pins of their own. During the rare intervals in what was an extremely busy and inspiring event, we spotted attendees experimenting with different card arrangements and brainstorming project ideas.

The winning entry from the experience will be used as a special challenge for players of the real game at USC. We will post their work as soon as it is available and share it on the #diydays hashtag.

Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to all those who played!

What I’m seeing at SXSWi

I’ll be at SXSWi from Friday, March 12th until Monday, March 15th (view my conference profile here). Here’s what I’m thinking of checking out while I’m there:

Friday, March 12th

Friday seems a little light, but there are still a few interesting panels:

  • 2:30pm, Day Stage DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Learning I just like the title of this one. Moderated by Anya Kamenetz of Fast Company.
  • 3:30pm, 10AB Jacks of All Trades or Masters of One? “The web originated with generalists – webmasters designing, building, and developing. Today, a web team can have a dozen different specialist roles, each highly-focused. With that in mind, what are the strengths of specialists and generalists, and when are each put to their best use on a project or in an organization?”
  • either 5:00pm, Ballroom B Time+Social+Location. What’s Next in Mobile Experiences? Featuring Naveen Selvadurai of foursquare. “As more devices become location aware, social uses will continue to evolve beyond just who and what, to WHEN. Adding the temporal dimension creates new opportunities for social interaction. Learn about ways to leverage and use technology to add features at the intersection of temporal, social, and location.”
  • or 5:00pm 6AB With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: The Future of Video Games “Video games are more popular than ever, and new games are delivering all kinds of social benefits, from video-game therapy for treating PTSD, to sims for train surgeons, to alternate-reality games that actually bring people together in real life. Will video games be a positive force for people and society in the future (as they arguably are today)? This panel is co-sponsored by Discover Magazine and the National Science Foundation.”

Saturday, March 13th

This is where things really heat up…lots of great stuff about locative media, physical computing, ARGs, and more.

  • 9:30am, Hilton G ActivityStrea.ms: Is It Getting Streamy In Here? Chris Messina presents. “From Facebook’s newsfeed to Twitter’s relentless real-time updates, the metaphor of the “stream” has taken social networking beyond blog posts and on to rich social activities. Learn about ActivityStrea.ms – the open format adopted by Facebook, MySpace, and Windows Live – and how it’s fundamentally changing the social web.”
  • 11:00am, 6AB ARGs and Women: Moving Beyond the Hot Brunette Presented by Andrea Phillips. “ARGs are often trotted out as a shining example of woman-friendly games. They boast unusually high rates of female developers and players, and a slew of kick-ass female leads. But if you dig a little deeper, are they just the post-Buffy version of Princess Peach, always needing to be saved?”
  • either 12:30pm, 12AB Design Fiction: Props, Prototypes, Predicaments Communicating New Ideas Presenters include Julian Bleecker, Jennifer Leonard, and Stuart Candy. “Design fiction is an approach to design that speculates about new ideas through prototyping and storytelling. The goal is to move away from the routine of lifeless scenarios-based thinking. We will share design fiction projects and discuss related techniques for design thinking, communication and exploration of near future concepts.”
  • or 12:30pm, 6AB Playing with Place: Location-Based Games and Services “Location based games and services are finally ready to go mainstream. This panel of professionals explores how to creatively craft the experiences and business models for different types of places like backyards, cities, towns, suburbs, exurbs, hiking trails, parks, and deserts.”
  • 2:00pm, Exhibit Hall 1 Opening Remarks: Privacy and Publicity I’m definitely looking forward to seeing danah boyd talk.
  • 3:30pm, Hilton F Moon 2.0: The Outer Limits of Lunar Exploration Can’t pass up a moon-oriented panel. “Space sector representatives will discuss how the use of web and mobile technologies create opportunities for participation in future exploration of the Moon. The panel focuses on how X PRIZE, NASA, commercial space companies, and others generate greater interaction and interest in Moon missions using collaborative platforms and social media.”
  • 5:00pm, Hilton D Does My Sh*t-Talking Really Help Your Brand? Panelists include Ivan Askwith and Amber Case. “We’ve heard that ”all press is good press.” But during SXSW 2009, several panels provoked heated audience debates over a new variation: is social marketing successful if people talk about it? Controversial campaigns such as Whopper Sacrifice warrant a discussion about what really makes social media successful… and what doesn’t.”
  • 6:00pm, Brush Square Park – E Dorkbot Great way to end the day. “Think of it as a science fair with free beer. Ample doses of electricity, tomfoolery, mayhem, makers and music combine to form one exquisite geek talent show. Sponsored by SXSW Interactive, the International Game Developer’s Association of Austin, Mr. Data, Ricochet Labs and the Digital Media Council. “

Sunday, March 14th

Another good day, slightly more tech-oriented.

  • 9:30am, Ballroom E Web of Things – Connecting People and Objects on the Web “WoT is a vision of a Web with more devices than people on it. We extend the Web to the real world by enabling devices to become physical Web resources that follow the founding principles of the Web architecture (REST). We will demo a physical mashup with real objects the attendance can interact with using a simple RESTful API.”
  • 11:00am, Hilton H Here Are Lions: The Cartography of the Future “A new breed of maps is revealing breakthroughs in our understanding of biology, neuroscience, ecology and the physical world. We can now map not just physical geographies, but also genomes, neural pathways, emotions, social networks and ideas. These new maps reveal how society will change over the next twenty years.”
  • 11:00am, Ballroom D Monkeys with Internet Access: Sharing, Human Nature, and Digital Data Clay Shirky’s talk.
  • 12:30pm, 5ABC The 10-Minute Transmedia Experience Presented by Maureen McHugh and Steve Peters of No Mimes Media. “Transmedia experiences ‘- stories played out across multiple platforms: on the web, through mobile and even in the audience’s environment ‘- are going more and more mainstream. Audiences are beginning to expect collaboration in the creation of the experience. What are the techniques to constructing an immersive, compelling 10-minute experience? Transmedia and Alternate Reality Game veterans Steve Peters and Maureen McHugh of No Mimes Media lead this core conversation, where participants will experience the astonishingly immersive nature of transmedia, and discuss the conceptual issues and architecture of the experience. Fans and professionals from any industry are welcome.”
  • 3:30pm, Ballroom C Revenge Of Kick-Ass Mash-Ups with Punk Rock APIs More punk DIY stuff. “Last time we wrote an API layer for a dozen different sites and services, using nothing but free online tools and client-side JavaScript. This time we’ll crack into client-side OAuth. This time actual working code WILL BE WRITTEN BY YOU. This time … it’s personal.”
  • 7:00pm, Austin Grand Ballroom 13th Annual SXSW Web Awards Ceremony “The Web Awards Ceremony is the centerpiece of evening activities at the SXSW Interactive Festival and an event not to be missed. Hosted by Doug Benson with special surprises in store for the big ‘lucky 13’!”

Monday, March 15th

Some really great panels today — unfortunately I have to leave late in the afternoon…

  • 9:30am, Hilton K Interactive Documentaries: A Multidimensional Narrative Panel features my friends from Take Action Games. “Documentaries are just not about ‘documenting’ an event – they interpret and synthesize many sources of information to explain a situation or express a specific point of view. So where does the user interact with this specific project? How can the users input influence the content and the creators? Meet interactive documentary producers to hear how they approach their medium. Learn what’s new when designing a weaving narrative and how do you make it engaging.”
  • 1:10pm, 12AB Hyperlocal Focus: Growing A Vibrant Community Media Ecosystem “Filmmakers, videobloggers, podcasters, pirate & low-power radio jocks and public access TV producers are all creating content in your local community, but they often don’t collaborate or even talk to each other, despite using the same tools and sometimes even seeking the same audiences. A 15 year-old videoblogger and a 50 year-old technical director at a local network TV affiliate may have a lot to learn from each other, but in what context would they ever meet? How can you engage local content creators and build a vibrant media community? This session is about how to create (and utilize) healthy, sustainable user-generated media scenes in local communities, using community media centers, creative salons, non-profit media arts foundations, citizen journalism organizations and grass roots organizing principals.”
  • 5:20pm, 12AB Transmedia Storytelling – Creating Stories That Work Over all Platforms Presented by James Milward of Secret Location fame. “Why and how are narrative worlds, be it traditional Film, Television, or New Media stories expanding across different media outlets and platforms? What are the emerging features of ‘Transmedia’ behavior, consumption and production? What do these new forms of storytelling, product and service design and branding tell us about future convergence of culture and technology?”

…and if I could stay until Tuesday, I definitely wouldn’t miss:

  • 9:30am, 6AB Playing with 140 Characters: Designing Games for Twitter “Twitter: a strange new platform for games. In this panel, the design collective Local No. 12 discusses how they have learned to work within the tight constraints of Twitter, while exploring new forms of gameplay and social interaction. This session will cover the state of games on Twitter, what has and hasn’t worked, and best practices for creating games for this platform.”
  • 11:00am, 6AB Pervasive Games and Playful Experiences: Rendering the Real World “The most photorealistic, networked environment you can play in is real life. Mobile internet, pervasive gaming and sensor-enriched public spaces enable new possibilities in game-play, distributed story-telling and immersive events. Building on previous SXSW events, leading practitioners will explore the ethics, design challenges and business potential of this new form. This session is supported by UK Trade & Investment and Arts Council, England.”

What have I left out? Let me know via twitter or in the comments. See you in Austin!

Learning by ARG: an interview with Mela Kocher Lennstroem

Mela Kocher Lennstroem is a Swiss games researcher currently living in San Diego, where she conducts post-doctoral research on “the blurring of reality and fiction in digital media, especially in ARGs.” I caught up with Mela via Twitter and email after she co-presented (with Ken Eklund, Stephen Petrina, and PJ Rusnak) a “mini ARG” at the 2010 Digital Media and Learning Conference in La Jolla, California — an event I wish I’d attended, especially after talking to Mela about what happened during her session.

First off, I noticed your dissertation, “Follow the Pixel Rabbit,” on your website. Even though I can’t read German, I found it interesting to flip through the pages. Speaking generally, what’s your dissertation about — and what does the Alice reference in the title mean?

I wrote my dissertation on storytelling in video games around 2002/2003. At that time game studies was still a pretty new thing at universities in Switzerland (and games not really accepted as a serious academic subject). With the reference to Alice in Wonderland I wanted to make the statement that digital games offer a magic, bizarre and wonderful world for the one who dares to enter. My dissertation is about different ways of storytelling and player engagement of video games, hyperfiction and interactive movies – latter being a genre that failed remarkably in its beginnings – just watch/play I’m Your Man!

Obviously you are engaged with a lot of different fields of inquiry, from game design to narratology to aesthetics. How did you end up deciding to study/make this kind of stuff? What path did you take to becoming a theorist-practitioner?

Besides frenetically playing Games & Watch as a child, I lead a pretty video game-free life until my roommate in college got me into Myst and Riven. I studied German literature at that point and was curious to test the traditional literary theory frameset on games – and luckily my professor was encouraging that. Writing a dissertation on the topic was a pretty natural step (since it was fun, challenging and exciting), and during that time I played lots of games and taught many game workshops for teachers and librarians. In the past years I’ve been getting more and more intrigued by ARGs and their vast potential for storytelling and blurring the lines between fiction and reality – so I was more than happy to have gotten a research grant to study, play and now even make ARGs in the USA for two years.

You recently appeared on a panel at the Digital Media and Learning conference entitled, “Storytellers, Storymakers and Learning by ARG.” As a part of the panel, you and your co-panelist, game designer Ken Eklund (World Without Oil), designed and ran a mini-ARG. What was the purpose of this game, and how did it work?

The conference theme was “Diversifying Participation”, and our team wanted to discuss ARGs & participatory learning. Since it would probably take an hour to explain what ARGs are (and people still wouldn’t get it!), it seemed more effective (and way more fun!) to have the audience engage in one first hand. The game plot went like this: One of the speakers (which ended up being me) got lost on campus and was not be able to show up for the session in time. While Ken explained this to the waiting conference attendees, he had a “stress-induced narcoleptic attack of 20 minutes” so the audience was completely left to themselves (while our other two team members, PJ Rusnak and Stephen Petrina, stayed incognito in the room for possible trouble shooting).

I wish I had been there. How many people ended up participating?

You should have! There were around 40 people in a quite tiny room so it was packed. It was amazing which strategies the participants came up with – they started a Facebook search, tried to sneak Ken’s phone from his sleeping hand, they tweeted me, tried to call and text me and physically went out on campus to search for me – unfortunately for them, in my fictional world my phone was malfunctioning and I could only send them pictures from my location via tweet to ping.fm. That constraint gave way to lots of creativity, though (as our PM team had hoped for), and the participants truly engaged in their storymaking efforts.

What kind of feedback did you get? How was the notion of “learning by ARG” understood by the assembled educators?

There was definitely excitement in the room during the game (I watched the video later on). Most of them immediately understood that it was a game, and got into play mode. My favorite reaction was the (failed) gamejack attempt of one man who offered to hold his own speech while they were waiting for the scheduled speaker. Another person doubted that I was truly lost but suggested that I might just need a bit of comforting to take up my role as speaker. Lovely!

Even from this short ARG performance, people saw the great potential ARGs bear for learning – via features like creativity, collaboration, common goals, instant player feedback, immersion, role play, problem-solving… Most attendants thought of the ARG as an inspiring experience during an academic conference stuffed with formal one-to-many presentations.

On a more meta level, how do participatory game constructs like storymaking ARGs complicate or extend your thinking on narrative in digital games? Are the categories of “story” and “game” collapsing into one another, or do the traditional boundaries still hold?

ARGs have a potential for storytelling and storymaking that video games do not have, because of the possibility for real time interaction with the puppet masters and the actual chance for the player (or the more believable illusion!) to influence the course of the game. Narrative adventure video games are in comparison to that so limited and often incoherent due to their closed programming. Of course, more open structured video games like GTA offer completely different ways of experiencing and creating a story as well which also extends beyond the realm of the screen, but ARGs just take this idea much further. But new options bear new problems, and ARGs rely on the puppet masters’ coherent and instant feedback and their fair choices – and on the collaboration of the fellow players.

To your second question: I’d rather keep the concepts of “story” and “game” apart for analytical reasons, even though they tend to overlap [in the case of] ARGs: [that is,] I can play by being part of the story or by trying to crack a code. I would say that ARGs make story playable, but they are more story than game – but then this also depends on what the player is looking for. I myself love to ‘stalk’ a character and get into the game through character interaction while others love to solve puzzles etc. – the more traditional game-aspects of an ARG.

What’s next for ARGs — and for your research in general?

I’m curious to see if ARGs will develop towards shorter, replayable and even payable game formats for wider audiences (and therefore blend with features of video games).

I myself got very intrigued by having experienced a challenging setting like the academic conference as a playground, and I hope to investigate further in that direction. I’m not a fan of serious games per se, but I do believe that “play” in general provides at its core some of the most valuable experiences for living and learning.

Thanks, Mela!

Eighth International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

I will be presenting my paper, “Alternate Reality Scholarship,” at the Eighth International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities.

The conference runs from June 29th to July 2, 2010. Watch this space or consult the the program schedule for more details as they become available.

Abstract: “Alternate Reality Scholarship: The Shadow Academy and the Future of Academic Publishing”

Scholarly publication models based on scarcity of resources and opaque peer review processes no longer make sense in the context of a massively-networked information society. Digital publication and syndication costs next to nothing, and while the importance of curatorial gatekeeper authorities is arguably greater now than ever before, the notion of intentionally restricting discourse and debate to closed cliques of reviewers seems ridiculous and counter-productive in light of the existence of vast self-assembling online communities of engaged and informed reader-contributors. Unfortunately, however, publication models that embrace and leverage social media technologies and open information ecosystems have yet to find wide acceptance within the mainstream of the academy, particularly in the humanities. Concerns about intellectual property, the quality and substance of discourse, and the refereeing of debate have brought about a “wait-and-see” attitude that threatens to preserve an inefficient and stultifying status quo. Meanwhile, outside of the traditional centers of scholarly publication, lively new forms of discussion, debate and intellectual production have blossomed on blogs, discussion threads, wikis, social networking platforms and other so-called Web 2.0 manifestations. Further, as has been amply demonstrated by canonical communal efforts such as Wikipedia and Linux, early fears about quality and accuracy have fallen by the wayside, with online crowds demonstrating a much stronger affinity towards productive order than meaningless chaos. This explosion in knowledge production outside the traditional submission/review/publication stream constitutes a kind of “Shadow Academy” whose ability to generate, iterate and disseminate ideas greatly outpaces that of the scholarly press. Drawing on examples from a variety of multimodal online knowledge communities, including social media technology development, Cornell University’s arXiv project, and alternate reality gaming subcultures such as the Cloudmakers, this paper will discuss how and why the Shadow Academy has already become the dominant force in scholarly publication, and will open a discussion about how scholars and institutions can shape the future of this crucial knowledge-making endeavor.

Abstract also available here.

Translating Media

epic

TRANSLATING MEDIA is a Graduate Student Conference co-hosted by the Department of Critical Studies and the Media Arts and Practice PhD (iMAP) Program at the School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California. The event is co-sponsored by the USC Graduate and Professional Students Senate (GPSS) and the Association of English Graduate Students (AEGS). I did a little organizational work for this conference, and I recommend it to anyone who happens to be in the Los Angeles area on April 3 and 4, 2009. Of particular interest is the Friday night keynote address by Julia Meltzer and David Thorne, whose video, photographic and installation work tackles heavy stuff like faith, geopolitics and the way that the future gets imagined.

Photo: Epic, 2008. Video installation by Julia Meltzer and David Thorne with Rami Farah

Postopolis LA

postopolis

Dan Hill at City of Sound recently announced the next iteration of Postopolis, which will run this Spring in Los Angeles. Viz:

I’m hugely pleased to be able to announce another Postopolis, this time in Los Angeles, running from Tuesday, March 31, to Saturday, April 4, 2009. Two years after the first, at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in NYC and co-ordinated by BLDGBLOG, Subtopia, Inhabitat and City of Soundhere’s a snapshot of that – we now have a different line-up of organisers/curators, covering a little bit more of the globe and an equally diverse set of interests:

We’ll be taking the same broad brushstrokes approach to architecture and urbanism as last time and selecting a diverse set of SoCal-flavoured attractions for you. More details to follow, including the line-up of speakers and the precise details of the location. Polynodal LA makes picking the location a different challenge to NYC, but we’re nearly there. Either way, it’ll be free to the public, as easy to get to as LA makes it, and running from 1700 to 2300 each day.

And I hereby publicly promise to attempt to capture the proceedings as I did last time (though those who were there in New York will have noted I ran out of steam on the last day or so – eternal apologies to those with unfinished write-ups). Can’t wait – the last time I visited LA it prompted more than a few thoughts. And if it’s good enough for Reyner Banham, it’s good enough for me.

Postopolis! LA is sponsored by the Storefront for Art and Architecture and ForYourArt, to whom we are very grateful, and it will be part of Los Angeles Art Weekend. Postopolis LA logo by Joe Alterio. (city of sound)