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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Vero Construc, originally uploaded by toxi.

Toxi found a manual for an East German construction toy:

‘This particular module contained a punch card/stripe reader to control lights and motors. A little nail to program it was supplied too.

The back cover is saying: “Toys with system for the creators of tomorrow’s world”‘


Jason Kottke points to a remarkable post by Kevin Kelly entitled The Big Here, after the Eno-coined-counterpart to the Long Now – which shoots a diamond bullet through my thoughts for the last few months:

At the ultimate level, your home is a cell in an organism called a planet. All these levels interconnect. What do you know about the dynamics of this larger system around you? Most of us are ignorant of this matrix. But it is the biggest interactive game there is. Hacking it is both fun and vital.

In the post it goes on to take you through a quiz which examines your knowledge of your immediate environs, and the linkages it has to the wider ecosystem.

Here are the first three questions:

30 questions to elevate your awareness (and literacy) of the greater place in which you live:

1) Point north.

2) What time is sunset today?

3) Trace the water you drink from rainfall to your tap.

Kelly prefaces this with a positioning of the quiz as one of his “cool tools”:

“The intent of this quiz is to inspire you to answer the questions you can’t initially. I’d like to collect and then post the best step-by-step suggestions about how to answer a particular question. These are not answers to the quiz, but recommended paths on how one might most efficiently answer the question locally. Helpful websites which can provide local answers are wanted. Because of the severe specificity of local answers, the methods provided should be as general as possible. The emerging list of answer-paths will thus become the Cool Tool.”

So far, so good.

Wonderful, even.

My immediate thought though, reading both Jason’s post and Kevin Kelly’s mission is why the hell is this not on a mobile?

So – I over the summer am going to try and knit something together to get it there.

  1. I imagine it will be pretty easy (i.e. within the reach of my terrifyingly-bad coding skills) just to port the text quiz to a mobile using S60 python as a standalone experience.
  2. It might be easy enough then to both launch web resources from the quiz on the mobile device, and perhaps post answers in some easily-aggregated format to back out to the web from whoever takes the quiz.
  3. however might be more tricky…

What I immediately imagined was the extension of this quiz into the fabric of the near-future mobile and it’s sensors – location (GPS, CellID), orientation (accelerometers or other tilt sensors), light (camera), heat (Nokia 5140’s have thermometers…), signal strength, local interactions with other devices (Bluetooth, uPnP, NFC/RFID) and of course, a connection to the net.

The near-future mobile could become a ‘tricorder’ for the Big Here – a daemon that challenges or channels your actions in accordance and harmony to the systems immediately around you and the ripples they raise at larger scales.

It could be possible (but probably with some help from my friends) to rapidly-prototype a Big Here Tricorder using s60 python, a bluetooth GPS module, some of these scripts, some judicious scraping of open GIS data and perhaps a map-service API or two.

One thought that springs to mind would be to simply geotag the results of a quiz (assuming the respondent takes the quiz in-situ!) and upload that to a geowiki, something like Place-O-Pedia.

It might be delightful to see the varying answers from valiant individuals clustered in a location and inspire some collaboration on getting to the ‘right’ answers about their collective bit of the big here or the issues raised by the route there more importantly perhaps.

One open question would be if this ‘Big Here Tricorder’ where realised, would it genuinely raise an individual or community’s awareness of their local ecosystem and it’s connections at other scales? “Every extension is also an amputation” etc.

Well – we won’t know unless we build it.

While we’ve had a couple of year’s noise about Where2.0, I reckon there’s a hell of a lot of mileage and some real good could come of focussing on Here2.0… which gives me a nice little summer project – thanks Kevin, Brian and Jason

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Digits, cities, originally uploaded by

Gave my talk this morning at Lift06. Felt horrible from the stage – rushed through interesting stuff and dwelt on the wrong things. Luckily people still wanted to talk afterwards and got a lot of what I was trying to say about play and mobility.

Whether they thought it was right is another thing of course.

Personal highlight was being heckled by Bruce Sterling, after forgetting Olafur Eliasson’s name.

Timo took a picture a slide that I put in at the last minute, which looking back on it, basically sums up and communicates everything I’m interested in, or ever been interested in or think is important at the moment – my own personal aleph.

So I guess I’m done!

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Above is a still from Canon EOS350D advert: “It’s Playtime”

I’ll wager it is both directly inspired by, and deliberately targetted at ludic Flickr users and the visual culture they have built.

Here’s the quicktime of the ad on Canon’s site.

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…



Via Dav/AkuAku, this from the Bunchball website:

“You have an idea for a multi-user networked application. Maybe it’s a game, maybe it’s a new way to share music or photos, maybe it’s something nobody’s ever thought of. A beautiful little jewel of an application, you know that you can make something fantastic. But then you realize that in order to build your application, you need to figure out user signup, and group creation, and invitations, and permissions, and chat, and presence, and how to save changes in the application, and how to figure out who to send those changes to, and the list goes on. And oh yeah, don’t forget that you need to setup a server, write server-side code, deal with a database somewhere, worry about uptime and bandwidth and online file storage, and that list goes on as well. All of a sudden you realize that your beautiful little jewel is just the tip of a very large iceberg. You’re going to spend 90% of your time implementing what’s below the water, out of the user’s sight, and 10% of your time building a great application.

Bunchball gives you the iceberg. You just provide the tip. So now you can spend your time doing what you wanted to do in the first place, which is to create a great application.”

Along with, Dav has termed these services (or ‘playgrounds’ as Ning would have it) as ‘Blank White Servers’, which are potentially game-changing things, beyond the bubble of hype around Web X.X.

The point the Bunchball site makes – that providing the common building blocks and infrastructure allows developers to concentrate on delivering extra value to the end-user -makes me wonder whether this will be the case.

Will developers, freed from the burden of recreating back-end systems, invest their energy into creating a great user-experience?


Certainly, Web X.X’s real successes so far have been built on great UI design (Flickr, Gmail) and paying attention to the details in the user-experience – hopefully this will serve as inspiration to those who follow.

In my experience at least, it takes a great deal of effort and will on the behalf of the developers to go the extra (several) miles to create a great user-experience on top of getting something to “just work” – especially if there is a pre-established framework or library of things that they are using to create a service or application.

Also, there is the problem of trying to reconcile the design choices you think necessary for the specific service, aplication, user or activity at hand with the design choices predetermined in the platform by those that came up with it.

This building block approach of Bunchball, et al, of course begs the same question of what design choices are encoded in the building blocks themselves?

The following ramble I will have to revisit once I’ve explored and understood Ning and Bunchball more fully from actually playing with them both, but…

Architecture is destiny*: someone elses playground, architecture, landscape, physics will inevitably shape the end design noticeably. What are the combinations it forces? What are the affordances that are built in, and what patterns are most favourable as a result?

As they are aimed at providing infra and building blocks for social applications, would perhaps some of the forced combinations, or affordances of the infrastructure be default-biased towards safety and privacy?

Productivity or (/and?) play?

As playful platforms made by smart people I’m sure that the possibility spaces they afford will sustain 99% of the self-centred or small-group-centred software that people will want to construct right now – which is just fantastic.


Just what politics are encoded at the molecular level of these playgrounds?

As soon as I get my accounts I’m going to start playing and see.

See also: The Otwell on Ning
* Who said this originally? I can’t seem to find the source.


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