Archive for April, 2012

Screenshot from Every Day The Same Dream

Screenshot from Every Day The Same Dream

We’ve been playing The Company of Myself and Dys4ia in today’s Games Club at work, run by Tomas Rawlings. This sparked off a conversation about experimental/art games (which I’m not going to try and define here, I think you’ll get the gist) and some really great examples were mentioned. I thought it would be useful to collate these somewhere, not least because every time this subject comes up I have to try and dig up the examples I dimly remember to send people links, “oh it’s this game about suicide or something by an, um, Daniel someone, I’ll go look it up”.

So here’s my list, with several examples via Danny Birchall (updated to add examples from Phil Stuart).

Update 22.09.12 Some more examples from Mathias Poulsen, who has two lists for “Poetic” and “Newsgames“, I think I like “poetic” and “news” better as descriptions.

Anyone got more good or interesting examples I can add to the list?

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I’m attempting to write up every single session I went to at SXSWi. Will be mostly about games, but also how tech can kill, neuroscience, digital anthropology, civic science and more.

Trailer for Peacemaker the Game.

Asi Burak: Games 4 Change: Great Power, Great Responsibility


A very interesting talk at the end of a very long day by Asi Burak, Co-President of Games for Change. As their name suggests, this non-profit organisation has a mission to, as they state: “catalyse social impact through digital games”. They run a conference/festival in June each year which I am a little bit gutted not to be going to, and have a Google group for discussions on the subject of Games for Change.

To kick off, Burak gave us a little background on himself, which he said was key to understanding how he came to be so convinced by the potential of games to do good. After serving in the Israeli intelligence corps for 5 years, he went on to join a mobile company working on location based services (if I recall correctly, it may also have had something to do with games). But the situation in the Middle East obviously troubled him, and he left for Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University where he studied Entertainment Technology. He mentioned the influence of Randy Pausch, whose Last Lecture, entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” (and covering virtual reality and teaching kids to code) I am listening to as I write this. It’s worth a watch if you aren’t one of the millions of people who’ve already seen it.

With his experiences in Israel in mind, Burak set about creating a game about the Middle East conflict. The result was Peacemaker, the trailer for which is at the top of this post. In this game, your objective is to solve the conflict whilst playing as either the Israeli Prime Minister or Palestinian President. You have a number of options to achieve this, both peaceful and military. It’s a bold idea for a game, which I hope to try at some point. What was perhaps most valuable about the game, said Burak, was the discussion that it provoked afterwards. It’s actually being used as part of workshops in the region for that purpose.

Peacemaker was released in 2007, but not everyone at that time was so convinced about games. He mentioned Hilary Clinton’s quote from 2005 that video games were a “silent epidemic” amongst kids. But for Burak it was clear: games are a powerful tool for social change. They provide continuous engagement, unlike films, for example, and are hugely popular. He recommended reading James Paul Gee, who has published books on the subject.

Things have changed since 2007 and perhaps now, he said, we are actually at the “hyperbole” moment, where grand claims are being made for the ability of games to change the world. This is a bit over the top, he said, mentioning gamification and the evangelism of Jane McGonigal as being an example of this (in the nicest possible way, I think, especially given that she’s on the advisory board for Games for Change). In fact, he said, we’re somewhere in between. There’s some interesting stuff going on, but it’s not yet hit its potential. There is no distribution system for games of this type, for example, though I’d argue that they’d have more impact being distributed in the same place as other games. Perhaps not for teaching purposes though.

We were then given some other examples of “games for change”:

iCivics: this site provides resources, including games, on the subject of citizenship. According to their evaluation, 78% of students better understood the subject after playing, and a large proportion also wanted to play on at home.

Freedom HIV/AIDS: This set of 4 mobile games made by ZMQ, was developed to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS and was launched in India across 9 million handsets on its first day. Their evaluation demonstrated a positive change in attitude after playing the games.

He mentioned FoldIt, which I’ve written about before, and various initiatives to get kids making their own games, such as Gamestar Mechanic and the AMD Foundation. In contrast to Hilary Clinton’s earlier scaremongering about games, the Obama administration seems to have come around to the idea that games can be used for good as evidenced by the National STEM Video Game Challenge and there is now a games consultant at the White House.

We came on to games evaluation, a subject close to my heart. He used the example of Re-mission, a game for “young adults living with cancer”, which took game evaluation to another level. This game has been tested in a randomised control trial, published here, which showed that the game improved “treatment adherence, cancer knowledge and self-efficacy”.

So, a talk that gave me a lot to think about, and included some fascinating case studies. You can listen to the whole thing here. And now, as I’m getting to the end of writing this, I’m also getting to the end of Randy Pausch’s entertaining “Last Lecture”. He’s just told us about his “legacy”, Alice. Alice is free software for teaching students computer programming, and also worth a look.


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I’m attempting to write up every single session I went to at SXSWi. Will be mostly about games, but also how tech can kill, neuroscience, digital anthropology, civic science and more.

iPad water balloon game

Live the Game: A Lifestyle with a Gaming Sense


The SXSW schedule stated that this talk was going to “explore the cross pollination of games with life” and discuss “how the next generation of mobile local social games and lifestyle apps will create opportunities to experience new dimensions of life, and lifestyles with a gaming sense”. That isn’t really what I got from it, but I think I was either a little distracted or perhaps the session was a bit incoherent, especially the second half that involved flinging water balloons at iPads using a trebuchet. Never did get why that was happening.

The talk was by Peter Swearengen and Tish Shute of Stupid Fun Club Inc. This three year old start-up is the brainchild of Will Wright, creator of SimCity, The Sims and Spore. It’s not easy to figure this out from their terrifically annoying website, but they seem to be doing something with robots that operates across different platforms including the web. And possibly some other stuff. It’s not really clear what, exactly, but there is a little more detail in these interviews with Will Wright from Wired and CNET.

They discussed the huge power of creativity, not just in terms of what it can create but because it is sticky and because it is its own intrinsic reward. They used the example of Spore, which saw millions making their own creatures. This included the creation of 13 million penises in just two weeks, suggesting, depending on your point of view, that not all creativity is necessarily positive.

The highlight of the talk for me though was finding out about Storymaker, a collaboration between Will Wright, ex-Nickelodeon president Albie Hecht, and Current TV. This tool allows a community to create a story together, in this case a TV series call Bar Karma. The series appears to be no longer available on Current, but there are some more details on its Wikipedia page and a few pages on Current that still have related content. This article on hacktext talks about the Storymaker tool in more detail and this interview with Will Wright and others about the project gives a little more insight into the ideas and inspiration behind it. It does sound like a great idea, but from the very critical IMDB boards for the series it seems like the end show wasn’t that well received. It would be interesting to see a more in depth evaluation of how Bar Karma worked, how many people got involved and so on.

Next up for the company, they said, was storytelling the ambient environment: encouraging people to re-explore the places where they live. And then they set up a trebuchet and used it to chuck full water balloons at an iPad which had a sucker mounted handle to allow the user to try and catch the water balloon with the device. Audience members volunteered to have a go, donned some nominal protective gear, grabbed the iPad by the handle and tried to “catch” the balloon on the screen. A direct hit/catch caused the app to make a breaking sound and bring up an image that made it appear that the screen had been shattered.

Sadly, the audience found it too easy, no water was spilled and the demo was pretty underwhelming considering all the faff it required to set up. It would have been more interesting to get a better picture of what they were up to as a company and what the ideas behind it were, but I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what they actually do next.

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I’m attempting to write up every single session I went to at SXSWi. Will be mostly about games, but also how tech can kill, neuroscience, digital anthropology, civic science and more.


There were actually three talks about improvision that sounded quite interesting at SXSW. I made it to this short, 15 minute presentation, but not the others. Fortunately, those other two have both had the audio posted online, though I haven’t had a chance to listen yet:

Change Happens: Improv for an Unpredictable World. “…how improv can increase your adaptability”.

Storytelling: From the Bar to the Boardroom. “Using techniques adopted from improv and sketch comedy – you’ll learn how to craft a story that your audience will remember long after you have gone.”


Brad Temple on Applied Improvisation: Preparing to Be Unprepared


Back to this talk, then, which was part of the Future 15 series of short talks. In it, Brad Temple of the Austin Improv Collective discussed the ways in which the principles of improvisional theatre can be applied to everyday life, and work in particular.

He started with a historical example from Xerox, who had been trying to create a full manual for their engineers. They found that the many combinations of possible problems across all their machines were impossible to fully document, it was too huge a task. They recognised that their engineers would have to be able to improvise, but that that was OK.

Some myths about improv, according to Temple.

  • It never fails
  • Only some people can do it
  • Improv is comedy
  • It doesn’t have frameworks or rules

What is true about improv?

  • It’s a process
  • It improves with practice
  • It’s usually collaborative
  • It’s a combination of making do, and letting go

There was, he said, very limited literature on the subject, or particularly good empirical evidence for its use, but he was obviously convinced it was a valuable tool. He did point us towards the work of Mary Crossan (I actually wrote down Mary Cross, but some research tells me Mary Crossan is more likely to be the right person!) who has written on business and improvisation. He also mentioned Viola Spolin, who was influential in improvisational theatre and used games to develop the relevant skills.

So what are the main principles of improvisation?

  • Teamwork, trust and support
  • Failure is not only OK but crucial
  • Making your teammates look good
  • Being in the moment
  • Not premeditating or dwelling on past mistakes
  • Listening and communication, really hearing what people are saying
  • Agreement, and building upon others ideas – “yes, and…” rather than “no, but…”
  • Minimal structures, maximal flexibility

Being such a short talk it was lacking in case studies and details that might have made it a bit clearer how this might work in practice, but still, some interesting ideas, I thought.

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