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Nina Simon’s crowdsourced search for a title for her upcoming book leads me to bring a fine word out of penultimate obscurity: particibility. By which I mean the amount or degree a thing is able to be participated in. To me particible gets at something that participatory glosses over, which is the quality of participation afforded. A key distinction where any game is concerned, but double-dog-especially for social (and socially relevant) games such as World Without Oil – which are notable for their very high quality of participation.
Nina is Museum 2.0, which is how we met – she wrote about WWO soon after it concluded (and coined one of the most apt descriptions of the game: WWO “was a huge growing, twisting network of news, strategy, activism, and personal expression”). She’s helped bring me into the world of museums, which has been a most fruitful introduction… Because, in a word, museums want to become more particible, and WWO-style open gameplay could be key to accomplishing that.
Getting back to that book title: I’m put off by Participatory Museums, because participatory is a tag museums assign themselves, and can I trust how the museum defines participation? Very often, no. I’m attracted to Particible Museums because to me the word particible speaks of openness to participation as defined by the visitor. And in the end it’s the visitor, and only the visitor, who decides; participation is a feeling she or he gets (or doesn’t get). Photo by Musebrarian via Flickr.
WWO’s particular friend Jane McGonigal has announced a presentation at the EducaRed conference in Madrid, Spain beginning November 26. Her subject: serious games – i.e., games that are actually about something, that connect people to real-world problems, and that give its players useful knowledge and skills. What kind of games should young people be playing more of? What kinds of collaboration skills and collective intelligence will they learn by playing the right games? One of the serious games she cites is World Without Oil (the other is SuperStruct). Inspiring stuff. Watch her 7-min video.
…at the Creativity and Collaboration retreat, coming up this weekend in Asilomar, CA. The retreat’s for the creatives that work in the museum and exhibit space, and even in this stressed economy (because of the stressed economy?) it sold out quickly.
C2 has brought in people from outside the exhibits field to act as “instigators,” a role I’m pretty happy to take on. I’m the games (or play) instigator, along with Harley DuBois of Burning Man, Kate Shaw of LucasArts, and storyteller Tierney Thys. Mike Petrich and Karen Wilkenson from the Exploratorium’s Learning Studio round out the field of presenters. Very nice company to be in.
I’m designing a new game to run during the retreat (the idea of 100 people coming for these reasons is certainly an inspiration) called Faces In The Crowd – a kindler, gentler version of my game Spy School from Come Out & Play 2006… with invaluable assistance from Nina Simon of Museum 2.0. And feeling strangely calm about it all. Photo by yuzu via Flickr and Creative Commons.
Jane McGonigal blogged recently about “experience grenades” – games like World Without Oil that can be worldview-changing for their players. Why “grenade”? Experiencing the game is like pulling the pin, she says. Playing the game isn’t necessarily any big thing. It’s sometime later that the “experience” goes off and your worldview gets changed.
This of course is nothing new: I think many of us have had a “grenade” experience with a really great book, movie or other work of art. But I believe the game experience inherently packs a more powerful explosion. Books and movies put a layer of abstraction between you and the experience that games don’t; in some sense you are always “in” a game in a way that you never are with a book or movie. And ARGs in particular really enhance being “in the game.” (There’s no avatar, for one thing; it’s really you.) When there’s no set narrative except the one being created by the players – a la Superstruct or SF0 or World Without Oil – the immersion gets stronger still.
This concept is important for decisionmakers to internalize as they ponder funding for a game. Traditional metric structures for assessing impact do not carry over well to the game sphere, precisely because of phenomena such as the experience grenade. Just as socially collaborative projects such as Wikipedia are revolutionizing how business gets done, alternate reality games are revolutionizing what activism is and what brands do – and yeah, that change is arriving right now, with explosive force. Photo by Stephen Poff via Flickr.
Via Philip Trippenbach’s blog, I found OILIGARCHY, a fun (and instructive) little flash game by WWO friend Molleindustria. Or should I say, “a playable commentary on the oil industry” as Molleindustria terms OILIGARCHY in their excellent dissection of their own game. OILIGARCHY, it seems to me, is a model for these types of games in that it’s transparent about its biases.
My own play result surprised me a bit, in that I did “good.” I dispossessed and killed relatively few people, and left ANWR and Iraq alone. At game end, I weaned America off its oil addiction, set it on a course toward a better and sustainable quality of life, kept my board of directors happy (and if not happy, more perplexed than angry) and even made a killing (which Molleindustria points out is not hard) and retired happy. Instructively, the secret seemed to be (spoiler): I declined to spend cash to rig the U.S. political system. Hmmm….
WWO’s own Participation Architect, Jane McGonigal, continues her business-of-ARGs evangelism in this article in Businessweek, and answers five questions posed by Businessweek about Alternate Reality Games in this 6-min video. As Jane notes, it’s important for businesses to take note of and get involved with the sort of massively peer-peer learning, collaborative brainstorming, and shaping of win-win futures that alternate reality games can spark – not just for their own business success but for the improvement of quality of life in general. Or as Jane puts it, “increasing the odds of us collaboratively inventing a future that we all want to live in.” Go Jane!
I’ve been aware for some time that I play games differently from some other people. I like immersion reality. What does that mean? It means games which try to construct a fully realized simulation of a situation, and value play that is “in game.”
This is different from immersive meaning “engrossing.” I find basketball and chess engrossing, for example, but they are not immersive; they don’t simulate anything, they are constructed specifically to be games.
When I play non-immersive games, I am constantly thinking about the rules. When I play immersion reality games, however, I am hardly aware of rules. When I play chess, narrative is distracting; it doesn’t help to know that the rook once was called “rukh” and was a warrior instead of a castle. If I play an immersive reality game such as World Without Oil, however, narrative is key; it’s central to the game; it’s the best narratives that drive the game forward.
In my view, various Alternate Reality Games score variously on the “immersion reality index” or IRI, and this doesn’t necessarily depend on the relative “reality” of the game scenario. In the ILoveBees ARG, the character of Melissa was an Artificial Intelligence from the 26th century that had been damaged and spun back in time to crash-land on the website of a Napa Valley beekeeper in 2004. As realities go, that’s pretty far out there. But as written by 42 Entertainment and portrayed by actress Kristen Rutherford, Melissa was very plausible, and led to immersive player interactions such as this one.
There’s nothing wrong with a game that scores low on the IRI. People are very comfortable playing games that are essentially outside themselves, where there’s a level of abstraction between them and the game action (as there is in most video games). In low-IRI games, it’s fine to leave your morals and your emotions off the playing field. But for me and for a lot of people, games that score high on the IRI are the easiest and most satisfying games to play, because they give me a full-mind workout.
The lack of abstraction means something more: immersion reality games are effective learning experiences. They simulate life, after all, which is the most effective learning experience of all. It’s this aspect of high-IRI games, simulations and “thought experiments” that is attracting so much attention to games such as World Without Oil, and the prospect of extending games like it into civic, social, and cultural arenas. Photo by -Kj. via Flickr.
The Economist magazine ran a cool democratic experiment in which they created a Global Electoral College online and allowed the world to vote on the American election. The result: Obama sweeps the world, capturing 9,115 out of a total of 9,875 electoral votes. Which explains my inbox, crammed with election excitement and good wishes from friends outside the U.S.
Curious to see the McCain-leaning red states around the world: Iraq, predictably, but Algeria? The Congo? Cuba? Click on through to check out the interactive map.
A fortnight ago I had further occasion to speak about the World Without Oil game, first at The Conversation, a very cool conference focused on independent filmmaking and storytelling, and then at WebbyConnect, the also cool Webby conference. One was in Berkeley, and the other in a Ritz-Carlton hotel right on the beach… you can probably guess which was which.
Scott Kirsner, a prime mover at The Conversation, has a great summary of it here. WebbyConnect doesn’t seem to have a good online record, but Shira Lazar’s video interviews capture some of the vibe; none with me (pout) but a nice one with Susan Bonds of 42 Entertainment covers the Alternate Reality Game space.
I spun my message different ways for the different audiences, but at core it’s always the same these days: serious alternate reality games like World Without Oil tap into the power of questions. “What if an oil shock came?” The beauty is that you don’t have to know the answer. With a serious alternate reality game, all you have to do is frame the question in the right way, and let the people answer.
This is so important for people who are keyed to issues (like the indie filmmakers at The Conversation) but also to people who are trying to figure out how to really leverage the web (the WebbyConnect peeps). They shy away from the big, hard, unanswerable question that’s at the heart of their message, when they now have a tool in hand that can make that question’s apparent unanswerability work for them. Like judo, the serious alternate reality game uses the question’s weight against it.
Over and over again at these conferences, people brought up the word “authentic” as a goal. It’s a strange thing to say about a fictional adventure, but it’s true nevertheless: World Without Oil was authentic, in the aggregate one of the most authentic things I’ve ever experienced. But we are so used to storytelling now, as opposed to storymaking, that the idea of a storyteller giving up their admittedly inauthentic narrative never even sees the light of day.
Big props out to the great people I met at these conferences: good to see Peggy Weil and Lance Weiler again, great to meet people like Scott Kirsner, Wendy Levy, Elina Shcop, Christina Schroeder, Chris Armijo, Chet Gulland, to name just a few. I had a great time sitting in the grass at The Conversation and talking games with a circle of interesting people over lunch, and sitting with Nadine Bartz and Horst Liebetrau on a perfect balmy oceanside evening. The word about games is getting out there: maybe games will save the world sooner than I thought. Photo of The Conversation by jdlasica via Flickr.
The World Without Oil idea of using an “alternate reality” to help us grapple with real-world problems resonated with a lot of people, starting on the day we announced the game. Now projects inspired by WWO are beginning to pop into public view. Here are four… more to come:
EARTH 2100 by ABC News. Leap ahead in time to the year 2015 (or 2050), and bear witness to the concatenating catastrophes in climate, energy, and water, based on science forecasts… A contest to support a two-hour report airing this fall.
SCORCHED, a TV drama for TCN Nine in Australia. It’s 2012, and Cassie’s worried: there are eight weeks of water left in Bourne, Australia… A game to support a drama series, airing this fall.
BLACK CLOUD, an alternate reality learning experience focusing on pollution and air quality, by a UC Berkeley team, running now. A game funded by the MacArthur Foundation’s digital learning initiative (and the least apocalyptic of the four).
The worthiest and most immersive successor to World Without Oil looks to be SUPERSTRUCT, put on by Kathi Vian, Jamais Cascio and WWO’s own Jane McGonigal and funded by the Ten-Year Team at the Institute For The Future. Jump ahead to September 2019 (two months before Blade Runner, heh) when a supercomputer crunches the data and announces that unless radical changes are made, human civilization has got only 23 more years to live. Holy Doomsday Clock! Gamestart is set for September 22, but you can get in game now on the practice blog.
“What began as a marketing tool has now become a lot more useful: playing with alternate realities can solve real problems.” The writer is Anne Wollenberg, her article’s in The Guardian, and she’s talking about the genre started by the World Without Oil game. Read the article; it’s really excellent and lays out pretty clearly the potential that these collaborative games have to save the world. (And let’s shout out to WWO player RockLobster, quoted in the article! Woo!)
As a result of our current concatenation of calamities, future thinking and what-if scenarios have suddenly become the thing to do. Witness a CNN Special titled “We Were Warned: Out of Gas,” sent my way by alert WWO fan Diane. The behind-the-scenes commentary, however, is more interesting and real to me than the Hollywood-style cinematic premise. The revolution will not be telescripted; it’s already begun. Video scene from Kalwithoutoil.
I’m here at ARGFestoCon in Boston, mingling with the faithful and visionary members of the Alternate Reality Game tribe, and the central theme seems to be the future of this genre. Quo vadis?
I wouldn’t go so far as to offer a consensus view or even suggest that there is one, but I think these views hold a good deal of currency:
- The future is bright for interactive experiences of the ARG type. (Wikipedia)
- ARGlike experiences are the most affective media experiences out there, period.
- The ARG idea is growing fast and people are cognitively exploring its frontiers. As a result, the actual term “alternate reality game” has hit its cognitive limit, and new terms are about to emerge to describe these experiences.
To date, ARGs have basically fallen into two camps: (1) commercially funded endeavors that tell a story for (ultimately) a marketing reason – often to augment a movie or game story; (2) homegrown endeavors where ARG players use the ARG form to tell their own story (or extend a movie or game story in a fanfic way). As a non-entertainment, storymaking (as opposed to storytelling) experience, the World Without Oil game is on the fringe of the conversations.
I moderated a panel that discussed Serious ARGS (ARGs used for serious purposes such as education and training) and also Independent ARGs (non-commercial ones). Panelist Alice Leung, of BBN, described how DARPA is funding research about the effectiveness of ARGs to grow long-term collaborative behavior in organizations. Panelist Brian Clark of GMD Studios gave us an insight into further possibilities in this area: he described an inquiry he had received from a university interested in establishing a 4-year collaborative experience that an entire class of students would play together during their time at the university. Such an augmented reality is a fascinating idea that opens up a treasure trove of possible projects and clients.
In my view, however, all these approaches are missing one of the fundamental strengths of ARGlike experiences: the immersive power of storymaking. All of the above are storytelling projects, where people who like to tell stories use the ARG form to people who like to experience them, and there is a level of abstraction or detachment that’s inherently present. In World Without Oil, the players pretty much wrote the story collaboratively. As a result, in WWO there is no abstraction, no external reward, no comfort zone of “oh good, I found what the gamemasters wanted me to find.” There is only the person directly inside the “what if?” reality, and the journey is inward.
It’s been fun hobnobbing with my fellow wizards in the wonderful land of ARGz, but some of my best conversations have been with the players. One introduced herself as “just a player,” but the game designers present quickly corrected her: in the ARG world, the player is “the player,” we are “just the game designers.”
In this Gamasutra article, game designer Ian Bogost talks about performative play – play which has an affect outside the game world, upon the real world – and uses the World Without Oil game as an instructive example. This is just one of several instances lately where I have been talking or thinking more about how WWO brought reality and an alternate reality together for people, such that they could find it easier to change their lives in preparation for an oil shock.
Here with the “games for social change” crowd at G4C, a big question on everyone’s mind is funding. Not surprising then that the first question in the Q & A was about the cost of making an ARG. The basic answer is that a traditional ARG can be fairly expensive ($250K-$500K), mainly because you need to develop the transmedia story that you will then hide all over the Internet and real world.
WWO, however, was “only” $88K – not pocket change, but not out of the realm of possibility for social change organizations, or for corporations that want to help social change organizations get their message out (and get a little exposure in the process). The price break, of course, comes because almost all the (massive amount of) content was developed by the players themselves. So it’s not only inherently more interesting, it’s inherently cheaper. Yeah! Here’s a gamer news report about the 88K number from Leigh Alexander on Kotaku (thanks, Sarah!)
Meanwhile, out in the real world, GM declares the SUV to be dead, killed by $4 a gallon gas. Too bad they didn’t play WWO, I guess; they might have seen this coming a year ago.
I’m at the Games 4 Change conference in New York. It actually begins Tuesday, June 3, but today there was a preconference event, “Game Design 101,” an intensive program to give possible Serious Game funders and collaborators a head start on the behavior of game designers and the elements of game projects. I went because, well, I can always use a good review of the basics of my profession.
One of the interactive exercises was “designing a game in 1 hour.” In the picture above, our first-round facilitator, Mary Flanagan (director of tiltfactor lab), waves goodbye flanked by my teammates Anne and Tam. Our team eventually came up with a food politics game called “One Potato Two Potato,” a card game that explored the many complex factors behind where your food comes from. You play from the POV of a potato farmer.
Tomorrow I’m on a panel entitled “Alternate Reality Games for Change,” sitting with some pretty heavy hitters (Jordan Weisman, Frank Lantz) and moderated by Peggy Weil. Go WWO!
If you want to get a solid picture of what World Without Oil signified to the world, listen to WWO’s participation architect, Jane McGonigal, at the New Yorker conference earlier this month, “Stories from the Near Future.”
What Jane’s saying is that games have turned a corner from Escapism to Engagement (not just WWO, but it’s perhaps the most potent example) and… well, she tells it way better than I do, so check out the vid.
The World Without Oil game centered on a website (www.worldwithoutoil.org, now archived here) which gathered all the in-game ideas and expressions of the players. In the fiction of the game, the website had been put together by eight (eventually, 14) ordinary citizens who had reason to believe the oil crisis was coming. They called themselves the 8TSOC (8 To Save Our Country).
Like the game itself, the 8TSOC characters were fiction but just barely. WWO’s gamemasters (“puppetmasters”) played them, but for the most part they were alternate realities of who we are (or might have been). Like the game itself, they come across as pretty real.
So it’s fascinating, a year later, to read these characters’ Manifestos – the characters’ thoughts as the reality of the oil crisis loomed larger and larger. Take a moment and check them out.
(To learn who in real life played each character, go here and scroll down to Puppetmasters.)
Nina Simon works on cool museum stuff (like the Spy Museum [cue theme music]) and posted a thoughtful post-mortem on World Without Oil some months ago in her richly ideated blog, Museum 2.0, pointing up the game’s educational side. She’s presenting museum-quality newtech ideas at a museum conference this week and sent me the slide above with this note: “Your pic on the left. On the right, cellphone pic we took yesterday in SF. Using it in upcoming presentation. Sometimes I wish games didn’t have to be so real.”
Yowza, folks. WWO is up for an Academy Award (not that Academy, its interactive sister: the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, aka The Webbys). World Without Oil is a finalist in the Games category, which if nothing else gives us trifecta honors: won for Activism at SXSW, nominated for Environment at the Stockholm Challenge, and now for Games at the Webbys.
If David Bowie et al groove on WWO, that’s cool. The thing I’d really like to win, though, is the People’s Voice Award for our category. Because WWO was all about the people’s voice, in a way that no game has ever been before. And this is the year for serious games. And although you might read that WWO was “Ken’s game” or “Jane’s game” or whatever, we all know that’s basically not true. It’s PeakProphet’s game and Blueski’s game and MsGeek’s game and Burnunit’s game and RockLobster’s game, and on through two thousand more player names and 1,500 player stories.
If you need convincing, check out our Lesson Plans: players’ stories are now at the center of immersive high school teaching. If you find us worthy, please go vote People’s Voice for World Without Oil: http://pv.webbyawards.com/
(register -> websites -> entertainment -> games -> World Without Oil)
Games make us happy. A simple enough premise when the game is football or soccer or chess or Monopoly. Can the idea be extended? Can it get serious? Can it get real? Can it go global on the Internets? Why not?
Here in Phoenix, I’m waiting for 8 pm to roll around, so I can power down. It’s Earth Hour, time to turn down the energy consumption, if just for an hour. This is a great idea, very playful, and people are getting into the spirit by getting the candles ready, camping out in the back yard, and so on. And the lesson is right out of WWO: c’mon, there’s life with less energy, and we can make it a good life if we act rather than react. OK, that’s enough – it’s so cool I’m powering down ten minutes early. See you in the dark!
Cool beans. The Stockholm Challenge has selected World Without Oil as a finalist in its 2008 program, in the “Environment” category (subcategory: Energy and alternative technologies). The Stockholm Challenge is all about using Information Communications Technology (ICT) to help counteract social and economic disadvantage. If you look at the finalist list (and you should) you’ll see two main areas: groups that are extending known technologies into underdeveloped regions (often in innovative ways) and groups that are coming up with new technologies or approaches for serving the public good (WWO is in this second area). Here’s the WWO brief at the Stockholm Challenge.
I find three other game approaches among the finalists, both in the Health category: Freedom HIV/AIDS,which uses mobile games to raise awareness in India, and Reach Out Central (Australia) and SmartUs – Games in Motion (Finland), both aimed at health awareness. This is a good showing for serious games, folks, showing their rise globally. I look forward to meeting all the finalists in Stockholm during Challenge Week, May 19-22. The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) does select winners in each of its six categories, but it seems the real prize is to meet and share ideas and aquavit with some really innovative and dedicated people from all over the world.
What can videogames learn from alternate reality games? And vice versa? Brandie Minchew summarizes the two discussions at SXSW here in her article at ARGNet. One of her conclusions: “Serious games have found a niche in the game world as game designers turn society’s search for ‘fun’ into a dialog about social and political issues.” This echoes a point I like to make: World Without Oil was a really fun game, just a different flavor of “fun” than what we’re used to finding in a game. Exactly the kind of fun you get from a really good dialog?
WWO’s own Jane McGonigal delivered the closing keynote at the South By Southwest (SXSW) conference, and her theme was “the future of happiness” featuring of course “games as the ultimate happiness engine.” World Without Oil was a case study in her talk, which may seem odd, as one doesn’t normally associate an oil crisis (real or simulated) with happiness. But as she spelled out in her talk, the latest research on happiness shows otherwise. As Jane aptly put it, “happiness is not (just) a warm puppy”; lasting happiness actually has more to do with doing something worthwhile with people you like, and that’s WWO all over. See Jane’s slideshow (and Soulja Boy dance) via her blog, Avant Game (edit) and a transcript of her talk by ARG mastermind Dan Hon of Six To Start. (photo by Ken Eklund)
World Without Oil has been nominated for a number of web awards, and yesterday we got word that it’s a Top Five finalist in the 2008 South By Southwest Interactive competition, in the “Activism” category. You can see the list of finalists here (some pretty cool sites, yow). Plus WWO sponsor ITVS has its Independent Lens website as a finalist in the “Classic” category… plus WWO’s participation architect Jane McGonigal (some of you know her as mpathytest) will be a keynote speaker at SXSW Interactive on Tuesday, March 11. So we look to be well represented at SXSW – let me know if you’re gonna be around.
Transbuddha includes World Without Oil in its 2007 game review. Alphamonkey writes that WWO is “a way of getting people thinking about how we can shift the world into being less dependent on oil, and it succeeds on just about every front.” WWO is the only ARG to make TB’s cut, but the thoughtful ‘Buddha honors many serious and educational web games, most notably February’s Climate Change and Against All Odds, November’s game of the month.
Just found this today: Jane McGonigal’s talk at the Web 2.0 summit in mid-October, on blip.tv. She observes that games these days offer players many joys and satisfactions they can’t get as easily in real life, and predicts that we will see more efforts to make reality more like games. WWO is one of the signs Jane cites that indicate this shift is happening. Check it out…