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More and more people interested in serious games for the public good

More and more people interested in serious games for the public good

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.

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It was the world's first serious alternate reality game, a cooperative pre-imagining of a global oil crisis. Over 1900 players collaborated in May 2007 to chronicle the oil crisis with their own personal blog posts, videos, images and voicemails. The game ended after simulating the first 32 weeks of the oil shock, but its effects continue, as game designers analyze its unique gameplay and we all watch the continuing drama with global oil prices and supply.