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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.

// 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 Grok while 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, who'd been Game mastering the journey the rest of us had been on for about a year by the time we reached 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 that fascinated me about Altdorf was the map. Now, our party never saw the map, not really, we had to draw our own for memory as we went, but Kieron had this incredible master map, filled with layers and reference points and all kinds of different venues. Kieron's map helped us to feel the life of the city. Through pub names and hotel names we got a real sense of each of the town's districts, along with a bewildering variety of choice when it came to our actions in this fictional city. And we never saw it
  5. 5. So when we wanted to find new ways of investigating a house new the wizards quarter we had a choice of sewers and storm drains to navigate, a genuine living network that had serviced Altdorf's inhabitants for centuries. And when looking for a master blacksmith we knew which part of town to head to to get something of quality. We got a sense of where in town might just be filled with showy artisans, and actually managed to get some beautiful iron work for our troubles. Kieron's master map, which was the product of many hundreds of GMs and hundreds of hours of reference and checking made us feel a little closer to the city's lifeblood and its mood. We no longer had to think about it in the abstract, but as a space filled with people doing work and going about their lives.
  6. 6. Another friend of mine, Tom Armitage, built a toy a couple of years ago that 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 was going to open and when it was going to close. Tom wanted to give that part of the city a voice, to have it surface as part of the flow of daily conversation. Twitter's a great medium for that; general conversation space, utterly unforced, and something that can be quite low attention too as we learn to dip in an out.
  7. 7. In the past I've described stuff like this in fairly hippy-like terms, connecting each of us to little bits of the city's soul, but there were also big practical applications for this toy that Tom built. He found the account being followed by a surprising number of cab drivers, who had started to incorporate the bridge's movements into their routines for crossing the river. By having these gentle alerts as to Tower Bridge's status they could work out whether or not the bridge was a smart route to use at different times in the day, and how likely the chances of heavy traffic in the area are. Imagine a city filled with talking buildings. These things which have a spiritual quality for hippy internet types but deeply practical and meaningful applications for others. We'll never know which buildings are the best candidates, I mean we might be able to guess, but we know until we've played with them and let them into the world for people to muck about with we'll never really know.
  8. 8. Tom’s a game designer by nature, he loves playing with things. In twitter he’s found a material to work with that plays to his strengths as someone who mucks about with things. His latest diversion is Markov Chocolates. Every four hours a short piece of copy is generated by a Markov chain, an algorithm which uses a series of given outputs to predict or, in this case, generate an output.
  9. 9. This Markov chain uses fragments of English to tweet wonderful descriptions of chocolates, and it’s inspired by those brilliant, insipid bits 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 back of a chocolate box. It suits Twitter wonderfully because of its erratic output.
  11. 11. Both Markov chocolates and Tower bridge are super-low attention, but they exist as part of a ticker of conversation, giving voice to objects and jokes in a way that’s been previously impossible. Like Kieron’s map of Altdorf, they augment our interactions but don’t overwhelm them; they add a flavour to our interactions in a space that we’re constantly reacting and adapting to.
  12. 12. Now, to warm our group up for Altdorf, our party spent time in the town of Bogenhafen. It's a couple of days ride south of Altdorf, and it too was filled with talking buildings. Bogenhafen seemed like a really nice place until we realised it was riddled with a mystical plague and that part of it had been quarantined while dark forces roamed the streets. The talking buildings had, in fact, been warped by chaotic rituals and strange, twisted faces were fused into the walls. Most of the smart people were hightailing it out of town, but you might have picked up by now that Quinns, Gril and I aren't that smart, so we decided to stick around.
  13. 13. I discovered a few things about my friends during my time in Bogenhafen. One is that Quintin is exquisitely stupid. Before we were about to head into the plague quarter Gril and I made sure that we'd tended to our minor wounds and boosted our immunity to whatever was inside. While we were preparing like that Quinns was learning how to juggle. That kind of emergent behaviour is exquisite. It’s been a brilliant source of humour for our group for months now, and it also tells you a little bit about Quintin and the way he thinks about the world.
  14. 14. At Last.fm, my job is all about spotting emergent behaviour. And early on it became clear that one of the best spaces for watching that was our tagging system.
  15. 15. My favourite band are Joy Division.
  16. 16. Atmospheric and expansive - Matt, 2012 I think they’re expansive and atmospheric.
  17. 17. Gloomy and depressing - Matt’s sister, 2012 My sister thinks of them as gloomy and depressing. On Last.fm all of these descriptions would be considered tags. lots of tags are genres, like rock or pop. But some of them are much more abstract; summer days and barbeque for example. Being open to this means that any quirk or meme or in-joke has space to 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 some matches and a tree and that river and my glasses and a spaceship and 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 The Rural Alberta Advantage 2) more than four hundred people have used it 3) 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’s a 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 ferry service, the Hurtigruten. For five days and nights viewers around the world 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 people to play with it. Voy, a creative studio based in Oslo, created this ambient coastal- shuffler, which picks bits from the Hurtigruten’s voayage and displays them quietly and unassumingly. It’s a lovely thing to have on a second screen or shared screen.
  21. 21. Weird constructions like this are exactly why NRK threw the footage open. They wanted people to build whatever came to mind with it; even with the biggest budget in the world they’d never cover every use case. Better to let the people with imagination have a play with the raw materials. By being open to Quinns learning how to juggle our roleplaying game had a rich, character-filled atmosphere. The colourful tapestry of tags Last.fm and the highly specific, beautiful construction of toys like Robot Voyager are great examples of how systems that are open to development and engagement can build mighty things that totally change your investment in the service. They allow you to tell your own stories around it. But back to Bogenhafen.
  22. 22. Despite Quinn's attempts to get us killed we did actually manage to save the town of Bogenhafen. We drove out the evil evil forces, killed some demons, burned a few talking buildings and totally saved the day. Kieron's face was a picture. He told us afterwards that he'd been taken to Bogenhafen as a kid quite a few times, but that every single time his party had failed whatever they were trying to do; the city had burned down in flames. By saving it we'd given him new perspective, and it also made sense of why we'd gone through hell there; Kieron really cared about what went down in Bogenhafen, and he'd used his connection to the place to fuel our encounter. Some of the most compelling storytelling mechanics I’ve seen online are all about altering our perspective of events very very slightly.
  23. 23. Derby [2061] very subtly altered my relationship with an unremarkable city in the midlands. It’s a meme, started by the developers of Mudlark, in which people tagged their Foursqaure content, Flickr photos and instagram shots with content related to their vision of Derby some fifty years in the future. This is my contribution; it's an Instagram photo taken at Derby Monorail Station. Mudlark wanted to see if people who enjoy subtly shifting their relationship with the city around them. They wanted to see if you could manipulate 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 use the present to shape it. If you believe that in fifty years time the Minatur Wunderland is going to be a drone deployment centre, or a prison, then you can roleplay that. You’ve got the technology in your pocket to do it now. Instantly we’re in a spot where we’re reframing the future through a familiar lens, and that’s incredibly important if you want to design or build for how people are going to live. And You don’t have to take it too seriously, you just have to play a little game.
  25. 25. Meanwhile I’m watching the past get more real by the day over on Twitter. Real Time WW2 does exactly what it says on the handle. It sends updates about what’s happening right now in 1940.
  26. 26. It started tweeting last year, beginning in 1939, and it’s now being translated into thirteen languages, though it looks as through the German one went dormant back in December.
  27. 27. Every person I know who’s following it experiences that same disquieting, atemporal feeling when they read a post that resonates. It’s a fragment from history that short-cuts a lot of our analytical processes because it surfaces in a conversational space.
  28. 28. We think about the event playing out Right Now. Think about how our friends might be engulfed in it, and think about how this information might have flowed, and whether it would have flowed at all.
  29. 29. While I was writing this a service called Twitshift enjoyed its one-year anniversary. Twitshift is a hacked-together service that publishes your tweets from twelve months ago to another twitter account. It’s built by James Wheare, who used to work at Last.fm, and it becomes such a gentle reminder of yourself that it can be dangerous; I almost burst into tears when I watched myself having a bike accident and 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 lifestreaming aggregation system that throws back your content from a year ago on a bunch of services, namely facebook, twitter foursquare and instagram. It’s too much. To have that land in your inbox on a daily basis is often to invite a bit of introspection into your daily routine as you try and unpick too much of your life. It’s a monolith. Of course they’re agile, they’re learning how to tweak and scale the service, and that’s great. It’s certainly less hacky a service than Twitshift. But it doesn’t enable ambient storytelling in quite the way it wants to.
  31. 31. Reframing monolithic events through a medium like Twitter helps you to see it in a new light. Like Derby [2061], it sparks emotional resonance when there might simply have been cynicism before, and empathy when there might have been contempt. That’s why Kieron’s face lit up when we saved Bogenhafen; we weren’t supposed to. It was like an exorcism for him. He saw this place in a brand 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 be he set us on a mission to rescue a young child, Johan, only to kill the boy off shortly afterwards. It did serious damage to our morale; at such an early juncture it left us feeling like without agency and without control over our actions. Very quickly Kieron shifted the focus of this early adventure, and eventually we brought Johan’s killer to justice. But that hadn’t been what he planned.
  33. 33. Besides Last.fm my freelance projects include writing comics, some for fun, some for profit. Last year I scripted several short comics for Dentsu’s Suwappu characters, a range of prototype toys that use near- field technology and facial recognition software to overlay stories and landscapes onto three-inch figurines. They’re still prototypes, and as a result there are little to no rules governing their use and interaction, making writing for them hard.
  34. 34. So I started playing with the scale that the characters were operated on, and wrote strips that instead focused on their place within a tabletop world. By getting the Suwappu to much about with teaspoons and pets - familiar things in households - I was better able to access common understanding of what makes a toy.
  35. 35. If I’m honest, it was rethinking the Suwappu that made me realise how integral to storytelling that roleplay is becoming. I had to invest a lot of imagination at that small scale in order to tell a story. Learning that made me feel a bit like Kieron; like I’m crafting an environment for successful interaction on the fly. So far I’ve told you about how these examples made me feel like an audience member - a roleplayer - so let’s look at them as if we’ve built them;
  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 and make believe;
  39. 39. Robot voyager is a distraction engine designed to make us long for fjords forever;
  40. 40. Debry [2061] explicitly calls on participants to imagine a future they take 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 is using all of the tools available to him to build a world we can react to and get lost in. In the wise words of an anonymous Wikipedia contributor “A good gamemaster draws the players into the adventure, making it enjoyable for everyone. Good gamemasters have quick minds, sharp wits, and rich imaginations. Gamemasters must also maintain game balance: hideously overpowered monsters or players are no fun” I’d argue that’s a perfect definition of what all of these other hacks and examples show off. I think that, surrounded by possibility, to be a successful storyteller now you need to
  43. 43. 1. Explore the limits of the medium 1 - Work to the technical limits of their medium - they build toys to play within them like Tom Game master must know the full depths of a ruleset
  44. 44. 2. Respond to emergent behaviour 2 - Leave room for and track emergent behaviour - no plans are based on a locked and stable understanding of the things that must happen like Last.fm and NRK “Quick mind, sharp wit, rich imaginations”
  45. 45. 3. Allow people to imagine contexts 3 - Allows people to extrapolate a future condition based on the current condition - they’ll have a greater investment if they can think forwards and backwards in relation to the world you’re creating like Mudlark and Real Time WW2 “Drawing into the adventure”
  46. 46. 4. Learn from your failures and adapt 4 - Learns from failures and tweaks future scenarios appropriately. If it doesn’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 be reactive to behaviour, test the limits of what mediums like Twitter are capable of in terms of communication, needs to respect the make believe contexts of the characters and needs to be ready to evaluate every 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 only part you care about, but it’s definitely the bit that resonates in the wider-world. To crack that you need tools wielded by people like Kieron. Stories don’t have to be multi-part epics spanning a transmedia content franchise. Sometimes it’s as simple as building something that sends a tweet. Treat the people you’re building for like roleplayers. You’ll build beautiful things.
  49. 49. Campire Stories Thanks to @KieronGillen, @Quinns108, @GriddleOctopus, @XING_de & @birgitgcom www.matthewsheret.com http://matthewsheret.com Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/ edge_minisite.asp?eidm=93 Tower Bridge http://twitter.com/#!/twrbrdg_itself Markov Chocolate http://twitter.com/#!/markovchocolate Robot Voyager http://robotvoyager.voyoslo.com Derby [2061] http://www.wearemudlark.com/blog/derby-2061/ Realtime WW2 http://twitter.com/#!/realtimewwii Twitshift http://www.twitshift.com/ Suwappu http://www.getsuwappu.com/

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