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A few things Mark Wallace

Tag: cities

Dancing the Suburban Ballet

A couple of weeks ago, I caught myself in the following compromising position:

Street SweeperLiterally three houses in a row of us, not quite suburban, I admit (Glen Park is very much part of San Francisco, if a pleasantly sleepy, family-oriented part — our Islington?), three of us sweeping leaves in near-suburban synchronicity, moving cars to avoid the “seet seepah,” as my nearly-three-year-olds call it, then bustling it off to work — though I think two of us merely repaired to our garage offices / mancaves, there to slot ourselves into the ecosystem of technology, as that word (“technology,” that is) has come to be defined.

Not that it bothered me. It was more amusing than anything else, more a reminder of something I’m more and more convinced of with each passing year, as I see more of the world more times over: that the snapshots of life captured in television and movies (broadly defined here to include streaming narrative media of whatever delivery vector) are really quite accurate. There’s a sense in which we really are suburban drones, doing our suburban dance on the ends of strings twitched by a barely glimpsed system that runs on its own clocks, its own internal and very faulty logic. And we just mindlessly go along, because it’s the second (or fourth) Friday of the month, and the streets must be cleaned.

That’s absolutely a lie, of course. TV is quite accurate, but only on the most surface level. You can be as mindless as you like about your life, or as mindful. And if you’re out there with us sweeping the leaves off your sidewalk minutes before the street sweeper comes by, it probably means that (a) you’re lucky enough to have a sidewalk to sweep, (b) you care enough about your homestead to want to groom it in some way (or your wife has convinced you to — in which case you’re lucky enough to have a wife), and (c) you have the luxury of sweeping leaves at 9:50 in the morning, rather than having bustled it off to work hours earlier, as much of the world has to do.

So if this is you and you’re worried about being sucked down into the maelstrom of suburbia, never to be heard from again, join me instead in a prayer of thanks. Which is really not the post I set out to write this morning, but that’s just the way it is.

Pervasive Gaming and Best Practices at StoryWorld

I was at the StoryWorld conference in San Francisco earlier this week. It’s great to see the beginnings of a cohesive community and body of thought emerge around transmedia and evolving narrative — it reminds me of the early days of the community coming together around virtual worlds, and what fun it was to chronicle that.

I talked to a bunch of interesting people, but only sat in on one or two of the panel presentations. Herewith some notes on one of them, titled Streets That Tell Stories: How Pervasive Gaming Engages Audiencespervasive gaming being the kind that inhabits the real world around you, that takes place over hours or days or weeks or months, and has as its playing field a building or street or city or actual, physical world. You may not have heard much of this kind of game before, but there have been some very cool examples (linked below, of course).

The panel addressed techniques and approaches for creating pervasive games, and was moderated by Christy Dena of Universe Creation 101 (among other things), and featured three panelists:

Some of the recommendations and experience that came out of the panel:

  • If you trust people to enter into the world you’ve created for them, they absolutely know what to do.
  • Design to accommodate different levels of engagement.
  • You’re not just working in one medium, you’re thinking pretty much 360 every minute.
  • You have to know what the space is like at all times of day, and days of the week.
  • There’s no point in feeling you should do something in a traditional way.
  • You want to be on the ground and scout out those spaces, see what opportunities arise.
  • You have to be able to improvise as a creator and as someone running these things.
  • We’re like Situationalists 2.0, we just have better tools now. — Jeff Hull

Hull introduced himself as Creator Director of Nonchalance, “a situational design agency” in San Francisco. “Situational experiences involve spaces and people and other things to add to the environment. This is in contrast to experiential design, which very often can be kept within the two-dimensional monitor-based realm. Our mission is to provoke discovery through visceral experience and pervasive play, by reengineering the way participants and audience members interact with media, with the space around them, and most importantly with each other.”

Hull’s Nonchalance is best known for a very cool pervasive game built around an organization called the Jejune Institute, in which players worked to solve mysteries whose clues were hidden around SF, take part in protests, and participate in other immersive experiences that took place in the streets and buildings of the city. To get more of a feel for the particulars of the Jejune Institute, watch the trailer, and read this New York Times piece about the game.

While this isn’t too far removed from alternate reality gaming as we’ve come to know it, Nonchalance seems to be aiming for a more immersive and pervasive experience than most of those we’ve seen before. I think there’s a lot of potential for this, especially when combined with tools and practices from more “traditional” electronic gaming — not to take away from the pervasive experience, but to enhance it and help drive players to engage. Continue reading

Inchvest in Detroit: $1 an inch

Jerry Paffendorf has a cool new project that’s looking not for investors but for inchvestors: for people to spend $1 to purchase one square inch of the city of Detroit. Check out the Loveland page over at Kickstarter for more details. Jerry has been chronicling his Detroit adventure in colorful detail over at his Tumblog, 7 Billion Friends. Inspired by the Million Dollar Home Page, Jerry wants to take participatory investment art off the Internets and onto the ripe canvas that is Detroit — a city that could use a good dose of free thinking if ever there was one.

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