Fun in Function (a working title)
We live in a networked world with increasingly blurry lines between our physical and virtual lives. Our computation-centric society is more orderly, more systematic, and more governed by algorithms than ever before. Technologists often rush forward, in the name of progress, without looking back to reflect upon the effects (or missed opportunities) in their wake. Focusing on the “how” instead of the “why” these new pioneers develop faster and better ways of systemizing, quantifying, streamlining, and tagging our world. As new algorithms get pumped out faster and faster, ubiquitous networked computing pervades everything from our built environment to our front pockets. What effect does this have on our lives?
Technology has fundamentally altered the separation of work and play.(1) The idea of work was once confined to the tangible real world, while play was allowed to exist in the intangible imaginary realm. For many of us who work in the world of the intangible, work is often no longer bound to the rules of reality, making it particularly ripe for hacking. What was once a serious and quantitatively true system can become a space for collaborative interaction, especially within the context of our rapidly advancing technology. Our algorithms already create questionably objective “truths” that shape our real world, from finances to culture to terrain.(2) Thus, a new system can emerge that is open to a wide range of “truths” created by humans that also shape the world we live in. But because the systems we’ve created work faster than us as individuals, we’ll have to work together to keep up with them.
Within the ordinary world, both physical and virtual, there are already “magic circles” (3) ripe for the picking everywhere. Being subject to arbitrary (and often absurd) rules and constraints, these areas are subject to new possibilities bound only by imagination. But what kind of possibilities are we aspiring to create? Within these new systems that make our lives more efficient, what will be the role of the human? As algorithmic thinking becomes an increasingly valuable skill, we must create space for capricious thinking to flourish as well. With the inconveniences and obstacles of life being “cured” away with technology, will there still be space for human intervention, improvisation, and interpretation? What type of work will we value?
While we seem to believe that play is the opposite of work, a good game actually invites players to do more hard work by tackling unnecessary obstacles in an interesting way. The creativity of play comes not from removing constraints but by reinterpreting and finding new possibility within the constraints.(4) Looking at our real world “magic circles” through the lens of potential opportunities for play, we can find new ways to reshape it, with goals other than just profit and efficiency. Since people’s behaviors are heavily influenced by their environment, with this power we also have to take responsibility for the type of values or behaviors we’re promoting.(5) It’s also important to keep the system open enough for individual agency, allowing new possibilities to emerge and raise new questions about what we currently accept as fact or normalcy.(6)
With these values in mind, I want to mash up our everyday spaces and technologies as a way to create alternative uses for them, challenging arbitrary systems of so-called technological and cultural progress. I want to hack together our existing real and virtual worlds as way to explore (and exploit) the absurd assumptions that both hold these worlds together and keep them apart. By encouraging the co-existence of creative free play in both our digital and physical lives, I am hoping to create new spaces of possibility for others to build upon and reshape.
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1 Margo Hilbrecht .Changing Perspectives on the Work–Leisure Relationship.
2 Kevin Slavin. Ted Talk: How algorithms shape our world
3 Johan Huizinga. Homo Ludens
4 Jane McGonigal. Reality is Broken
5 Jonathan Harris. World Building in a Crazy World.
6 McKinzie Wark. A Hacker Manifesto.
For longer writing, it seems to make sense to just embed the document as a whole. Below is the first draft of the literature review.
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Ah finally… it’s been 3 years in the making but Microsoft Productivity The Sequel has finally arrived… And with the same cast of characters! (Oh Ayla Kol, what are you up to this time?) Let’s play a game shall we? It’s called try and guess which of the two images is Microsoft’s 2009 vision of the future of productivity and which is the 2011 vision of the future of productivity.
I can’t really tell the difference either, but the left side is the “new” stuff. Apparently Ayla and Qin are still stuck in their sterilized parallell Microsoft Productivity universe. I feel bad for them. At the end of the first one it looked like Ayla and Qin might have had a budding romance. But I guess Qin is still too busy showing off his artist palette/cutting board/tablet’s ability to throw things onto a bigger screen. And Ayla’s daughter is still missing her jet set mother. Now I sort of want to make a spin off comic book fan fic series about Ayla and Qin’s lives in their parallell universe.
Actually to be fair their new and improved world does seem to have some new efficiency enhancing technology, but I guess some things never change (click to see full res):
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On Tuesday I headed back to Santa Monica to meet with Chris Bell who also works at thatgamecompany. But aside from that he is also working on an indie game called Way that’s getting a lot of press lately. He’s also part of the Friends in Play podcast I listened to a few weeks ago. This is just some of the stuff we chatted about…
A collaborative face drawing
We talked a little bit about how Journey was going but mostly about Way and his philosophies behind designing for friendship. When designing Way they asked “Can we use play as a way to break cultural barriers?” They knew they wanted a game that was constructive and involved building something collaboratively. Some of the initial influences were things like drum circles and other music games. They also looked at collaborative drawing games, like the face drawing game that produced the image above between the two of us. They were also inspired by games like Endless Forest, where silent deer in an expansive forest use only their body movements to communicate with others.
Then the question became “What if communication is the game?” Since they wanted the game to cross cultural barriers they didn’t want to have any text, speech, or cultural bias. Even the choice of player keyboard controls were considered (because, for instance, a Q on my keyboard is not the same key on another keyboard in a different country). They also tried to keep the character design gender neutral. Way shares some similarities with Journey but while Journey allows for multiple players it doesn’t require it, whereas Way is intentionally collaborative. They were also careful to not prescribe meaning in the motions and respecting the player’s intellect. He mentioned they tried to avoid canned animations, although there are a few basic ones for the basic emotional states. But for the most part they didn’t want to put meaning into gestures when the same gesture can mean many things around the world.
We also talked ab bit about the idea of Designing for Friendship. Chris mentioned that one of the important principles when thinking about designing for friendship is letting people be themselves. The designer’s job is creating the framework people to construct meaning through. He also specifically mentioned the importance of allowing a range of possible expressions. For instance, by having the option to hurt or negatively treat others actually gives more meaning to the positive behaviors. It’s important to give people space to work in because working with polarities is empowering to the player.
Play is also a good way to form attachment. Chris mentioned a study where children were given a toy without having it’s meaning prescribed. Instead the adult just asked the child to help explain what it was for. By being involved in forming its meaning the children were more engaged, more attached to the toy, and more likely to return to the toy repeatedly.
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At the beginning of the day yesterday I also gave out cards so people could moderate or promote their level of involvement with the bingo game. I also sent out this email about the cards:
On a corner of your desk you should find a playing card.
Turn it face up to indicate you’re open for helping or being helped.
Turn it face down to indicate you’re busy.
You can put it anywhere people can see it.
I left it pretty open so I’m happy to see the range of ways people chose to display their cards. A lot of people left them on the corner of their desk, mostly people who haven’t been in studio yet. Some have turned it over. And some have made an effort to display it more prominently. I like that Jeremy’s has both an orange flag and a blinking LED.
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I’ve been reading Jane McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken.I don’t totally agree with some of her ideas but I felt sort of inspired to actually make a real world game because I’ve been talking about doing things that bridge the virtual and physical, but haven’t really done much with the physical side of things. And for all the reading I’ve been doing about collaborative play, I hadn’t really made anything collaborative. I was reading about some of the alternate reality games she’s put together and I remember at some point I jotted down:
“Can I make thesis a game?”
And so I thought about different parts of the process. And the studio environment. And how a large part of the “work” is actually done through the interaction with people who sort of help you push your ideas in whatever direction they need to go in. And then I thought about how I actually still didn’t know most of the new kids’ names’ in the studio… and at some point this turned into bingo.
I’ve been spending the past few days working on making this large scale asynchronous studio bingo game.
I started by sending out a general email to the mdp-students list proposing my idea & preliminary rules for the game. At the first pass on Wednesday I got about 9 takers. Someone emailed to ask a few questions to clarify the game so I sent out a second with more details (and some revised rules) and got about 10 more takers on Thursday. On Friday I set out to ask people who hadn’t responded and got another 10 or so. Some I just didn’t run into or hear from but generally I felt like I had enough people on board to make it something that would be relatively interesting.
A lot of the past few days has been spent tweaking the design of the game and figuring out the actual logistics technically. A big part of it was thinking about what sort of behaviors and values were important. I’m really interested in a game that involves collaboration and sort of rewarding groups as opposed to just focusing on the individual. Plus there’s the theory that expressing gratitude regularly increases happiness. So could I then make the game about gratitude and helping others? And could I do this using something as boring as a shared google doc?
I like these quotes from Reality is Broken:
“Many of us do work that feels more surreal than real. Working in an office, you often find it difficult to see any tangible results from your efforts. What exactly have you accomplished at the of of any given day? Where there chain of cause and effect is opaque and responsibility diffuse, the experience of individual agency can be elusive.. is there a more “real” alternative?” (60)
For the most part, we live in a culture of individual achievement, or what Martin Seligman calls “the waxing of the self” and “the waning of the commons” He explains “the society we live in takes the pleasures and pains, the successes and failures of the individual with unprecedented seriousness” And when we see success or failure as an entirely individual affair, we don’t bother to invest time or resources in someone else’s achievements. (88)
After some fairly tedious production work of getting 44 boards together but some fairly satisfying work of creating badges the game started on Monday at 9am. (Although at 10am I had to go through and update all the boards cause I forgot one square.) I emailed everyone’s individual board in addition to this pdf.
Between my first email and the final rule book I changed the mechanic a little. At first you would mark a square if you helped someone, but after thinking about it more I changed it to marking a square if someone helped you. And then the awarded badge gets given to you and the people who were part of the competed pattern. So there was a little bit of confusion this morning I think, but people seemed to get it after I explained it again. At first it seems the motivation is to put more dots down on your board (get help from others) but as the game goes on you’ll notice it’s actually more beneficial to have your dot marked on more boards cause that earns you more badges in the end. Several people have badges that haven’t placed any dots, which is particularly interesting to me. I like that even if people aren’t really actively playing as much as others they still get rewarded for their help. The game goes until Friday @ 3 in order to give everyone a chance since schedules are all different, so we’ll see where it goes. But there’s already quite a bit of activity going on…
You can begin to see patterns emerging on the live board
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WordPress doesn’t seem to format my outline well. So…here’s the pdf version instead:
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A quick manifesto assignment from last week. I think I could spend some more time fleshing this out to connect the dots. Some of the feedback was that it wasn’t very clear how the different sections related. But I think it’s a good start, and helpful to sort of reduce things down to some points.
We believe technologies should create and facilitate spaces for humans to work and play in their own way.
- Technology must foster human relationships.
- Technology must allow humans to act human.
- Technology must be enjoyable to use.
- Technology must democratize human power.
- Technology must be adaptable.
- Spaces must allow for emergent behavior.
- Spaces must allow for arbitrary rules to be bent and broken.
- Spaces must be potential spaces of possibility.
- Spaces must nurture our humanity and individuality.
- Spaces must be editable.
- Play must promote our values.
- Play must cross cultural divides.
- Play must thrive in all environments.
- Play must be for everyone.
- Play must be free form.
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- Work must never be boring.
- Work must always be rewarding.
- Work must never just be a means to an end.
- Work must nurture our curiosity.
I’ve been playing around with the technical side of Streetview stuff this weekend, thanks to lots of help from Angelo. First is basically just taking “Streetview Zombie Apocalypse” game and re-skinning it to be”Streetview Super Happy Friendship Game.” I mainly just wanted to get in there to see how it all works. There’s a lot going on in there, and I certainly don’t really know what the hell I’m doing. But I was at least able to get in and change styles and sizes and insert my own artwork into the game, although I still have to figure out why the sprites are so small. I would also really like to be able to get some animated gif action up in there. But.. that’ll be coming soon.
I’ve also been looking into multiuser apps using Union Platform. It seems to be super powerful but I also don’t entirely understand what’s going on in the back end. The collaborative drawing app above is basically just two of their tutorials on one page (multi-user whiteboard + chat). The background image is also grabbed from streetview. I can change the things like zoom and postion etc within the streetview url in the code, but it would be nice to be able to create some interface for dynamically updating that. I would also really like to be able to stamp things (people, buildings, trees) onto the canvas collaboratively. I found a tutorial for creating an html 5 paint app with stamps, but I don’t even know where to begin to integrate those things together.
I also just started playing with Google Docs’ shared drawing. The image above is embedded from a shared drawing. Which should update as the image gets updated. Kind of ridiculous how easy it is to do this collaborative drag&drop drawing version using Google Docs… The only downside is no animation. but as a multiplayer 2D virtual world it does actually kind of work, oddly enough. It certainly wasn’t meant to be used that way but I guess it’s actually kind of nice because of that…
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I was listening to a few of these podcasts from friends on play. The ones that seemed the most relevant to me were Episode 3: What We Mean By Gamey and Episode 6: Collaboration In Games. Some notes from the 2 episodes:
What we mean by gamey:
- Gaminess is an immersion killer.
- Things that don’t have a direct corollary in the real world kill immersion.
- Points and achievements are an abstraction of progression.
- Extrinsic motivations are artificial and gamey.
- Breaking or changing the narrative rules kills it.
- Present the rules of the world and stay true to those.
Collaboration in Games:
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- Some like local collaboration in the same space combined with virtual collaboration around the world.
- Hard part is the symmetrical real time aspect.
- Rockband is a good example of roleplaying to enjoy the collaborative aspect.
- There’s a spectrum of collaboration from non-competitive to combative.
- Successful collaboration usually entails different roles but the same goals.
- Interesting systems allow for organic player collaboration & temporary alliances
- So called “social games” lack any meaningful collaboration since there’s no greater goal.
- Social games’ collaboration is usually driven by personal gain + developer values.
- But social games also have to deal with asynchronous play.
- Maybe they need some team based global struggle?
- Needs to be able to communicate & play together for a shared goal.
- Needs to enable emergent collaboration and emergent creation.
- As scale goes up the sense of collaboration often goes down.
- Are people collaborating or consuming?
- There’s more room for social collaboration.
- Before digital games almost all games were inherently multi-player.