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Play and games

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…

Mike Sugarbaker writes:

“The split between “casual” and “hardcore” gaming leaves a huge gulf in between: people like me. Okay, maybe not huge compared to the market for casual games, but I’m part of a grossly underserved market at least as large as the hardcore PC gaming crowd. When I play casual games, I find myself wanting more substance, meatier gameplay, but when I play a PC game, I, typically don’t end up playing it for long because it’s simply too complex, too stressful or too hard.”

Amen.

I find myself playing a lot of ‘pick-up’ games, more so on portables (DS and Gameboy Micro mainly, as there are no good PSP games for playing on the move – having said that – the notable exception is ‘Everybody’s Golf’ which I’m playing to death) – and games that seem to be made or marketed for younger players: Katamari, Zelda the WindWaker, Alien Homonid.

They seem to have more novelty (often especially with reference to the semantics and mechanics of the game), their are easier to get into, while often becoming engrossing, and you can dip in and out of them easily.

More please.

Carlo Longino on Gizmodo posts an article with a title very close to my heart, The Casual Games Revolution. It features extensive quotage from Tom Hume of Future Platforms, including this ludic beauty:

“The other thing to consider is that play is a very natural thing for any mammal,” Hume says. “We all play, where it’s hopscotch, bingo, scratchcards or CounterStrike. My cats are casual gamers.”

Which has left me feline like a game of something…

Sorry.

Some snippets from John Sutherland’s interview with Edward Castronova in yesterday’s Guardian:

EC: My professional interest is in what we can learn from this synthetic world. We’ve never had the opportunity to experiment ambitiously on a social level. We’ve never had the opportunity to say, “I’m Karl Marx and I have this idea called communism. Wouldn’t it be neat if I could set up five societies that have exactly the same population, exactly the same natural resources and at year zero and try it out?”

JS: We could field test communism without killing 60 million people.

EC: Exactly. We could do communism, we could do fascism, we could do America. You can experiment with any number of social designs. This is one of the futures I see for synthetic worlds in the university. I think in 15 years’ time when someone in social science writes a PhD thesis, they’ll be required to put their ideas to the test this way. Business schools are already moving in that direction. There are tremendous business applications. Universities should get very involved.

…I think the smart thing for the US state department to do today is build a game about Islam but make it a democracy. And set it up so that every 16-year-old from Morocco to Pakistan can go into that world when they get a computer. Not say anything overt about democracy but have them play – have them vote, for example.

And this quote I think is pretty interesting – in some ways it’s reminiscent of some of the ‘cyberspace’ utopian writing of 10 years ago, but restating it in more subtle, mixed-reality terms.

JS: What do you foresee in 10 years’ time? Is it going to plateau out, or keep going nova?

EC: There will be a plateau. People do have to have children. But the really open question is how much human time we will spend in cyberspace, using our surrogate characters, living through synthetic bodies. But soon people won’t notice the difference. Real and synthetic worlds will blur. I’m talking to you by phone but, psychologically, I’m just talking to you. I don’t focus on the technological interface. We’ll just move in and out of bodies and worlds without noticing. It’ll fade seamlessly into daily life. And there will be some very good things. The economy pulls people apart and makes them live separate lives, as units. Gaming brings them together in a pseudo physical environment.

I’d really like him to explain more what he means by this last part. Does he mean that ‘real-life’ will feature more and more sophisticated, technologically-supported ARGs or ‘alternate-reality’ games?

As ‘the technological interface’ to gaming becomes more spatial, more embodied and less-separate from the world, it’s certainly one possibility.

“But as the Game Cat says, Be careful, be very careful. This ride is not for the weak.”

» The Guardian G2: The ideas interview: John Sutherland interviews Edward Castronova

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