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Play and games

I’m in Wellington, New Zealand at WebStock.

It’s the first session – Jane McGonigal is talking about games, and I start thinking about the less-goal directed, more ambiguous world of play – my twin obsession with place.

I look up Brian Sutton-Smith, who wrote The Ambiguity of Play – probably my favourite book on the subject (which I think I was introduced to by Simon or Pat, or both…) and guess what…

He’s from Wellington.

—-

Update: even crazier – he now lives in Sarasota, Florida – where I went last October…

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The Dare to be Digital event that I raved about back in August is going to be showcased at the London Games Festival, with the games available for free download if you take your laptop along to the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane.

My favourites – ClimbActic (Teaser Trailer above) and H20 will be on show, and you can also download them from the Dare to be Digital website, if you register.

I asked one of my favourite questions on Facebook: Toys or Stories?

I got some lovely answers, which I’ve rendered anonymous to share/store here.

So far, toys are ahead, by a narrow squeak at 14 ludological fundamentalists, to story-fans’ 12. Three respondents opting for the indivisible wave-particle duality of the Toy/Story.

“Toys beget stories. It’s only the other way around when capitalism comes out to play.”

“Toys that are not attached to a story (i.e. unbranded generic toys). Not Transformer toys (or Toy Story toys, for that matter)”

“The two can never be torn apart.”

“Toys. Will Wright’s TED demonstration of Spore as a ‘montessori toy to help kids think long-term’ blew… my… mind. ‘Tis the next gen’s literacy, and potency. But I do like to submit to a good story at times. Kind of geronto-therapy, these days.”

“stories. through stories comes the invention of toys”

“Toys so long as it is old Lego not new – my own stories are better.”

“Toys! Stories come with them for free!”

“Stories! Let your imagination run wild…”

“Stories. Stories stay with you, toys end up in landfill.”

“Stories, a toy is just a story in Vinyl form :)”

“Toys…cause you can make up your own stories with them ;)”

“it all depends on which kind of toys…”

“If it were J, toys and if it were N, stories. Depending on the time of day.”

“stories!”

“Toys. Most stories are just made up anyway.”

“Why has no-one said both, surely not an either/or question – not for my two boys anyway…”

“Toys. Because you can use them to create your own stories.”

“Narrative first always. Expanding narrative through imaginative play second.”

“Stories! The merchandising deals come after the original IP!”

“Toys!”

“toys then as i like plastic things”

“You can have stories without toys but not toys without stories. Maybe that’s where Pixar started from, there are always stories that go with the toys. Epic, life-defining stories. Now I feel the need to go get more toys.”

“Stories; as they force you to use your imagination more, and that’s richer than any manufactured experience. However, a crappy DVD could be a story and a stick and ball could be a toy, and the stick would involve you using your imagination more.”

“Life is stories. Toys are the friendly characters and landmarks. (My two-year-old says Jemima Puddleduck is scary… but he then admits he’s joking. Jokes — the shortest stories around.)”

“stories are always best – and most in demand – as they require interaction and contact. that said toys enable self produced narrative in the years before writing. mind you toys are cool and provide problem solving & physical fun (blocks/puzzles/autobots)”

“Stories, because they don’t precipitate the opening of out of town warehouses branded ‘Stories R Us'”

“Oral stories because even the worst ones can be mass-produced without causing waste. :)”

“Stories. They feed the imagination and can help you turn anything into a toy.”

“Object is story. Toy is object. Toy is story.”

“story-telling toys (like the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, not Teddy Ruxpin)”

“toys: the reassuring teleology of narrative appeals only to the weak of spirit (in a nice way)”

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Sometimes you have to grudgingly admire the nous of advertisers/marketers.

Reaching out to non-gamers by making a piece of gaming hardware seem appealling by

  1. avoiding all the games industry marketing cliches
  2. making it look (superficially) like a generic advert for pharmaceuticals / insurance / beauty products.
  3. advertising a boredom-destroying device on the tube where people are bored, by giving them something quite dense to read about said boredom-destroying device.

I have yet to see a rash of Nicole Kidman-a-likes on the Central Line however…

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Just came back from the Edinburgh Interactive Festival – a curates egg, I think it’s fair to say.

Revealing, fascinating sessions such as an interview with stage actors about how they approached motion-capture work for Heavenly Sword on the PS3, bumped up against unrevealing corporate slideware and old boy’s club self-indulgence.

Apart, of course, from my boss at the BBC’s spiel (ahem), other stand-outs included Ren Reynold’s virtual societies panel (which wasn’t just about Second Life! Hurrah!) and Hilmar Petursson of Eve Online’s funny and thought-provoking talk on emergence in online societies and breaking the Dunbar number.

He also revealed he was on a secret mission from the Icelandic government to find the Scottish rats that had gnawed through a cable depriving Iceland of internet in the past…

But, it was often more frustrating than entertaining.

A few of us gathered over beers at the end of the first day and came to the conclusion that, now that in various forms there has been an interactive entertainment festival in Edinburgh for five years; it’s time for there to be a ‘fringe’ – where risks can be taken, old boys clubs can be left behind, and up-and-coming creators can have a platform.

Except.

It so happens that it already exists… Sort of.

Just before I had to go to the airport I skipped out of the last session and kidnapped a couple of colleagues to visit the Dare Protoplay event, where young teams of games creators were showing playable demos of their efforts – I guess a bit like the indie games jam.

Dare to be Digital ProtoPlay event, Edinburgh

There were some little crackers there too – ones that stand out for me right now would be the delightful heaven2ocean, a collaborative climbing game who’s name I forget but which I really do hope makes it onto Xbox360LiveArcade, a steampunk pilotwings-a-like using hacked Wiimotes, and a novel stealth game that used sound – amongst many others.

Dare to be Digital ProtoPlay event, Edinburgh

Enthusiasm, fun and actual punters (mainly kids visiting the Dynamic Earth centre) abounded… with a tinge perhaps of disappointment that they hadn’t seen that many industry delegates from the EIF come down there.

They missed out.

They really missed out.

The likes of the Dare Protoplayers should get the assistance for next to mount a real creative fringe to the EIF, where they can talk of SKUs and IP till the cows come home – while the new skool just gets on with delivering the fun that should be the lifeblood of the industry.

Says John Riccitiello, the new CEO of Electronics Arts

“We’re boring people to death and making games that are harder and harder to play,”

The report by Om Malik goes onto say:

“EA and the video game industry at large has a massive problem: one that of attention. Video games are no longer the only game in town when it comes to digital entertainment. Riccitiello himself says the games are “at risk of being a little less interesting than Facebook and iPods and the next cool cellphone.”

I guess EA need to stop stripmining just one of the rhetorics (play as power), before the others are colonised…

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Woke up to a report on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about research in Finland into the use of play and playgrounds as life-extension technology (RealAudio clip -will disappear unless someone *ahem* archives it…)

It was also featured (in a more fluffy way) in today’s Guardian:

“…a study by a team from the University of Lapland found that a group of elderly Finns between the ages of 65 and 81 saw significant improvement in their balance and coordination after three months of swings and roundabouts. Many of the subjects also said they felt empowered by using the playground equipment, although one can claim to be empowered by just about anything these days. The Finns are now planning to redesign their playgrounds to suit grannies as well as toddlers.”

When we started our work on Play in Nokia, I remember Janne remarking that the verb for ‘play’ – Leiki – in Finnish was associated with ‘childishness’ in a negative way.

This research is heartening.

Reclaiming ‘play’ as something that enriches us all throughout our lives (cf. ‘The Play Ethic‘ which also features Finland prominently), and creating places that encourage both that and *ahem* intergenerational play (don’t be dirty…) can only be a good thing.

Or at least, swings and roundabouts.

Ok.

Hippy moment over.

I’ve got a big old post almost done on the project, but Tom has procrastinated slightly less and beaten me to it – writing about a prototype that Future Platforms built for me early in the year.

“We all like to play; whether we’re trainspotters, online gamers, old or young, we all take pleasure from playfulness. It can be solo activity, a social exercise, investigative, educational or just plain fun. In a mobile context, play is usually associated with simple downloadable arcade games – but this needn’t be the whole story.

So we built a mobile toy for Nokia, called Twitchr.”

Don’t know if Tom is going to talk about it tomorrow at MoMoLondon, as I think his talk will be concentrating on Flirtomatic. If you’re going to MoMoLo – see you there I hope.

» Tom Hume.org: Selling New Mobile Phone Features

Ah to be in NYC…

DEATHMATCH IN THE STACKS
Celebrating the launch of The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology
Edited by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, published by MIT Press

An evening of impassioned discussion and playful debate with game critics,
game creators, and game players about the past, present, and future of games

Friday, December 9th, 7pm-9pm
Tishman Auditorium, 66 West 12th Street, NYC
Free Admission

DEATHMATCH IN THE STACKS marks the launch of The Game Design Reader, a groundbreaking collection of essays that spans 50 years of game design and game studies. Eight contributing authors to the book, including many of the most influential figures working in the field of videogames and play scholarship today, will share short selections from their essays and engage in spirited exchange with game players, game designers, and game critics. Also featuring a panel discussion on game design with the creators of Half-Life, Paranoia, and Adventure for the Atari 2600.

DEATHMATCH players include Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman in discussion with:

Ken Birdwell, game designer
Greg Costikyan, game designer and writer
Gary Alan Fine, game sociologist
Linda Hughes, playground folklorist
Henry Jenkins, videogame scholar
Warren Robinett, game designer and programmer
Richard Rouse III, game designer and writer
Brian Sutton-Smith, play scholar and theorist
Stephen Sniderman, game and puzzle designer

Plus: appearances by New York City game players and luminaries
Ze Frank (designer), Tami Meyers (LARPer) Karen Sideman (designer),
and McKenzie Wark (theorist)

KATIE SALEN and ERIC ZIMMERMAN are game designers, theorists, writers, advocates, and educators. Katie is the Director of Graduate Studies in Design and Technology at Parsons School of Design. Eric is the co-founder of the experimental game development company gameLab. DEATHMATCH IN THE STACKS follows in the tradition of STORMING THE PLAYGROUND, a raucous and thought-provoking event in 2004 that marked the launch of their critically acclaimed book, Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals.

DEATHMATCH IN THE STACKS is sponsored by gameLab, the Design and Technology Program at the New School University, and Games for Change

Unfortunately it looks like the sort of thing that will be too much fun for anyone there to take any notes…

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