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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.
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.
Another article in the paper that’s straight out of World Without Oil: “Between surging oil prices, food inflation and a credit crunch that’s depressed global growth, leaders from the Group of Eight face the gravest combination of economic woes in at least a decade when they meet next week. The outlook has darkened dramatically since last year’s summit in Germany, when leaders declared the global economy was in ‘good condition’ and oil cost $70 a barrel – which seemed high at the time… ‘Now you have a financial disorder where the epicenter is the U.S.,’ said Robert Hormats, vice chairman at Goldman Sachs in New York. And fuel and food inflation ‘are serious matters that affect large numbers of people.'”
“On oil, analysts are skeptical that the G-8 leaders – representing the United States, Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Italy and Canada – will come up with much beyond urging major petroleum producers to boost output” – um, does it strike anyone else as naive to ask sane businesspeople to work harder and invest more money so as to undercut their own price for a commodity they only have a finite supply of? The reaction to these pleas, BTW, has pretty much been what any pusher says to his john. Photo by rednuht via Flickr.
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!
It’s impossible really to communicate how inspiring it was to be in the august Stockholm City Hall and receive the full-on Nobel Prize treatment, but maybe this picture of Mervin Jarman, one of the Education winners for his excellent Container Project, gives you some idea. You can find a full list if the winning projects here.
World Without Oil did very well in the Challenge, bringing home a Special Mention (i.e., it was a runner-up) in the Environment category. The Environment winner is the World Weather Information Service, a global source for free, updated weather information based in Hong Kong. A vitally necessary service indeed in a food-challenged, climate-changed world.
(Below: The Stockholm City Choir serenading the diners. We are in the Blue Hall of the Stockholm City Hall, the same room where Nobelists meet and present their awards.)
The Stockholm Challenge has brought together people using information technology for civic purposes from all over the globe. Naturally we’ve been networking like mad. In this quick video, the finalists in attendance from the Environment category list their partnership needs. Anybody know of a potential resource?
Everywhere I go in Sweden, I see messages about energy. Car ads list fuel types first, car names second. Car magazines splash “Diesel Sport!” on the cover. New buildings have huge banners on them touting their green designs.
Even the toilets have their message. I encountered one that has a Stop button – stop flushing, that is. Another had a dual flush button – one for a big flush, one for a small. Which may seem puzzling for a country that doesn’t have much of a water problem, until I remembered that moving water around is one of the prime energy drain (so to speak). Back in California, it is the state’s single biggest energy use, for example.
The Tunnelbana – the subway – works like a dream. It’s pleasant to ride and efficient. And it’s growing: the land around my hotel is all torn up for a new spur line to be added.
The thing is, Sweden has a plan – it wants to wean itself off petroenergy by 2015. And the first step is to make efficiency a priority. This bus advertisement (at right) really summed up the attitude: whereas in the US it would probably read “Get more X for less money!” here in Sweden it reads “Get more X for less energy!” That is a profoundly different mindset, and one that the World Without Oil game is helping to promote.
Here’s a map showing the home locations of the finalists in the 2008 Stockholm Challenge. There are some great ideas and great works going on all over the globe, and I’m looking forward to meeting some of them in Stockholm next week and exchanging some knowledge.
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.”
The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF) is “a one-week multimedia interarts extravaganza that reboots the environment and sustainability into a larger global conversation, embracing issues ranging from wars, health, diseases, music, digital arts, cinemas, popular cultures, fine arts, experimental media, literature, economics, archives, AIDS, women’s rights, and human rights.” I was pretty delighted to find that World Without Oil earned a place in the exhibition of serious games at FLEFF this year, curated by Ulises Mejias of SUNY Oswego. From his notes: “World without Oil… was entirely a discursive, transmediated experience, as open as human expression itself. The goal, according to Sebastian Mary, was to facilitate ‘collaborative problem-solving to escape the boundaries of gaming and become a real-world way for distributed groups of people to address a problem they cannot fix by themselves.'”
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)
WWO wins the Activism Award at South By Southwest – thanks Krystyn for pointing us to this great photo at WIRED. And thanks ARGNet for spreading the news. Kudos to all the members of the WWO team – a well-deserved honor.
Folks, you should check out the other finalists in the SXSW Activism category – they are all great sites:
Day 3 of the SXSW Interactive Festival – finding lots of interest in the idea of using ARGs in serious ways. Tonight’s the night of the SXSW web awards, and WWO is up for an award in the “making the world a better place” (Activism) category: Cathy Fischer of ITVS, Dee Cook and I are on hand and Jane McGonigal is flying in even as I write this. (And we hope to connect with even more WWO teammates by phone.) Double awards tension for us, as ITVS’ Independent Lens is also up for an award in the Classic category. Looking forward to a fun evening and very much thinking about the thousands of individual contributions that have brought us here… Thinking that it’s like The Wizard of Oz: it’s not the people behind the curtain, but the players in front who have given the WWO story courage, brains, and most of all, heart.
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.
From the Vint Technology update event, via MindBlizzard: “Yesterday’s speaker was Adjiedj Bakas, one of Europe’s Megatrendwatchers who gave us a view into the future. He adressed some 9 megatrends ranging from a ‘world without oil’ to a ‘shift in power’…. Which got me to thinking: if you buy one of these, does that come with any guarantee that you’ll be able to fuel it up if a crisis comes?
VIEW is a conference for digital artists and animators, and as such they take an interest in games and other interactive storytelling. In between the sessions on developing realistic behaviors for 3D food in Ratatouille and capturing acting nuances in Beowulf, there was time for me to explain what alternate reality games are and how serious ARGs such as WWO will save the world. You can find a short summary here. How’s your Italian?
Iowa Public Television hosts a premier event for TV and video production, technical and education professionals, and this year they invited WWO Creative Director Ken Eklund to speak about crowd-sourced storytelling. Listen to the MP3, or go here and scroll down to Tuesday, Oct. 2, 9:30 am to view his snappy presentation.