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Game Design & the City @ Best Scene in Town


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This presentation was part of my contribution to the Best Scene in Town workshop on 14 April 2010 at the Waag Society. In it, I describe three scenarios for the development of games into the near future. I also briefly discuss some key concepts in the field of game design. The goal of this presentation was to inspire and to provoke, as well as provide some handholds for participants to use in their own subsequent work.

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Game Design & the City @ Best Scene in Town

  1. 1. game design & the city Best Scene in Town – 14 April 2010
  2. 2. introductions… I guess the polite thing to do is to start with an introduction. I am Kars and I am the founder of Hubbub; a studio for social physical games in public space.
  3. 3. Here’s a few of our projects: a mix between a game and a rock opera in Monster, a social photo collecting game in Utrecht and a physical street game in Rotterdam. I could talk about each of these for a while but I won’t…
  4. 4. some of game design’s values …because I’m here to represent the field of game design. To start I’ll tell you about a few things that I think are important to understand if you want to get a sense of how game designers look at things.
  5. 5. games are about doing stuff Games are about doing stuff. You don’t read a game, you don’t listen to a game, you don’t watch a game (although you can do all of these), you DO a game (you play it). So at the core of any good game is an interesting activity. For a while this was hard to tell since all the action happened inside people’s heads, but now we’re seeing it more clearly thanks to physical interfaces such as the Wii.
  6. 6. play vs. games Play is what people do ‘inside’ games. They explore the possibilities of a ruleset. But all play isn’t limited to gaming. There are many playful activities that are not strictly speaking, games (that lack a goal, for instance). Such as dressing up your cat. A crazy, pointless, useless activity. Games, essentially, give you a framework for being useless.
  7. 7. iterative design This artificial coral reef wasn’t put there in one piece. It was grown bit by bit. New things were introduced gradually. It’s the same with game design. The way to get to a good, interesting game is through iteration. Start small, gradually increase the complexity of the ruleset and playtest, playtest, playtest. (By making lots of prototypes.) That’s probably the most practical advice you’ll get in this presentation.
  8. 8. 3 scenarios for the future of games in the city Ronald asked me to share three bold predictions with you today. Hopefully you’ll find them inspiring and maybe they’ll also give you a bit of a framework for how you can game in the city.
  9. 9. 1/3 Would you like points with that? The first scenario is about what happens when all mundane activities are turned into games.
  10. 10. It’s an extrapolation of things we are seeing now, such as Foursquare (which attaches points to visits to the pub) and car dashboards like the one found in the Ford Fusion Hybrid, which attaches a score of sorts to your driving behavior.
  11. 11. The way this future would feel is that you are constantly given points for things you do. Those points are most likely awarded by businesses and governments, to manipulate your behavior. For instance, an electrical toothbrush might award you points for loyal brushing behavior. Those points could result in a discount on your health insurance…
  12. 12. This future works thanks to the proliferation of cheap sensors and networking. These are barely games. The sensing makes your everyday activities measurable. Then, simple game mechanics like collecting and rankings are stacked on top. It’s not about make-believe, it’s about improving who you are and what you do.
  13. 13. 2/3 Be who you aren’t. The second scenario I’d like to share with you is about where I think digital games as an entertainment medium are headed. It’s about the player as performer, augmented by a large range of personal technologies.
  14. 14. This scenario is an extrapolation of the social physical games we’ve seen emerge on consoles, such as Guitar Hero. These games are a social activity, you can be a player but you can also be a spectator. They’re performative. And the tech makes you feel awesome, if only just for a minute. It lets your pretend you’re a rockstar. Pretending is at the core of these games and I think that when they collide with lifestyles such as goths (who pretend to be victorians, essentially) we’ll be in for a surprise… (As another example, you could say parkour players are pretending to be superheroes, or Super Mario, at least.)
  15. 15. So imagine you could embody your ambitions, the things you aspire to, without actually having to become them. So if you fancy yourself a bicycle courier you can play the Fixie Hero game and show off to all your friends. There’ll be tech that lets you pretend to ride a bike really fast and dangerous without actually, you know, going fast and being in danger. But you’ll feel like it, and you’ll look awesome doing it. Or you can pretend to be a pilot, a fireman, an artist, a head of state, you name it.
  16. 16. So this future is mostly facilitated by progress in post-GUI technologies. It’ll be brought about by all kinds of wearable, portable, personal tech that’ll amplify various senses and capacities. They’ll be stylish, fashionable and fit in with your lifestyle. (Not like these MIT geeks, in other words.)
  17. 17. 3/3 Warning: alternate reality in progress. The third and last scenario is about games as tools for proposing and effecting change.
  18. 18. It takes as its starting points a recent trend in the design world, called design fiction. It’s about telling stories about possible futures and making artifacts that represent said future. Here’s a photo from the Lyddle End 2050 project, which was a collaborative effort to build a model of an English village as it might look in the future. On the other hand we have things like alternate reality games that employ a range of media to create the illusion of a coherent mirror world. Zona Incerta, for instance, was a Brazilian ARG about a big corporation buying up the Amazon, which caused quite a stir.
  19. 19. This future has you stumbling across other people’s realities constantly. You might have some way of filtering them out, or there might be legislation that forces people to warn you about them. Conversely, you yourself might construct and play in realities that you would like to see happen (or would like to prevent). It’s culture jamming gone mainstream, in other words.
  20. 20. This future functions mainly thanks to our overlapping media landscape and the fact that our experience of reality is already fully mediated. Cheap tools and platforms for media production make it possible for individuals and small groups of people to produce and run these games.
  21. 21. anyway… So those are my three scenarios of the future of games. I hope you find them helpful and stimulating.
  22. 22. coevolution of games and cities All of these in one way or the other, by the way, shape people’s behavior and since people shape cities, inadvertently, cities will be shaped by games. And vice versa! Because if games are to leave the confines of flat screen TVs placed in living rooms, we’d better start designing them for use on the streets.
  23. 23. do we put games in computers or computers in games? And so, I’d like to leave you with this thought, which I’ve heard Mr. Slavin say at several occasions, who in turn got it from his colleague Mr. Lantz if I’m not mistaken. Games were there before computers, so isn’t it strange we often think of them as things you put in computers? Shouldn’t this be the other way around?
  24. 24. thanks! And that’s that. Best of luck today!