“The check-in model dominates the current crop of location-based games from Foursquare to MyTown to Loopt and Whrrl. And understandably so. Checking in is very casual and maps very easily to what people already do. We go places and then we call people to let them know where we are and encourage them to join us. It’s like the location-based game equivalent of matching three. It’s a very casual mechanic which you can learn instantaneously. The advantage of simply checking in is that it integrates well with your life. It’s similar to the way many Facebook games only demand interaction once a day—they realize people probably only check into Facebook for a short period once a day, so you need to be able to quickly do your business and be gone. But I do think checking in is just the tip of the iceberg. If other games want to combine play with the world around us, they’ll have to develop additional mechanics.”
“Considering the work by Henry Jenkins (2006) and others on the increasing role of the consumer as collaborator or co-creator of media content, I have to conclude that a possible third institutional logic is emerging next to, and in a symbiotic relationship with, editorial and market logics: a convergent culture logic. Work done following this logic includes the (intended) consumer in the process of product design and innovation, up to and including the production and marketing process.”
“Describing the productive consumption within collaborative projects such as the Wikipedia and online news sites, Axel Bruns (2007 a, b) introduces the concept of the ‘produser’, a “hybrid user/producer” (2007a n.p.) involved in “the collaborative and continuous building and extending of existing content in the pursuit of further improvement” (2007b n.p.). Produsers contribute to the iterative improvement of goods and services, whether explicitly, in the form of online news sites (Slashdot, Digg) or knowledge projects (Wikipedia), or perhaps without their conscious knowledge, as happens when user purchase decisions contribute to Amazon’s recommendation services.”
“How audiences are imagined is crucial to the organization of media industries (Ang 1991; Hartley 1987), which rely on such mental models to shape their interface with their public.”
“Immaterial labor finds itself at the crossroads (or rather, it is the interface) of a new relationship between production and consumption. The activation of both productive cooperation and the social relationship with the consumer is materialized within and by the process of communication. The role of immaterial labor is to promote continual innovation in the forms and conditions of communication (and thus in work and consumption). It gives form to and materializes needs, the imaginary, consumer tastes, and so forth, and these products in turn become powerful producers of needs, images, and tastes. The particularity of the commodity produced through immaterial labor (its essential use value being given by its value as informational and cultural content) consists in the fact that it is not destroyed in the act of consumption, but rather it enlarges, transforms, and creates the “ideological” and cultural environment of the consumer. This commodity does not produce the physical capacity of labor power; instead, it transforms the person who uses it. Immaterial labor produces first and foremost a “social relationship” (a relationship of innovation, production, and consumption). Only if it succeeds in this production does its activity have an economic value. This activity makes immediately apparent something that material production had “hidden,” namely, that labor produces not only commodities, but first and foremost it produces the capital relation.”
Nina K. Simon‘s excellent paper, “Going Analog: Translating Virtual Learnings into Real Institutional Change,” describes how designers can approach integrating new user behaviors into existing ones — and why it’s often essential to do so. Simon argues that many designs fail to take hold because they ask users to adopt new practices or patterns of behavior that don’t in and of themselves add value to a particular experience. People are naturally reluctant to move outside of their accustomed flows, especially in well-defined spaces like museums, libraries, and schools. But what happens when a new technology comes along that promises great returns for users while simultaneously demanding some kind of additional input from them — in effect asking them to do step out of their flow and do something that they previously hadn’t done? Responding to this question, Simon provides the elegant example of the Bibliotheek Haarlem Oost, a branch library in the Netherlands that has developed a creative “in the flow” method for getting its patrons to tag the books in its collection:
Tagging has huge theoretical value to museums and libraries as a way to allow users to create folksonomies around institutionally-held collections, and there’s a clear mission connection for institutions whose goal is to engage visitors with collections and learning. While many museums are ably exploring the world of tagging on-line, no one has figured out how to make it work in the onsite visitor experience. Tagging could be very useful onsite if there were a way to access the tags and use them to discover artifacts of interest. Ideally, there would be a complete feedback loop where you would then be able to assign tags to objects as you view them in the galleries, thus creating more data for new visitors walking in the door.
What I’m describing maps to a complicated set of inputs and outputs. At the input (performing the tagging), visitors while onsite would need a way to mark individual exhibits with keywords. Then, on the output (using tags to access content of interest), visitors would need a way to scan the keywords at any exhibit, see linked related exhibits, and receive directional information to find the other exhibits. I can think of several ways to do this, and they all have long, painful lists of behavior changes associated with them.
The library at Haarlem Oost wanted to do this same thing – to allow patrons to tag the books they’d finished so they could be displayed on shelves and in the database for others to find books they might enjoy. But Hanrath didn’t come up with a clunky technology with lots of required behavior changes and instruction sets. They did something very, very clever. They installed more book drops.
The library created a book drop for a set of predefined tags (boring, didn’t read it, great, funny, exciting, good for kids, etc.). They also created shelves for the individual tags. When patrons return books, they place them on the shelves that appropriately categorize their books. Because the majority of books in the Dutch library system have RFID tags, the shelves were enabled with RFID readers that scan the books and add the tags to the books’ digital entries in the library database. The only behavior change required is for the patron to shelve his or her books in categories, and the benefit on the output side (the tags appearing in the library on-line catalogue) is immediate.
No patron would call the activity of putting their books in book drops ‘tagging,’ and that’s a good thing. There’s little concern here about barriers to use, educating the visitor on how to participate, or even significant infrastructure or support costs. The feedback loop is there, and it works because it’s a clever, simple distillation of the core idea of tagging. (Archimuse)
“Harrah’s uses “loyalty cards” to induce people to play longer and spend more money (Abumrad, 2008). The cards function like bank cards; users swipe them at the slot machines to play, and the cards register wins and losses. The loyalty cards are part of a pilot program to track individual user behavior. The casino maintains real-time data on the actions of every card-holder and uses the data to determine individuals’ financial “pain point” – i.e. how much money they are willing to spend before leaving the casino. The casino uses that pain point to stage strategic interventions during real-time play. When a player comes close to her limit, a staff member on the casino floor receives an alert from a dispatcher, greets the player, and offers her a free meal, a drink, or a bonus gift of money added to the loyalty card. By mitigating the bad experience of losing with a gift, Harrah’s extends people beyond their pain points and they stay and play longer.”
“Metaphor is for most people a device of the poetic imagination and the rhetorical flourish – a matter of extraordinary rather than ordinary language. Moreover, metaphor is typically viewed as characteristic of language alone, a matter of words rather than thought or action. For this reason, most people think they can get along perfectly well without metaphor. We have found, on the contrary, that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature. (Lakoff and Johnson 1980)”
Contrary to much of the recent discussion around transmedia storytelling and alternate reality games, not all the work being done in the realm of multi-modal world building is about “driving eyeballs toward content” or “creating opportunities for monetization.” Sascha Pohlflepp’s The Golden Institute is a great example of how artists can build elaborate and penetrating critiques through the creation of a system of interrelated media artifacts. It also flies in the face of Jeff Gomez’s definition of transmedia storytelling as being inherently geared toward mass audiences; if The Golden Institute isn’t transmedia storytelling, what is it?
From Sascha’s documentation of the project:
The Golden Institute for Energy in Colorado was the premier research and development facility for energy technologies in an alternate reality where Jimmy Carter had defeated Ronald Reagan in the US election of 1980. Equipped with virtually unlimited funding to make the United States the most energy-rich nation on the planet, its scientific and technical advancements were rapid and often groundbreaking.
Its scope ranged from planetary engineering to the enabling of individual participation and profit from the creation of electricity. Notable projects include the development of the state of Nevada into a weather experimentation zone and the new gold rush in the form of lightning-harvesters that followed, or major modifications made to the national infrastructure in an attempt to use freeways as a power plants. The institute’s vision continues to inform the American consciousness to this day. In relation to energy preservation and harnessing, but also in terms of man’s relationship to the forces of nature. (The Golden Institute)
It strikes me that a lot of the work going on right now in location-based experience design can trace its origins back to Situationism, sticker art, and — going way back — graffiti. There are also some obvious connections to amusement park and museum design. What are the big touchstones for you?
Wow. I’ve never had any one zero in so accurately on my influences before. For years, before we started Nonchalance, I was doing a guerrilla campaign called Oaklandish that was really attempting to fuse together the ideals of Situationism and Street Art. We’d use multi-media devices and historicaly driven content to produce happenings designed to gather large groups of people together in negative urban spaces, so they could begin to interact with each other and the space around them in new ways. It was literally “the construction of situations”, with a strong post-graffiti mindset. Haring and Basquiat are like Patron Saints to me for the very literate, site-specific graffiti art they did early on. And, yes, we absolutely had an amusement park mentality as we are created the Games of Nonchalance. When I grew up I worked as a child performer at a place called “Children’s Fairyland” in Oakland, and it was this magical hokey little fantasy world, where you could literally fall down a rabbit hole. They had magic keys where you could turn them in a lock box and suddenly hear a recording of a nursery rhyme, while looking at a diorama of the cow jumping over the moon, or whatever. There was a yellow brick road leading through the park to an Emerald City. We want to present those kinds of interactions everywhere across the civic realm, so that trap doors and side hatches exist all around you, all the time, fuzed into the urban landscape.
Over the past few years, a lot of different disciplines have been coming together around notions of embodied experience, public space, community, and play. Everyone from performance artists to game designers to educators and curators seem to be grasping at different versions of the same thing. But what *is* that thing? Do we even have a word for it?
Interestingly, most of our intern applicants have been architecture students. Somehow they’re all thinking about their work in a different way, too. There’s some kind of convergence. When I asked the question to our production manager Sara Thacher, she felt like it wasn’t necessarily useful to put a label on it, but we both agreed that the zeitgeist is happening. Sara is more interested in “why” so many different people are exploring this new “Third Space”. We agreed it is in part a reaction to the narrow confines of sanctioned activities in public space, which have been largely defined by commerce. We can legally: commute, shop, and drink a latte. Walk or run in a park between sun up and sun down. Otherwise you’re somehow suspect. People feel isolated by that. I think we’re all trying to loosen those reigns through their own individual contributions.
My name for it is Socio-Reengineering. That’s Jejune Institute terminology, and in our story it has dubious connotations, but we’re actually quite sincere about this aim. To infuse variability and play into the workaday world by re-engineering the way that people navigate and experience the space and the population around them. Sometimes it can happen in a seemingly spontaneous way, like a flash mob, and sometimes it is the result of meticulous design and effort.
One thing I really like about the Jejune Insitute is the fact that it’s a cross-platform interactive narrative that works a little bit like a gallery installation: it’s just *there*, online, on the air, and in physical space. This represents a very different approach to storytelling than that found in more “traditional” ARGs, which are typically structured around the gradual unveiling of story information leading up to a climax event of some sort. What made you pick this different path? What did you gain (and/or lose) by abandoning the unity of time?
You’re correct about the induction center as “gallery installation”. We wanted to create an immersive automated well-curated environment, and to have it exist semi-permanantly. We were outsiders to the ARG universe, and totally ignorant of it’s culture and customs. So when we finally appeared at the ARG Fest-o-Con in Portland, we learned that we had inadvertently solved one of the major stumbling blocks of earlier ARG’s; “replayability”. What we had produced could be experienced over and over again, and shared with friends, and so on. The big trade off was that it was local. People in other parts of the world are not able to experience it directly. But ideally we’ll be able to produce unique experiences in other cities in the future. Every city should have their own game!
The other thing that led in this direction was that after doing work in the streets for so long I became very curious about those semi-public and private spaces as well. What are the boundaries between them? A corporate office building has all those questions built into them. There’s this very sterile environment that is in someways meant to intimidate people. We used that to our advantage in the narrative, and at the same time subverted it by asking people to explore and reexamine that space. That was a clear incentive for us in creating the induction center.
You’ve been embedding story and play into the Bay Area for a while now. What kind of dividends has this paid in terms of building community and bringing like-minded individuals together?
For players; yes, there’s definitely been a coming together of like-minded people, especially with the recently released Act IV. It emphasizes group play, inter-dynamics, and trust so that when the group completes the experience they have truly been through a rite of passage together. We’ve been hearing from participants that they have really gelled with other players this way and formed deeper bonds. You can really see it in the EPWA protest video; all these weirdos just coming out of the woodwork to party in the streets. Ironically, because I’ve remained “behind the curtains” for so long, I don’t feel like I’ve benefitted socially from any of these activities! I’m really looking forward to coming out from backstage more and interacting directly with the players in the future.
Is civic engagement an artistic imperative?
I’d say not. Great art can be something completely personal and private.
I live in Los Angeles. Do the kinds of projects we’re talking about work best in denser cities like San Francisco or London? Or can we imagine locative stories anywhere, and on any scale?
I view these productions as being fully scaleable. It’s not so much an issue of geography and architecture as much as culture. A map isn’t unpredictable, but people can be! Once you know who the participant is then you can begin to imagine how they might interact in that particular environment. For example, I’d love to produce something for Las Vegas. There is also the “Accomplice” game in Hollywood, which operates a little more like dinner theater in the streets.
If you go back to the 1990s, a lot of people were predicting that the future of storytelling and play was going to be defined by screens, VR goggles, and, ultimately, brain implants. Thankfully, it looks like that’s not the way we’re heading — at least not right away. Where do you see all this locative stuff going in the next few years?
Mobile technology can potentially allow us to get away from the screen and back into the real world. I’m awaiting a few app features to be developed so we can take our immersive experiences to a new level, and which would allow other users to create their own real world adventures. I want my phone to let me know about the secret discovery awaiting me right around the corner. Then I want to share that discovery. I foresee every institution with real space developing their own interactive mobile applications; the Magic Mountain choose-your-own adventure iPhone game, the MOMA interactive mystery tour, or the narrative based campus orientation experience, as you had mentioned. I think at first there will be a ton of poorly designed ones, until people get over the novelty of it and recognize it as a true art form, like film.
What’s next for nonchalance?
On the practical side, we just put together a board of advisors to help us develop our business. On the creative side, we’re talking to a potential collaborator right now in the mental health field about producing a multi-sensory maze that serves therapeutic purposes. It would essentially be an inward-bound expedition through the gauntlet of emotions, with positive achievements built into it. Have you ever been on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride? It would be like that, but for your psyche. That’s one thing on the table, but we’re still looking at other opportunities.
Nonchalance‘s practice stands at the intersection of three core concepts: Narrative, Consciousness, and Space (both public and private). Founded in Oakland in 1999 by director Jeff Hull, the organization’s primary goal is to infuse more variability and play into the civic realm. Over the intervening years the team has comprised a fluctuating roster of collaborators that currently includes Sara Thacher, Sean Aaberg, and Uriah Findley. Past projects have included “Oaklandish,” “The Liberation Drive-In,” “Urban Capture the Flag,” and “The Bay Area Aerosol Heritage Society.” With over 100 free public events under its belt, Nonchalance has received thirteen consecutive “Best of the East Bay Awards,” and produced exhibits and installations for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Oakland Museum of CA, Southern Exposure and the Oakland International Airport. They are currently wrapping production on the “Games of Nonchalance,” an “Immersive Media Narrative” leading participants on a journey of urban exploration throughout San Francisco’s hidden present and past.