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Matt sheret IxDA Hamburg event 2012-02-13_campire stories

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// About the presentation
From twitter-bots to 11th-hour API hacks, an increasing number of ad-hoc interfaces and services are using narrative to encourage user engagement. How are these techniques manifesting, what are their roots, and how can we find new ways of incorporating storytelling into the products we're building?

// About Matthew
Matthew Sheret is Last.fm's Data Griot, a role that blends analysis, trend reporting and journalism to tell stories about Last.fm users' behaviour both in-house and out. Learn more about Matthew here: www.matthewsheret.com or @mattsheret on Twitter.

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Matt sheret IxDA Hamburg event 2012-02-13_campire stories

  1. 1. Hello!I’m @mattsheret
  2. 2. One of them, Gril, plays the role of a dwarven student named Grokwhile the other -
  3. 3. Quinns - is a thug. And in our roleplaying game he’s also a thug.We were taken there by Kieron Gillen, whod been Game masteringthe journey the rest of us had been on for about a year by the time wereached Altdorf.
  4. 4. Now Altdorf is a big place, filled with murder and politics and intrigue,and of course we mixed mixed up in all that, but the thing thatfascinated me about Altdorf was the map.Now, our party never saw the map, not really, we had to draw our ownfor memory as we went, but Kieron had this incredible master map,filled with layers and reference points and all kinds of different venues.Kierons map helped us to feel the life of the city. Through pub namesand hotel names we got a real sense of each of the towns districts,along with a bewildering variety of choice when it came to our actionsin this fictional city. And we never saw it
  5. 5. So when we wanted to find new ways of investigating a house new thewizards quarter we had a choice of sewers and storm drains tonavigate, a genuine living network that had serviced Altdorfsinhabitants for centuries.And when looking for a master blacksmith we knew which part of townto head to to get something of quality. We got a sense of where in townmight just be filled with showy artisans, and actually managed to getsome beautiful iron work for our troubles.Kierons master map, which was the product of many hundreds of GMsand hundreds of hours of reference and checking made us feel a littlecloser to the citys lifeblood and its mood. We no longer had to thinkabout it in the abstract, but as a space filled with people doing workand going about their lives.
  6. 6. Another friend of mine, Tom Armitage, built a toy a couple of years agothat does a similar thing to augment the behaviour of people in a city.Only he used a real city.The Tower Bridge Twitter account gave a single part of the city a voice.His twitter bot did one thing; it tweeted information about when it wasgoing to open and when it was going to close.Tom wanted to give that part of the city a voice, to have it surface aspart of the flow of daily conversation. Twitters a great medium for that;general conversation space, utterly unforced, and something that canbe quite low attention too as we learn to dip in an out.
  7. 7. In the past Ive described stuff like this in fairly hippy-like terms,connecting each of us to little bits of the citys soul, but there were alsobig practical applications for this toy that Tom built.He found the account being followed by a surprising number of cabdrivers, who had started to incorporate the bridges movements intotheir routines for crossing the river. By having these gentle alerts as toTower Bridges status they could work out whether or not the bridgewas a smart route to use at different times in the day, and how likelythe chances of heavy traffic in the area are.Imagine a city filled with talking buildings. These things which have aspiritual quality for hippy internet types but deeply practical andmeaningful applications for others. Well never know which buildingsare the best candidates, I mean we might be able to guess, but weknow until weve played with them and let them into the world forpeople to muck about with well never really know.
  8. 8. Tom’s a game designer by nature, he loves playing with things. Intwitter he’s found a material to work with that plays to his strengths assomeone who mucks about with things.His latest diversion is Markov Chocolates. Every four hours a shortpiece of copy is generated by a Markov chain, an algorithm which usesa series of given outputs to predict or, in this case, generate an output.
  9. 9. This Markov chain uses fragments of English to tweet wonderfuldescriptions of chocolates, and it’s inspired by those brilliant, insipidbits of writing you get on the back of chocolate boxes over Christmas.
  10. 10. It’s generative satire; a robot roleplaying as a piece of text on the backof a chocolate box. It suits Twitter wonderfully because of its erraticoutput.
  11. 11. Both Markov chocolates and Tower bridge are super-low attention, butthey exist as part of a ticker of conversation, giving voice to objectsand jokes in a way that’s been previously impossible.Like Kieron’s map of Altdorf, they augment our interactions but don’toverwhelm them; they add a flavour to our interactions in a space thatwe’re constantly reacting and adapting to.
  12. 12. Now, to warm our group up for Altdorf, our party spent time in the townof Bogenhafen. Its a couple of days ride south of Altdorf, and it toowas filled with talking buildings.Bogenhafen seemed like a really nice place until we realised it wasriddled with a mystical plague and that part of it had been quarantinedwhile dark forces roamed the streets. The talking buildings had, in fact,been warped by chaotic rituals and strange, twisted faces were fusedinto the walls.Most of the smart people were hightailing it out of town, but you mighthave picked up by now that Quinns, Gril and I arent that smart, so wedecided to stick around.
  13. 13. I discovered a few things about my friends during my time inBogenhafen. One is that Quintin is exquisitely stupid. Before we wereabout to head into the plague quarter Gril and I made sure that wedtended to our minor wounds and boosted our immunity to whateverwas inside. While we were preparing like that Quinns was learning howto juggle.That kind of emergent behaviour is exquisite. It’s been a brilliant sourceof humour for our group for months now, and it also tells you a little bitabout Quintin and the way he thinks about the world.
  14. 14. At Last.fm, my job is all about spotting emergent behaviour. And earlyon it became clear that one of the best spaces for watching that wasour tagging system.
  15. 15. My favourite band are Joy Division.
  16. 16. Atmospheric and expansive - Matt, 2012I think they’re expansive and atmospheric.
  17. 17. Gloomy and depressing - Matt’s sister, 2012My sister thinks of them as gloomy and depressing. On Last.fm all ofthese descriptions would be considered tags. lots of tags are genres,like rock or pop. But some of them are much more abstract; summerdays and barbeque for example.Being open to this means that any quirk or meme or in-joke has spaceto breathe on Last.fm. Sometimes that’s annoying
  18. 18. - Katy Perry pop rock
  19. 19. My favourite tag is “a campire and a tent and a flashlight and somematches and a tree and that river and my glasses and a spaceshipand a really really big bear but the bear is really really far away”There are three great things about this tag;1) it’s a beautiful station, filled with artists like Mount Eerie and TheRural Alberta Advantage2) more than four hundred people have used it3) every single one of those people has mis-spelled “campfire.”After the first few people did it the rest all had to mis-spell it too.Otherwise they’d break the spell, and shatter this beautiful station. It’sa wonderful behaviour pattern.
  20. 20. The robot voyager is a similar emergent construction. Last year,Noweigian broadcast NRK live-streamed the voyage of it’s costal ferryservice, the Hurtigruten. For five days and nights viewers around theworld could tune in and soak up the journey.When the whole trip was finished NRK released the footage - all of it -to the public under a creative commons license. They wanted peopleto play with it.Voy, a creative studio based in Oslo, created this ambient coastal-shuffler, which picks bits from the Hurtigruten’s voayage and displaysthem quietly and unassumingly. It’s a lovely thing to have on a secondscreen or shared screen.
  21. 21. Weird constructions like this are exactly why NRK threw the footageopen. They wanted people to build whatever came to mind with it;even with the biggest budget in the world they’d never cover every usecase. Better to let the people with imagination have a play with the rawmaterials.By being open to Quinns learning how to juggle our roleplaying gamehad a rich, character-filled atmosphere. The colourful tapestry of tagsLast.fm and the highly specific, beautiful construction of toys like RobotVoyager are great examples of how systems that are open todevelopment and engagement can build mighty things that totallychange your investment in the service. They allow you to tell your ownstories around it.But back to Bogenhafen.
  22. 22. Despite Quinns attempts to get us killed we did actually manage tosave the town of Bogenhafen. We drove out the evil evil forces, killedsome demons, burned a few talking buildings and totally saved theday.Kierons face was a picture. He told us afterwards that hed been takento Bogenhafen as a kid quite a few times, but that every single time hisparty had failed whatever they were trying to do; the city had burneddown in flames.By saving it wed given him new perspective, and it also made senseof why wed gone through hell there; Kieron really cared about whatwent down in Bogenhafen, and hed used his connection to the placeto fuel our encounter.Some of the most compelling storytelling mechanics I’ve seen onlineare all about altering our perspective of events very very slightly.
  23. 23. Derby [2061] very subtly altered my relationship with an unremarkablecity in the midlands.It’s a meme, started by the developers of Mudlark, in which peopletagged their Foursqaure content, Flickr photos and instagram shotswith content related to their vision of Derby some fifty years in thefuture. This is my contribution; its an Instagram photo taken at DerbyMonorail Station.Mudlark wanted to see if people who enjoy subtly shifting theirrelationship with the city around them. They wanted to see if you couldmanipulate services like Foursquare or Instagram into story platforms,and what kind of things might happen in them.
  24. 24. Derby [2061] challenged people to roleplay the future, and then to usethe present to shape it. If you believe that in fifty years time the MinaturWunderland is going to be a drone deployment centre, or a prison,then you can roleplay that. You’ve got the technology in your pocket todo it now.Instantly we’re in a spot where we’re reframing the future through afamiliar lens, and that’s incredibly important if you want to design orbuild for how people are going to live.And You don’t have to take it too seriously, you just have to play a littlegame.
  25. 25. Meanwhile I’m watching the past get more real by the day over onTwitter. Real Time WW2 does exactly what it says on the handle. Itsends updates about what’s happening right now in 1940.
  26. 26. It started tweeting last year, beginning in 1939, and it’s now beingtranslated into thirteen languages, though it looks as through theGerman one went dormant back in December.
  27. 27. Every person I know who’s following it experiences that samedisquieting, atemporal feeling when they read a post that resonates.It’s a fragment from history that short-cuts a lot of our analyticalprocesses because it surfaces in a conversational space.
  28. 28. We think about the event playing out Right Now. Think about how ourfriends might be engulfed in it, and think about how this informationmight have flowed, and whether it would have flowed at all.
  29. 29. While I was writing this a service called Twitshift enjoyed its one-yearanniversary. Twitshift is a hacked-together service that publishes yourtweets from twelve months ago to another twitter account.It’s built by James Wheare, who used to work at Last.fm, and itbecomes such a gentle reminder of yourself that it can be dangerous; Ialmost burst into tears when I watched myself having a bike accidentand remembering my girlfriend rushing to meet me in hospital.Twitshift is totally native to its surrounds. You RT it, scroll past it,unfollow it; it’s replication of a familiar behaviour pattern, and it works.But it’s not the only service doing things like that.
  30. 30. On the surface Timehop isn’t a million miles away. It’s a lifestreamingaggregation system that throws back your content from a year ago ona bunch of services, namely facebook, twitter foursquare andinstagram.It’s too much. To have that land in your inbox on a daily basis is oftento invite a bit of introspection into your daily routine as you try andunpick too much of your life. It’s a monolith.Of course they’re agile, they’re learning how to tweak and scale theservice, and that’s great. It’s certainly less hacky a service thanTwitshift. But it doesn’t enable ambient storytelling in quite the way itwants to.
  31. 31. Reframing monolithic events through a medium like Twitter helps youto see it in a new light. Like Derby [2061], it sparks emotionalresonance when there might simply have been cynicism before, andempathy when there might have been contempt.That’s why Kieron’s face lit up when we saved Bogenhafen; we weren’tsupposed to. It was like an exorcism for him. He saw this place in abrand new light.
  32. 32. That’s in stark contrast to Kieron at the beginning of our campaign.Keen to show us just how grim and unforgiving this new land could behe set us on a mission to rescue a young child, Johan, only to kill theboy off shortly afterwards.It did serious damage to our morale; at such an early juncture it left usfeeling like without agency and without control over our actions. Veryquickly Kieron shifted the focus of this early adventure, and eventuallywe brought Johan’s killer to justice. But that hadn’t been what heplanned.
  33. 33. Besides Last.fm my freelance projects include writing comics, some forfun, some for profit. Last year I scripted several short comics forDentsu’s Suwappu characters, a range of prototype toys that use near-field technology and facial recognition software to overlay stories andlandscapes onto three-inch figurines.They’re still prototypes, and as a result there are little to no rulesgoverning their use and interaction, making writing for them hard.
  34. 34. So I started playing with the scale that the characters were operatedon, and wrote strips that instead focused on their place within atabletop world.By getting the Suwappu to much about with teaspoons and pets -familiar things in households - I was better able to access commonunderstanding of what makes a toy.
  35. 35. If I’m honest, it was rethinking the Suwappu that made me realise howintegral to storytelling that roleplay is becoming. I had to invest a lot ofimagination at that small scale in order to tell a story.Learning that made me feel a bit like Kieron; like I’m crafting anenvironment for successful interaction on the fly.So far I’ve told you about how these examples made me feel like anaudience member - a roleplayer - so let’s look at them as if we’ve builtthem;
  36. 36. With Tower Bridge Tom is finding a way to make buildings talk to us;
  37. 37. with Markov chocolates he’s letting a chocolate box feign sentience;
  38. 38. Last.fm’s tagging system is a platform for collective consensus andmake believe;
  39. 39. Robot voyager is a distraction engine designed to make us long forfjords forever;
  40. 40. Debry [2061] explicitly calls on participants to imagine a future theytake part in;
  41. 41. Real Time World War 2 and twitshift cast us adrift in space and time;
  42. 42. All of it mirrors what Kieron is doing. As a successful GM Kieron isusing all of the tools available to him to build a world we can react toand get lost in.In the wise words of an anonymous Wikipedia contributor “A goodgamemaster draws the players into the adventure, making it enjoyablefor everyone. Good gamemasters have quick minds, sharp wits, andrich imaginations. Gamemasters must also maintain game balance:hideously overpowered monsters or players are no fun” I’d argue that’sa perfect definition of what all of these other hacks and examples showoff.I think that, surrounded by possibility, to be a successful storyteller nowyou need to
  43. 43. 1. Explore the limits of the medium1 - Work to the technical limits of their medium - they build toys to playwithin them like TomGame master must know the full depths of a ruleset
  44. 44. 2. Respond to emergent behaviour2 - Leave room for and track emergent behaviour - no plans are basedon a locked and stable understanding of the things that must happenlike Last.fm and NRK“Quick mind, sharp wit, rich imaginations”
  45. 45. 3. Allow people to imagine contexts3 - Allows people to extrapolate a future condition based on the currentcondition - they’ll have a greater investment if they can think forwardsand backwards in relation to the world you’re creating like Mudlark andReal Time WW2“Drawing into the adventure”
  46. 46. 4. Learn from your failures and adapt4 - Learns from failures and tweaks future scenarios appropriately. If itdoesn’t work then stop trying to make it work. Nothing lasts forever,people move on, and you should too. Like me with the Suwappu“Must maintain game balance”
  47. 47. Whether it’s me or others, whoever writes those stories needs to bereactive to behaviour, test the limits of what mediums like Twitter arecapable of in terms of communication, needs to respect the makebelieve contexts of the characters and needs to be ready to evaluateevery story’s “success”
  48. 48. More than ever the definition of what makes a story is stretching.Sometimes it’s the by-product of your service, sometimes it’s the onlypart you care about, but it’s definitely the bit that resonates in thewider-world. To crack that you need tools wielded by people likeKieron.Stories don’t have to be multi-part epics spanning a transmediacontent franchise. Sometimes it’s as simple as building something thatsends a tweet.Treat the people you’re building for like roleplayers. You’ll buildbeautiful things.
  49. 49. Campire Stories Thanks to @KieronGillen, @Quinns108, @GriddleOctopus, @XING_de & @birgitgcom www.matthewsheret.comhttp://matthewsheret.comWarhammer Fantasy Roleplay http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/edge_minisite.asp?eidm=93Tower Bridge http://twitter.com/#!/twrbrdg_itselfMarkov Chocolate http://twitter.com/#!/markovchocolateRobot Voyager http://robotvoyager.voyoslo.comDerby [2061] http://www.wearemudlark.com/blog/derby-2061/Realtime WW2 http://twitter.com/#!/realtimewwiiTwitshift http://www.twitshift.com/Suwappu http://www.getsuwappu.com/

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