Monday, April 23, 2007

Final Essay: “I Might Be a Game Designer”

Your final essay is due on May 7, our last day of class.

This 2-3 page assignment is a self-reflection, designed to help you translate what we've been doing in class to your ongoing art practice.

Choose any 3 key concepts or insights– new terms, ideas, design principles, or theories that you learned in this class – that best intersect with your own art practice. Discuss how you might use these ideas to develop further work, in any medium or for any platform, in the future.

What will you make in the future that reflects your new expertise in ubiquitous game culture? Do the concepts apply well to other genres of art practice? How will game design influence your work in other media? Which key concepts from the new fields of ubiquitous game design, context-aware play, theories of fun and performance, alternate reality design, or collective intelligence might inspire a different approach to your work as an artist?

Each concept or insight that you discuss should be from a different reading or project home page. In addition to the ubiquitous computing manifestos and context-aware gaming essays and interviews we read in the first half of the semester, you might also consider our more recent texts: Richard Schechner’s performance theory, Katie Salen & Eric Zimmerman’s playtesting framework, Raph Koster’s theory of fun, Pierre Levy’s collective intelligence, or William J. Mitchell’s Me++, for example. Or you might wish to quote from the Frank Lantz interview, the Zero Game Manifesto, or the online mission statements of World Without Oil, SF0, or Cruel 2 B Kind.

You may find it helpful to directly quote the readings, although I would also like to see you discuss the concepts in your own words, so that I can see you demonstrating a clear understanding of the material.

Feel free to discuss your own art practice goals and work outside of this class at length here. You don't have to focus on game design, unless you want to. I'm very interested to hear how ideas of gaming might fit in the future with your broader work.

Length: 2 pages minimum, double-spaced, 12 pt font, 1 inch margins.

NO LATE PAPERS ACCEPTED. If you miss class, the paper must be emailed to me by midnight (my first name at avantgame dot com)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Games as Networks: Me++

In class this week, we'll be discussing the notion of "Me++" - how the individual is extended by network technologies and digital communities to be a part of something bigger.

How does the idea of Me++ relate to ubiquitous gaming, or games in general? Is every game -- even non-digital ones -- a kind of network? Is every player a Me++? Discuss!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

World Without Oil Press

As playground game designers for a World Without Oil, I thought you might like to see a little bit of the press that the alternate reality game has been receiving! (Thanks Patrick for spotting these and adding links in the comments to the earlier post!)

SF Weekly
Contra Costa Times

Monday, March 19, 2007

Secret Game Design Project!

Here are the key terms we came up with in class to inspire our secret game designs, which are due April 2!

Optimism, Fear, Desperation, Uncertainty, Hunger, Inconvenience, Competitive, Survival, Disbelief, Threatened, Embattled, Overwhelmed, Ambitious, Nihilistic, Tribalism, Scared, Panicked, Liberation, Realization, Hope, Despair, Jealously, Paranoia, Frustration, Trapped, Demoralized, Uncertain, Vengeful, Anger, Greed, Militant, Abandoned, Betrayed, Excited, Inspired, Instinctual, Primitive, Guilty, Regret, Longing, Aware

Imagery: Pillars of smoke, reclamation of natural spaces, starting villages in towns with natural towns, parking lots reclaimed for small markets, gas stations trying to stay in business by selling crazy things like DVDs and jungle juice, barbecues outdoor, urban astronomy rediscovered, urban fortresses, "there are those fucking helicopters again", fortressed community gardens for food, big caravans, nomadic groups of people, buses, exile, heading towards rumors of a better place, chaos, rebellions, increased security presence, city streets with horses and Prius and bikes and scooters, pedestrians and bikes overflowing into streets, rollerblades are popular again, abandoned cars, repurposed cars, cars as greenhouses, kids playing cars, wild life encroachment; no more Internet? parts are scarce for maintaining data centers, nationalist propaganda and rhetoric, invading Mexico, borders closed by the other countries!

Places: sprawling suburbs, people need to be bused out of them; longer lines for public transportation; docks and shipyards with people waiting for food to come in; waste build up in streets; post offices - get your own mail; excessive security in all civic buildings, but not enough in markets; schools -- can kids take buses there? schools no longer in session; rationing oil for ambulances?; hostile farm takeovers; blockade runners as black market to thwart legal rationing; radios everywhere; people gathered; communal use of media and objects; looting is high and prisons overflowing; islands used as makeshift prisons; Back on Alcatraz; lonelier oceans, more change of getting lost at sea

Verbs: walk, trade, riot, talk, ciphon, traverse, worry, hack, reconstruct, scavenge, survive, cooperate, raid, hide, lock, invent, communicate, conserve, hoard, spy, defend, gossip, run, entertain, complain, storytell, escape, deny, dream, blog, document, film, record, barter, create, lie, MacGyver, war

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Iterative Game Design

This week, you completed a game design boot camp. You learned the iterative design process, which has five steps:

1. Mission statement
2. Prototyping
3. Playtesting
4. Evaluation
5. Re-state mission, if necessary, and re-design

These steps are repeated again and again (…and again! … and again!) until the game achieves the designers’ mission(which may change over time).

Why we do iterative design:
-You cannot fully anticipate play in advance – your game may not do what you think it does
-Real players may understand your game differently than you do – your goals and rules may not be clearly defined
-Multiple plays produces different results – different kinds of fun, different errors, different problems, different strategies – that you may want to emphasize or eliminate

Evaluation areas:
-Is the game accomplishing its goals?
-Do players understand what they are supposed to be doing?
-Are players having fun? What kind(s) of fun?
-Do they want to play again?
-Could they play it differently the next time?

After you guys designed two great games-- seriously, I am still psyched about how much fun it was to play them. We crawled around a fountain blindfolded yelling "pebble webble"! We raced up and down a ramp screaming "Back to the castle! Back to the castle!" It was really surprisingly awesome fun.

This week, I want to see each member of a design team complete the iterative process again in the comments. Evalute the last playtest, restate your mission if necessary, and propose redesigns. I am certain both games will be played again-- I am actually quite eager to try them both out in public!

Game Developers Conference talk

Hey all -- yesterday I gave the reserach + design keynote at GDC (the first woman in the 21 year history of the conference to keynote!) -- and the topic was ubiquitous games, naturally, and how they might play out in the future.

Thought you might like to see some of the press and my notes on it, so feel free to check out this story (a cool CNET summary) and my blog post here.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

How do you make a ubiquitous game for infinite? (Case Study)

Here's that case study of a design team that attempted to make their ubiquitous game, SF0, a bit more like an infinite game. Y

ou'll want to read the "About" page on SF0's main site, and compare it to the changes they've made in the case study link.

Your question for the week: Can you identify boundaries that the new design is playing with? What traits of infinite play does the new design possess? (or the old design, for that matter?)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

ARGfest this weekend!

If you want to sign up for ARG fest (it's $10), here is the official registration page.

You'll meet some of the ARG fest folks at Cruel 2 B Kind on Friday night, as well. (You did remember to register for Cruel 2 B Kind already, right?) You can always bring extra teammates to the C2BK game - as long as one of your is signed up, you can all play.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Finite into Infinite Play

This week, we read excerpts from Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse. We discussed some practical ubiquitous design lessons from the text.

So here's a unusual design exercise for you. Take any game in the world, and suggest three ways to make it closer to infinite play.

Remember: finite play is play within boundaries; infinite play is play with boundaries. Which 3 boundaries could you play with in your chosen game? What kind of crazy new game would be the result?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Play with me! Cruel 2 B Kind

March 2, 2007 is the world premiere of the new, improved Cruel 2 B Kind – the game of benevolent assassination - now, with booty! It’s happening 6 – 7:30 PM on a Friday evening in SOMA, San Francisco, and I really want you to play. And I know YOU really want you to take over SOMA like the nice little ninjas you are, and kill other players (and unsuspecting bystanders) with kindness.

You can sign up now. (You have to register by noon on March 2 to play.) What are you waiting for? Sign up! It’s free, it’s outdoors, it’s crazy, and there might be cupcakes! (Okay, there WILL be cupcakes!) What more could you ask for?

Well, okay, here’s more: I’ll be there live puppet mastering, with a few surprises for keen-eyed players. (So if you spot me wandering the streets and attack me, you might get a little bonus fun…)

With your first essay due March 5, this could be a great game to play to critique for the assignment...

In the meantime, feel free to review the game website and leave comments about the possible connections between this game and our ubiquitous computing readings, our new "finite vs. infinite play texts."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Essay #1: Ubiquitous Game Critique

Due Monday March 5, your first assignment is a 2-3 page (double-spaced) critique of a ubiquitous game. You can write about any ubiquitous game that you've played this semester, or about the ubiquitous mini-game you recently designed.

If you haven't played any good ubiquitous games lately, and you're a big procrastinaor, sign up for Cruel 2 B Kind San Francisco on Friday March 2, 5:30 PM. (I'll be live puppet mastering the game!)

You should choose one or two readings from the semster so far that help you make your critique, or explain your design. Quote the readings to help make your argument.

I'm happy to look at your topic or a draft before the paper is due, if you'd like some early feedback. In the meantime, feel free to post your topic here to get feedback or to inspire others!

Sample topics:

In this essay, I first summarize computer scientist Rich Gold’s vision for an “enchanted village” of ubiquitous computers. I then analyze whether or not the ubiquitous game Sweet Cheat Gone successfully turned San Francisco into an enchanted village for its players.

In this essay, I explore how Mark Weiser’s three characteristics for ubiquitous computing – ‘invisible’, ‘calm’ and ‘connected’ – could be used to make play more ubiquitous in urban environments. I will use these characteristics to explain the design of my ubiquitous mini-game for San Francisco, While You Wait.

In this essay, I explain the Institute for the Future’s five criteria for context-aware gaming. I use these criteria to critique the design of the current Heroes ubiquitous game,

Monday, February 12, 2007

Public Pillow Fight - February 14, 2007!

It's not a game, exactly--but it is public play.

Join the second annual Valentine's Day pillow fight at the Embarcadero in San Francisco.

Full details are here.

Amazing photos from last year's fight here. Literally hundreds showed up to play.

Hope to see you there! Full instructions below.

It’s not Valentine’s Day, it’s

Where: Justin Herman Plaza (Market & Embarcadero), San Francisco, CA.

When: Wednesday, February 14th, when the Ferry Building clock strikes 6pm.



1) Tell everyone you know about Pillow Fight!

2) Tell EVERYONE YOU KNOW about Pillow Fight!!!

3) Nothing in your pillow but pillow.

4) Don’t hit anyone with out a pillow.

5) Don’t hit anyone operating a camera.

Last year’s Pillow Fight was *amazing*! Let’s make the magic happen again! Please bring a few trash bags to share and help pick up after wards.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Sweet Cheat Gone Rules and Game Map!

The rule and game map for Sweet Cheat Gone are now online. You can download them here.

Whether you're playing or not, it's a great idea to read the rules and study these as ubiquitous game artifiacts.

If you play, report in with your thoughts! (Bonus points if your thoughts are inspired by some of the readings or conversations we've had in class.) So, describe your experience, or critique the design, or think about how something you saw or heard during the game might inform your affordance testing project.

If you don't play, read through the rules anyway and see how they might help you answer the questions above.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Affordance Testing in San Francisco

Based on our excerpt from "The Future of Context Aware Gaming" report, we've agreed on five criteria for all of our own ubiquitous game designs. They are:

1) The game is "free and global" - it is designed to engage as wide a player base as possible, in terms of age, gender, technology skills (or lack thereof) and location. It has the potenital to create a community.
2) Game spaces and objects are "ordinary" - it involves everyday objects or spaces, using them in new ways.
3) The experience is "hybrid" - it connects the gameplay with the local environment, rather than separating the two.
4) The game is "networked" - part of the game lives in the data sphere. It has a least one digital affordance.
5) The design is "hacked, improvised" - we use existing apps and co-opt existing networks for play.

This week, you're working in small design teams to create and implement a mini-game somewhere in San Francisco. For your design, you should be able to talk about each of these five criteria. So please, in the comments, fill us in on the details of the latest design your team has worked out. As an experiment, see if you can explain how your design addresses each criterion. Is there one that you're missing or weaker on? Explain, and see if you can improve the design.

As a reminder, your mini-game should consist of the following:
-one embedded clue,
-a digital affordance (see our affordance worksheet for a range of potential affordances), and
-a payoff for successful activation of the affordance

These should be quick, small, very self-contained, and be fully executed in the next 10 days. This is a mini-trial; think small and successful!

Monday, February 5, 2007

The Dangers of Gaming in Plain Sight

Ubiquitous games leave traces throughout the everyday environment. They often require designers and players to install clues and interactive objects in public spaces. Sometimes these installations, if they are not well though-out or carefully managed, can cause a bit of (or a lot of!) commotion among folks who aren't in on the game.

This past week, an incident in Boston demonstrated just how bad things can get when non-gamers don't know what to make of a sign that play (or art) is afoot. "Just how bad" included arrests of two artists, hired as viral marketers, after a city shut down bus stations, airports and bridges because they mistook 10 elecronic cartoon art installations for terrorist bombs. You can read an excellent summary here, an editorial on the side of the city officials here, an editorial on the fence here, and an editorial on the side of the artists here.

Lots of interesting debate coming out of this event. For instance, unforum is a major forum for players of ubiquitous games; they're have an interesting conversation about the relevance of the Boston LED fiasco to game design here.

How does this Boston scare make you feel as a potential ubiquitous game designer? Does it make you want to more carefully frame your game so that no one overreacts? What strategies would you use to help prevent misinterpretation of the game? Or does the hysteria just make you frustrated by the widespread culture of fear? Should that culture be resisted through more play, or respected?

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Why We Make Ubiquitous Games: Our Manifesto (DRAFT ONE)

Below is an edited version of our notes from class discussion last week. These are the values, belief, strategies and possibilities that you all noted from personal experience, and from our analysis of The Game and Major Brown. I have to say: I think it's a really tremendously exciting start to the semester. With this original, collectively created manifesto--totally unique to our class!--we are on our way to articulating a game design philosophy that will focus all of our efforts and help us create an important ubiquitous game together.

Please feel free, in the comments, to share your thoughts about how the manifesto is taking shape, or to add new lines that you would propose inserting into the manifesto. Be sure to mention which section you want to add it/them to!

Why We Make Ubiquitous Games: A Manifesto


When we play games, we experience relaxation, concentration, cohesion, elation, adventurous thinking, constant challenge, and relief. We want more of these things in everyday life.

When we play games, we feel awed, sneaky and backwards. We should feel like this in real life, too.

When we play games, we feel intermittent anxiety and frustration. We become very analytical and focused. We MIGHT want to feel and be more of these things in everyday life… we haven’t decided yet.


We believe a well-designed game can improve a life that is boring, or routine. It can help change for the better someone who is work-obsessed, or depressed, or kind of a dick.

A well-designed game can transform someone who is a loner and doesn’t value life, who takes things for granted and for whom everything comes easy, into a very different person.

A well-designed game can make someone more responsive to clues in the environment. It can help someone recognize opportunitIes.


A ubiquitous game can take away your sense of security and comfort. It can create a physical challenge or give you a near-death experience. It forces you away from work and out of your routine.

You may feel insignificant or humbled by a ubiquitous game. It can remove your ordinary identity, make you nobody, obscure your status.

A ubiquitous game can make you pay attention to the things around you. It may force you to respond to “noise”.

It may create a paranoia that you don’t enjoy at the time. But it makes your life more interesting, if not immediately more enjoyable.

A ubiquitous game may blur the boundaries. You might become more alert to your layered environment .

You might find yourself making decisions that you wouldn’t make in everyday life. You might cross ethical and moral boundaries. You may find yourself empowered by the game’s instructions.

You might need to bring strangers into the game.

The game may give you real actual sincere heartbreak, or make you totally miserable. You may experience sincere intense emotion.

You may jumping off the building – metaphorically. You may choose adventure that comes as a surprise.


A ubiquitous game could wake you up if you are sleep walking through life. You might pay attention to infinite possibilities. You might notice absurdity.

A ubiquitous game could give you a shared social experience. You would realize that not every clue means something, but you can still think about it. You can still push the button.

Life in complex and not everything is meaningful. But maybe in the game, everything comes together anyway.

When you don’t know if it is the game or not, you are more open to possibilities. You may appreciate reality more. It doesn’t have to be a game for you to enjoy life.

Wanting to be in the game is the game.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Major Brown, hungry spaces, and the "noble work" of games

From this week's reading, G.K. Chesterton's short story "The Tremendous Adventures of Major Brown":

"Major," said he, "did you ever, as you walked along the empty street upon some idle afternoon, feel the utter hunger for something to happen--something, in the splendid words of Walt Whitman: 'Something pernicious and dread; something far removed from a puny and pious life; something unproved; something in a trance; something loosed from its anchorage. and driving free.' Did you ever feel that?"

Is there any space where you have hungered for something playful or adventurous to happen? What was it about the space that made you wish for more? What kinds of places, in general, make you wish something like a game would intervene?

"We believe that we are doing a noble work," said Northover warmly. "...We give [the player] a glimpse of that great morning world of Robin Hood or the Knights Errant, where one great game was played under the splendid sky. We give him back his childhood, that godlike time when we can act stories, be our own heroes, and at the same instant dance and dream."

Can digital game design be considered a noble work? Not just ubiquitous games, but any games? Pick a specific genre of games -- ubiquitous games, adventure games, virtual worlds, first person shooters, action games, MMOs, rhythm games, whatever -- and defend your position. Why or why not?

Or: Feel free to pick any other quotation from the story that captured your attention, and explain why!

Play Me! The Sweet Cheat Gone

This is our first opportunity to play together in a real, live, ubiquitous game!

It's called The Sweet Cheat Gone, it's free, and it's one night only here in San Francisco.

So mark your calendars now: Saturday February 10, at 7 PM, the game begins with a meetup at Steuart between Market and Mission.

The game is described:

"An investigation of guilt and innocence played out across the streets of San Francisco. You are a prosecutor, a private eye, a witness, collecting evidence, not knowing who tyou can trust, betraying your friends (enemies) to build your case. Pursue a thread of desire that takes you to imaginary crime scenes beneath the skyline."

It's organized by the game group SF0 -- I've played with them before and love them. So I'm really excited about this event!

TO PLAY: You need to register your name, an email, and a password here.

I hope most of us can play -- this will be a great experience and the perfect game to write about for your first essay (due about 3 weeks after the game.)

If you plan to play, leave a comment here so we all know to look for you at the game! (But that doesn't mean we'll trust you. Mu-ha-ha....)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Pushing the Limits of Play - Game Examples

Yesterday we talked about games that have been pushing the limits of the "magic circle"--the boundaries that prevent gameplay from influencing real life, and vice versa.

Here are links for you to find out more about those games! Feel free to post your thoughts about the potential benefits and possibly negative consequences of pushing any of these specific gameplay limits.

Since we are concentrating this week on the WHY of ubiquitous gaming, how do you explain these specific experiments? How might you account for the desire to push gaming into new spaces, or new social contexts, or new timelines, or new real-world matters?

Pushing the Spacial limits - Where do we play games?
Nintendo DS Skydiving Experiment
You're In Control (Public Urinal Game)

Pushing the Social limits - With whom do we play games? How many can we play with at once?
XBox Live
World of Warcraft

Pushing the Temporal limits - When do we play games, and for how long?

Pushing the Cultural limits - How seriously do we take our games?
America's Army
Super Columbine Massacre RPG

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Why do we want ubiquitous gameplay?

In our first class meeting, we watched The Game (David Fincher, 1997).

This film depicts an immersive, reality-based game that blurs the boundaries between play and real life. Although "The Game" played in the movie does not really exist, the movie is an extremely important artifact in the historical development of ubiquitous gaming. The Game has been cited as a major inspiration by the designers of the earliest ubiquitous games--Wink Back Inc.'s The Go Game (2001), Electronic Arts' Majestic (2001), and Microsoft's The Beast (2001). And it continues to serve as a reference for more recent projects, such as Mind Candy's Perplex City (2005).

If you have time to follow the links for these games, you can learn more about their design. What parallels can you find between these real games and The Game?

You can see some of this history played out in the online articles "Geeks Without Borders" and "Games People Play: Life invades games, and vice versa", two of the first popular press discussions of ubiqutious gaming, explore projects like The Go Game and The Beast in relation to The Game.

What do you make of Fincher's vision of immersive gameplay? Would you want to play? Why would anyone want to play such an unbounded game? What desires does it speak to? What thrills does it provide?

Why do you think real-world game developers were so inspired by this movie? What qualities of "The Game" experience do you think game developers would want to replicate in their real games? Why?

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Welcome to This Might Be a Game

Welcome to our course blog!

We'll use this online space to discuss our readings and to report on our play tests.

Feel free to link to other interesting projects, articles and anything else that you stumble upon! And remember to weigh in weekly to get full participation credit.