Persona

The academic homestead of Annika Waern

Larp Design for Storymaking

Beatrice of house Polonius from Inside Hamlet; A larp with heavy use of fate play. Photo by John-Paul Bichard, Bichard studios.

Beatrice from “Inside Hamlet”; a larp relying heavily on fate play. (Most of us died.) Photo by John-Paul Bichard, Bichard studios.

In refusing my very first sketch at a scenario for the Stockholm Scenario Festival, Tobias Wrigstad once gave me this advice: “A larp scenario should help players tell stories they wouldn’t be able to tell by themselves.” This is what this post is about.

To be clear: I won’t go into any itty-bitty gritty details on role-play design. Firstly, I am by no means an experienced designer myself. Secondly, to design is to balance a host of design factors, in a complex web of design decisions where all affect each other. Every designer does this differently, guided by his or her own preferences and experiences. Finally, storymaking is just one possible design goal for role-play design. Some role-playing games focus on telling a set story, others on creating good game experiences, and some on creating an alternate world for players to immerse into.

In previous posts, I have discussed why I believe that the stories that are generated by gaming do not just ’emerge’ but are consciously created by players. I have started to sketch why it is that the structures of a design help players in generating stories – by first analysing sport  and then role-playing games. But so far, I have primarily discussed what players do; I haven’t discussed what tools are available to designers to help players engage in storymaking.

First, a bit of theory, again from Bruner’s article ‘Narrative construction of reality’. Narrative is one of the most important ways through which humans make sense of the world – we tell stories about it. Narratives are not true or false: Bruner describes them “a version of reality whose acceptability is governed by convention and ‘narrative necessity’ “. But Bruner makes an even stronger argument: he argues that narrative is an instrument of mind that “operates in the construction of the world”. This makes sense if you accept social constructionism (Burr 2003). It is immediately and obviously true for the collective creative process that constitutes the fictional worlds of role-playing games. Bruner identifies ten different qualities that make narratives into narratives. Most of them are relevant to role-playing games, but I will focus on three that are readily applicable to larp design.

Hermeneutic composability is the requirement that a story must take the form of a text or something equivalent to a text, through which somebody has attempted to express meaning and from which somebody else is trying to extract meaning. As I discussed in my previous post, storymaking in larp is aided by the way players read narrative intent into the actions of others, by interpreting them as invitations to collaboratively tell a story.

The Nordic larp scene has imported meta-techniques from freeform and jeepform scenarios, that primarily are used to support hermeneutic composability. Inner monologues allow players, but not their characters, to hear what a character is thinking. Black-box scenes can be used to play out things that have happened in the past, may happen in the future, or even be dream scenes that never happened. For example, in my recent scenario ‘Revolver’ I used a version of blackboxing where scenes are replayed from the perspectives of different characters. Finally, a great tool is also to just pause the larp for a while. A break lets players re-plan their course of action and re-negotiate their relationships. Finally, while safety words are used primarily to ensure safety (duh), they can also function as meta-communication for negotiating what kind of narrative you are playing towards. I saw this use in ‘Monitor Celestra’, where the in-game swearword ‘Frakk’ was used as a signal that a scene could be escalated. In this usage, the word is not just a safety word but also functions as a signal about what kind of scene you are playing towards. ‘I am inviting you to a particular type of narrative, are you cool with that’.

The concepts of canonicity and breach explain why not all sequences of events are stories worth telling. According to Bruner, as story can only be created when there is a breach of script, where a ‘script’ is what we typically do in a culturally defined situation. An example is going to a restaurant: we know that we will be ordering food, eating and paying and exactly how to do it, and unless something out of the ordinary happens it doesn’t make for a story to be told afterwards. To be worth telling, a tale must be about how a canonical script has been breached, in a way that somehow questions the script. But Bruner also points out that the breaches in turn tend to be highly conventional, they follow narrative conventions and typically describe well-known human plights. Innovative storytellers are marked by their ability to tell stories that subvert the familiar conventions for breaches. In larp design, you cannot assume that your players will be innovative storytellers, but you still expect them to engage in storymaking. This is where Tobias’ advice comes in: ‘A larp scenario should help players tell stories they wouldn’t be able to tell by themselves.’

I think we can identify three main strategies in how larp designers do this. The first is to subvert normality. When larp designers create a fictional society with different norms and social rules, they install social scripts that are alien to the players. When playing along with such scripts, the players experience a breach of normality. Giving players characters, with personality traits and goals that are different from their everyday personality, also subverts normality. Even when these characters live their normal everyday life, it generates a stories for players.

It can be hard for designers to subvert norms that are ambient in our everyday society. A recent report from the larp ‘KoiKoi‘ illustrates this. While the cultural compendium for KoiKoi explicitly instructed players that marriages needed neither be heterosexual nor pairings, the players still ended up in classic heterosexual pairs.

The second strategy is that designers embed story content that push narrative progression in their desired direction. There are a host of more or less explicit ways to do this. Tested and tried methods include presenting players with new information during play (e.g. sending them a letter from a long-lost love), or use non-player characters. Rules regulating fate play (such as telling a player that they should die at a certain time) is also an explicit way to control storymaking. Less explicit strategies include giving characters personal goals to play on, or design characters that, when meeting, are more or less certain to react in certain ways to each other.

And finally, there’s chance. There is always a level of randomness in larp; so much depends on events such as who happens to meet with whom, external factors like weather, how the players inspire each other, etcetera. Every run is a unique event. Hence, designers tend to rather work against chance to make the events a bit more predictable; but chance can also be conciously designed into larp. Staged battles and the lottery of death in Just a Little Lovin are examples of this. As a player in Mare Incognitum, I learned to do basic card reading – which turned out to be a realy useful way to introduce a controllable level of chance into the game. I personally like when there is a bit of chance designed into a larp. Meybe it is when chance intervenes that we as players start to feel that stories truly ’emerge’, that our experiences are unique enough to be worth telling.

Oh well. I am not sure that I’ve been useful to a designers here; actual design is a good deal more complex. Let Tobias’ wise words guide you: Design for storymaking is not about designing stories into larp, it is about helping players to tell stories they wouldn’t be able to tell on their own.

References

Jerome Bruner. The narrative construction of reality. Critical inquiry (1991): 1-21.

Vivien Burr. Social Constructionism. Routledge; 2Rev Ed edition (2003).

John Kim. The three-fold model. http://www.darkshire.net/~jhkim/rpg/theory/threefold/

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Your larp sucked – or how to get useful feedback from players

So, I did a little inspirational talk and a follow-up workshop at Knudepunkt 2015. Some people seemed to want to get access to my slides. They are available here.

It’s about things to think about when gathering feedback from players after a larp. Since it may all sound very obvious and simple, I would recommend anyone who want to do it to carry out the exercise at the end of the slides. The devil is, as always, in the detail.

Storymaking in Larp (an overdue post)

Attentive audience

Participants in the October 2014 run of ‘Cabaret’, a larp musical that I was part of designing and staging.

This is a long overdue post; a follow-up to my reflections on storymaking in sport from 2012 (!) and why I don’t believe in emergent narratives in computer games.

Firstly, a recap: I look at emergent narrative as storymaking; as stories that do not just ‘happen’, but that we actively and consciously create from (or during) an experience of events. It is not something that every player is good at or even wants to do, not even in larp. Players engage in different ways in larp just as they do in computer games. In particular, there is an interesting and confusing interplay between storymaking and character immersion, which I’m not attempting to figure out in this post.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into storymaking. It is a learned skill, but it is also something we do in our everyday lives. Narrativists have studied it e.g. by looking into diaries and memoirs. Labov and Waletzky have characterized such stories as characterised by two aspects: “what happened, and why it is worth telling”. Bruner argues that we as humans organize our experiences primarily in the form of narrative – as stories, excuses, myths, and reasons. But again, narratives are constructed; they don’t emerge just because there are real-world events:

“Narratives do not exist, as it were, in some real world, waiting there patiently and eternally to be veridically mirrored in a text. The act of constructing a narrative, moreover, is considerably more than “selecting” events either from real life, from memory, or from fantasy and then placing them in an appropriate order. The events themselves need to be constituted in the light of the overall narrative … to be made “functions” of the story.” (Bruner)

Bruner doesn’t make a clear-cut difference between narrative in thought and in communication. He believes that creating narratives is like a tool that we learn, and that we internalize as part of our thinking about the world. It doesn’t matter if we tell the stories or not; they are still actively created by us even if only in our heads. The latter happens a lot in larp.

Since we have acquired skills for storymaking, designers can build on those skills. There are some popular cultural phenomena that are designed less as embedded stories, and more as fertile grounds for storymaking. Sports and reality TV shows are just two examples. While larp is less mainstream (although this may be a passing phase), it is interesting because it excels in creating structures that support storymaking.

Firstly, the qualities that I listed for sports are present also in larp:

  • Larp events provide a basic story structure (an identifiable beginning, middle and end points)
  • Larp typically provide background material on setting, characters, conflicts, and various groups/factions/cultures
  • Explicit rules for interaction can help to create a dramatic curve
  • Players create their own stories, in which they are the protagonists (the ‘first person audience’ concept)

But larps are more complex than sports. In sports, the storymaking process is unidirectional, based on a sequence of events that play out pretty much irrespectively of the stories people tell. By contrast, larps are collective storymaking machines. Kim has described how it works in table-top role-playing, and the same is pretty much true for larp:

“… an rpg player is acting in two capacities. As author, a player has a conceived story which is his imagination of what his character is thinking, among other things. By speaking and acting, he communicates this conceived story to the other players. As audience, the player also has a perceived story which is his interpretation of the actions of other players, which becomes his imagination of what happens elsewhere in the world.

However, these two stories are constantly interacting. The conceived story will be revised by what is perceived and vice-versa. Indeed, it is questionable whether they should really be considered as separate entities.”

This powerful storymaking process involves both designers and players. Larp designers will create settings, characters and in-larp events that serve to take the developing stories in certain directions. When players sense a story developing, they can individually or collectively decide to take it further. The stories created in a larp affect and steer the larp, while it is being played.

The key to understanding larp as a collective storymaking machine is that we as players read narrative intent into settings and events. If we were just ‘conceiving’ story, we would do what the sports journalists excel at: pick out the events that together well enough to create something worth telling. But when we assume that what is happening is already part of a narrative (somebody – actually a lot of people – are trying to tell stories), we try to figure out the intention behind what is done and said. We use our background knowledge about the narrator to figure out how each piece of information fits into the pattern. We hope to find some kind of consistency in our personal overall narrative as well, so we interpret the pieces we receive from that perspective – sometimes creatively misinterpreting them. It’s a rather confusing puzzle since a larp typically has dozens of stories going on at the same time. We communicate back in the same way, to gradually converge on synchronized if not identical stories – and the larp develops.

It doesn’t always work, of course. The design can help or hinder; the role of design cannot be underestimated (and I do have things to write on that too). Player chemistry is also important: sometimes we do not trust our fellow players enough to engage in collaborative storymaking, and sometimes we play in storylines that are too disparate to coordinate. But when it works, it’s like a dance where we sometimes lead, sometimes follow, every step contributing to our overarching experience.

REFERENCES

Bruner, Jerome. “The narrative construction of reality.” Critical inquiry (1991): 1-21. ()

Labov, William, and Joshua Waletzky. Narrative analysis: Oral versions of personal experience. Journal of narrative & life history, Vol 7(1-4), 1997, 3-38.

Kim, John. Role-playing games as reverse drama and immersive story: A view of role-played drama. In “Beyond Role and Play” 2004.

The recent Ph.D. Svahn

Mattias

This cool picture of Mattias was stolen from his Facebook page.

Mattias and I go way back; he even coordinated the EU project IPerG (integrated project on pervasive gaming) for six months while I was busy designing and staging Interference. Mattias has done his thesis in Economics at the Stockholm School of Economics, and I have been co-supervising the work since he started. Mattias has studied the persuasive effects of a range of pervasive games designed to spur awareness of electricity consumption. The games were developed at the Interactive Institute and Mattias’ role was to understand if the games managed to change people’s behaviour.

This is interesting work. Based on theories of dual process modelling and cognitive categorization, Mattias argues that the persuasive effect of pervasive games could be rather strong. The idea is that when you do something (such as switch off a lamp to conserve energy) you rationalize it to be consistent with your ‘cognitive heuristics’; your way of making rapid decisions without thinking too much about them. If it is not, you have to actively figure out how to describe what you did, and that will change your beliefs. You create new categories of actions and figure out new reasons for doing them. Even if the act originally was done to score points in a game, doing it may lead to changing your classifications and beliefs.

We know very little about if games have this type of persuasive effects. It is unlikely to be strong in computer games as you don’t do all that much – you sit in front of a computer and press buttons – and you must first re-interpret your actions as something else (such as switching off a lamp) before the aware thinking effect may kick in. But in pervasive games, most acts are done for real; you really DO switch off your kitchen lamp. This should make it more difficult to escape the persuasive effect.

So, did it work? Did Mattias find a persuasive effect? Mattias answers yes, but he brackets his answer. The effect was strongest for players that were positive towards energy saving from start and needed less persuasion. Some of the other participants didn’t really engage with the theme, but played the energy-saving games just to score points. What perhaps is most interesting is that Mattias also could document attitude changes also with the families of players, people who were not themselves playing the game but who got sucked into it second-hand as the task was to save energy in the household. The fact that the games were socially expanded created a secondary persuasive effect, a bit like passive smoking.

Mattias’ thesis is well-worth reading, even if the final part is a bit too heavy on statistical number acrobatics for my taste. There, Mattias tries to construct a theoretical model for the causes and effects of persuasion, which I do not completely trust. It is an interesting hypothesis, but at the very least it needs further verification.

A big congrats to Mattias! I am sure I will see more of your work in the future – not in the least since we are now in the process of applying for joint project funding.

Mattias’ thesis is called ‘pervasive persuasive games‘ and can be downloaded in full.

Brudpris and the power of ‘skav’

brudprisIt seems like I am fated to digest my Solmukohta rant from 2012 many times over. The larps “Just a little Lovin” and “2027” may not have changed the world, but they have certainly taught me a lot about the world and about myself. And now, I have played Brudpris, beautifully designed by Anna Karin Linder Krauklis and Carolina Dahlberg, in this year’s Norwegian run produced by Tor Kjetil Edland and Trine Lise Lindahl, and got another reality check.

Brudpris is quite possibly the most terrifying larp I have ever done. This is a larp about a fictional Nordic honour culture, the ‘Mo’ people who live apart from the rest of society and uphold an oppressive lifestyle. In ‘Mo’ everything hinges on how much honour the ‘patriarch’ (the husband and father) of a household is considered to have; and honour hinges on keeping your own emotions and those of your family under tight control. An excellent report from the larp is available here.

In ‘Mo’, women are considered emotional and dangerous, and must be kept under close control. The household patriarchs hold all power and decide all marriages, never to be looked into the eye by a woman. Women serve, obey, and are regularly beaten. The name of the larp – Brudpris – means ‘the price of the bride’. Patriarchs pay to get their daughters married off, to men who can ‘take responsibility’ for them.

My role in Brudpris was that of a woman anthropologist, who coming from a gender-equal society entered Mo with the aim to understand how the Mo women lived. The anthropologists are primarily written into the larp to provide a mirror for the participants playing Mo people, highlighting the differences between Mo and the world outside. As such, they are rather thin characters with little opportunity for development. Yet, playing Beatrice was a horrifying experience. Starting out as a high-spirited, outspoken and active woman Beatrice became more and more subdued and controlled as the larp progressed. She ended up married off as the third and very slighted wife to a widower. who took responsibility for two unmarried women for money and honour. I have no doubts that Mo would eventually crush her, and that she never would write that spectacular book she was dreaming of writing.

What makes Brudpris a terrifying experience is however not its story, but what happens after playing it. Some larps are fairly easy to shrug off even when they are tough to play. KAPO for example, depicted a horrible and slightly absurd concentration camp that I (as an intern, I need to get back to the guard experience) could shake off quite easily as it had little to do with the life that I – or anyone else in the western world – lives. It was hard to see the KAPO camp as realistic, even when it was. For similar reasons, some characters are possible to shrug off even when they are quite despicable. I had great fun playing a racist anthropologist in Terra Incognita (a Lovecraftian horror larp). While enacting a kind of pre-war racism that I had dug up in antique books, I never for a moment considered myself to be racist.

Brudpris didn’t offer those ways out, as became obvious during the debrief. The first part was kept separate for those who had played women and men. The women started to talk about their backgrounds, how they had played their grandmothers, or how similar their patriarch had been to their own fathers. They told stories of abuse. Among the men, those who had played young boys told stories of guilt, and of how much they had to give up to become men. The patriarchs – at least those played by women – told stories of how vigilant and lonely the oppressor must be. But what only gradually dawned on us – sometimes weeks after – was that it had been all too easy to play Brudpris. That we (who played our everyday gender) found it all too easy to succumb to the destructive Mo culture. This same larp report, written by a man who played a young boy in Brudpris, is a good example. What makes Brudpris so terrifying is not only a ‘bleed‘ experience, but one that has been called “skav” (friction) in Swedish. The feeling of awkwardness in a socially dysfunctional setting, and the discovery that that fictional culture we enter as an alien world is in fact all too similar to our everyday experience.

An it is here I have my only real critique against Brudpris: this experience seems not to be all that accessible to the men who played patriarchs. When I first read their post-game reflections, I was struck by their intense desire and ability to distance themselves from their roles. They had a tough experience enacting oppressors, wrote about how horrible their roles were, and how they hated them. There is a distinct difference between these stories and the story told by a person playing the even more abhorrent role of a guard in KAPO. The KAPO guard tells a harrowing story of how easy it was to become a torturer, how it became routine, and how difficult it was for him to acknowledge this as a side of himself. Seen in this light, the patriarchs in Brudpris had it easy.

I have one possible idea about why this happened. In the pre-game instructions for the larp, the men playing patriarchs were instructed to take a great deal of off-game responsibility for the people playing in their families. As a result, they tended to organize also the off-game discussions and decide when and where they would happen. Essentially, they played patriarchs also off game, albeit of a benevolent character. These roles came easy to them and were accepted by their families, the groups were enacting well-known frames of social interaction from our everyday world. I do not believe that these men recognized their off-game roles as benevolent patriarchs.

Myself, I wrote this as my farewell to my stupid, smart, Beatrice:
“What made it so easy for you to go native? Where did that body language come from, so different from your own? You didn’t have it in you. You are brought up in an equal society, you are used to foreign cultures, you are already a recognized academic. You wouldn’t know how to bend your head or knee.
It came from the teenage girl who wouldn’t ask a boy to dance. Who felt awkward if she laughed too loud or talked too much. Who never could tell a boy that she was in love; since he should be the one to ask. Who could not show her sexual desires for fear of being a slut. It came from the twenty-four year old who fell in love with a man because he was much older and seemed to be able to support her – and fell out of love two years later, when it was clear to her that the support went the other way. It came from me.
I learned to stand on my own and I carried out my career in a male-dominated environment. I am a professional project leader, manager, teacher, and mentor. I found a man who needed not carry me and neither I him, and our relationship is equal. I laugh, I swear, and I dance with whom I want.
And yet, that alluring lack of responsibility for my choices, that wish to be carried, that fear of talking and laughing too much, all resurfaced in you and moved you to give up everything. I wish it all had come from you – because I certainly didn’t want to find that in me. I’m sorry.”

My family is playing GTA V

... and then, there is the sexism. Hard to ignore, but not what this post is about.

… and then, there is the sexism. Hard to ignore, but not what this post is about.

I spend quite a lot of my evenings not playing GTA V at the moment. (There is something with the controls for Rockstar games that I have never quite overcome – I get sufficiently frustrated to give up on their games.) Since the rest of the family play I get to watch a lot of the game, though.

GTA V seems to be a really good game. The gameplay is both strategic and tactic and possible to adapt to your skill level. The world design is exquisite with a lot of detail. The storyline is what I like the best as a spectator: It is ironic and often rather funny, and the main characters are strangely likeable despite their machismo. There is some British humour at play in the TV ads and the imaginary companies (if Facebook was called Lifeinvader for real, I would apply for a job there). There is rampant sexism throughout the game that is difficult to forgive, but that is not what I want to rant about.

My problem is the description of GTA V as a sandbox game. Granted, there is a large mapped area to explore, with a lot of exquisite detail. There are random event quests (57 total according to the GTA V Wiki) outside the main event storyline and if you play the game long enough there are some neat tricks to uncover. But there basically no permanent effects you can create in the world. You travel around to explore the landscape in all its exquisite detail; knock over lamp posts that will be back next time you run by them and kill people who will be there again the next time you pass. And while the map is large, it is patchy: most houses are back drops, impossible to enter. A sandbox is a box full of building material. It is an opportunity for creation and destruction. Gary’s mod and Minecraft are sandbox games, GTA V is very far from one.  Wikipedia describes the GTA series as ‘open world’ games, which is more accurate.

I have a hunch that sandbox games support storymaking better than games that are just open-world. While it is easy to find plenty of imaginative  stories diaries about Minecraft and the Sims, the stories you experience in GTA are primarily the one programmed into the game through the quests. And given that I don’t particularly like the gameplay and the stories are linear with few alternatives, I might just as well continue to just watch.

Body games: Elena Márquez Segura’s licentiate thesis

elenaMy Ph.D. student Elena defended her licentiate thesis on Friday December 6th, with Floyd Mueller from the Exertion games lab in Melbourne as her “opponent”, a sort of external examiner used in the Swedish ph.d. procedure. It’s not common to have foreign opponents for a licentiate, so we were happy to be able to invite Floyd.

Elena’s thesis is named “Body games: Designing for co-located play activity’. The core theoretical contribution is based on our joint CHI article from earlier this year, but goes a bit deeper into the social and spatial design options. But whereas the CHI article was based on a game design project,  Elena adds a case study where she designs for play in a non-game setting, psychotherapeutic training for the elderly. It is hard to think of a less playful domain! Still, Elena manages to show how a playful setup and a shift in responsibilities for the physiotherapist creates something akin to a festive context, encouraging a playful attitude to the training session. I really like this part, in that it hints at an alternative to the standard gamification approach to reward accomplishments.

With the physiotherapist example, Elena moves out from focussing on gaming behaviour towards more general playfulness. This, Elena needs to elaborate further when going for the Ph.D., as her theory is very much taken from game design and lacks a bit of grounding in theories of play. Throughout the thesis it is clear that Elena has started, but not quite finished, articulating her approach to playful design and she might need another case study to get ther. But what is primarily lacking is publications – the thesis presents a fair amount of empirical investigations that she should publish. It’ll be great fun to accompany her on this path!

I’ll edit in a link to Elena’s thesis if she makes it available!

“Designing Activity and Creating Experience”: Jon Back’s licentiate thesis

jon

Jon presenting, surrounded by a magic circle. Photo by Sofia Stenler.

Two weeks ago, my Ph.D. student Jon Back defended his licentiate thesis. (The ‘lic’ is a non-compulsory intermediate exam on the way to your Ph.D.) The thesis is named ‘Designing activity and creating experience‘, and is based on Jon’s experiences in designing, staging and studying two locative experiences. The first one was an art experience in locative storytelling based both on physical artefacts and  a GPS-based commenting system. The second is our joint ongoing project Codename Heroes.

The licentiate is as mentioned a ‘half-way’ exam, and this is very clear in Jon’s contribution. Jon is struggling with a central problem in game design, in that it is ‘second order’ design. You do not create peoples’ experiences: they create them for themselves, by acting out within the context of a game design. In Jon’s thesis this design issue meets with the perspective on experiences that is prevalent in interaction design research: McCarthy and Wright’s appropriation of Dewey’s concept of experience. The way the words ‘an experience’ are used in interaction design they denote the subjective experience of a lived-through sequence of actions and events with a clear beginning and end.

Through the lens of ‘experience’, Benford and Giannachi have for example formulated experiential trajectories as a tool for designing and analysing an experience.Although trajectories can apply to a range of designed experiences, it works best with fairly railroaded ones. They provide less explanatory power when it comes to analysing games and their ‘second order design’ qualities. My understanding of Jon’s licentiate is that he is trying to build a similar analysis tool for game design. More specifically he addresses play in public space as this form of play presents particular difficulties in attracting participants, offering modes of participation, and providing exit and entry points. To get there, he emphasises that experiences do not exist until they are over – until the arc of experience has come to its end. Although this is in line with what Dewey writes it is seldom examined in interaction design research, and it gives a specific angle to Jon’s work that I am not sure he is aware of himself yet.

Jon continues to study play in public space for another year. I look forward to continue working with him!

REFERENCES

John McCarthy and Peter Wright (2004) Technology as experience. MIT Press 2007 (reprint)

John Dewey (1934) Art as experience. Pedigree trade 2005 (reprint)

Moving jobs

I haven’t been active on this blog for a while. The main reason is my change of jobs. In April this year, I took up a position as professor in Human Computer Interaction at Uppsala University. Which leads to the question “now what on earth did that come from?” and the gut reaction “aaargh I’m becoming my mother!” as my mother was professor in the very same subject.

Being a professor in Uppsala has so far meant 1) adapting to teaching students in HCI rather than in game development, and 2) networking with a lot of cool people in the university and local industry. I am also heading the advisory board for the bachelor program in game design at Gotland, but I am not actually working there. I have a new Ph.D. student who is NOT doing game-related research, but I also got two of my old students accompanying me. Both are also presenting their licentiate theses now in November and December – but those deserve their own posts. I have taught a course in Social Media where the students blogged about everything they did in the course – and created a pretty comprehensive overview of the subject.

I have played several very good larps recently – I haven’t blogged about Celestra nor Mad About the Boy (which I helped organise) nor The Cabaret larp musical (that I am actually designing), and not about the Palestinian larp festival Beit Byout or the Stockholm Scenario festival. (Looking back at this period, I realise why I didn’t have much time for blogging.)

In August, Jon Back presented our joint paper about Codename Heroes at the international DIGRA conference. We should publish more on this project – it is huge – so this is just a first. It covers the gender aspects of the design. Hopefully, the article will soon be added to the DIGRA library and then I’ll write a short announcement about it. I also spoke on the subject of teaching game design at Foundations of Digital games (paper available here) and held an invited talk at CHItaly about the differences and similarities between game research and HCI.

So, with this quick recap I hope I can get back to writing some nice posts about games and game analysis soon.

 

 

 

The design space of body games

This year’s proceedings from CHI (the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computer systems) have now made it into the ACM digital library. Elena Marquéz Segura, Jin Moen, myself and Lina Johansson had a full paper together this year. It is called “The design space of body games: Technological, physical and social design” and tells the story of how we designed games with and around the “body bug”, a nicely designed playtool with very small capabilities for interaction.

I am rather satisfied with this paper. At its core, the paper is about how pervasive game design involves designing much more than just a game engine and an interface. In that sense, it is similar to the ‘360 illusion‘ paper from 2009. But where that paper dealt with fiction-heavy and large-scale games (and seems to be read as a paper about larp), this time we apply the same principle to a much simpler and restricted range of games which we call ‘Body games’. These are games that are played by moving and take their main enjoyment from body movement. By restricting the domain this way and by looking at a really restricted playtool, we are able to be much more precise in what the design goals are and how we can bring in physiological and social aspects into the game design.

This paper is to a large extent Elena’s achievement. Most of the work in this paper was  Elena’s master thesis project; and it is now also part of her Ph.D. work. Without her energy, enthusiasm and fantasy I doubt that this project would have gotten far.

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