Saturday, August 19, 2006

Blast Theory - Day of the Figurines workshop

Blast Theory - Day of the Figurines Blast Theory presented Can You See Me Now? earlier this week at the Banff Centre, and today we're going to spend two hours on some of the primary design challenges facing their new project Day of the Figurines. (I'll write in real-time and post it at the end of the workshop.)

Nick described the development process, which began with modelling imaginary towns - a twist on the site-specificity of their prior work. The length of the game - 24 days - and the use of common technologies (mobile phones) is meant to encourages players to relate their play to everyday life, but in slow and reflective ways.

Matt talked about the kind of social interaction possible where people have no homes, no money, no certainty, etc. What kind of community is possible then? They wanted to create a game that destabilises relationships with a kind of moral ambiguity. (Sounds like real life, no?) Nick mentioned early players taking complete advantage of the imaginative possibilities - like setting cows on fire, riding deers and stealing cars from other players only to sell them back. (Apparently there's an operator that physically moves each of the figurines every hour of game play - I'm completely fascinated by this role. Must ask Matt more...)

Key design challenges:

1. deterministic vs open structure game-play (how do you orientate, motivate players and let them explore on their own? given freedom of texting, why not let players invent their own world? what about persistence?)

2. sustaining an immersive fiction over 24 days (player investment: the board, the figurine, the website. the physicality, the relationship with the figurine, etc.)

3. fitting into player's daily lives (unwanted texts are annoying, what about not-always-on phones/players?)

4. UGC vs authored content (can we allow players to create their own objects, destinations, etc? no.)

5. spatial play vs temporal play (from geographical model to hub.)

6. slow pace of game (how do you hold people who only play for a few minutes a day? how to make a virtue out of slowness?)

7. limitations of text-messaging (what if texting costs each time? what about the anonimity and intimacy of texting?)

Exercise 1 - Think of a key moment in your life and write in down in 160 characters, bearing in mind that you're sending it to a stranger!

Here's mine: We walked inside the belly of a whale. It was beached a very long time ago. I felt the giant ribs enclose me and I felt safe.

Exercise 2 - Tell a story over seven days, one text message a day. 160 characters each day. Where do you make the breaks? How does this shape the narrative?

Then they did a survey of people's texting habits - the Canadian context is so different from the UK! Texting is really not overly common here... The important point is the the matter of cultural context. We still need to ask *how* ubiquitous these ubiquitous technologies actually are. There's also this matter of time, and a sort of txt lurking: just because I don't reply doesn't mean I'm not following... There's also the matter of power relations... do we make certain people wait longer than others? (Jan Christoph described some Italian teenage girls they studied who kept separate paper logs of their text messages, that could indicate popularity... fascinating!)

Design techniques for fitting in with daily life:

in general:

- mobile games are based around very short play sessions
- you choose where and when you play
- are often single player

in contrast, Day of the Figurines:

- invites players to imagine a persistent universe over 24 days
- to maintain a sense of their figurine's location and state over that time
- asks players to respond to events in the town
- tries to co-ordinate multi-player play

Lessons learned from Laban, Summer 2005

- there is no good time of day to play
- players prefer a response when actively choosing to play
- inactive players were sometimes hounded out of the game by too many messages
- inactive players could sometimes take hours or even days to respond to the game or other players

**

This was just the right amount of detail to help me understand what kind of challenges they're facing - and just enough detail to get my mind moving at top speed about the kinds of experimental ethnography (to complement the existing ethnomethdological studies) that could be done here... Must talk more with Matt and Ju and Nick...

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