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Friday, May 12, 2006

GEL2006 - Jane McGonigal

Jane McGonigal is a avant game designer. Jane writes about avant game as follows:

Avant game is my work-in-progress, a political perspective with a beta manifesto, a set of research methodologies and design principles in flux, a dissertation in the making, an art historical moment unraveling towards the past and the future at the same time.

In other words, avant game is the term I've coined to describe my research in digital game studies as well as my creative practice in the area of play.  It identifies both the body of contemporary play works that I study and the philosophy of game design I am forging.

Now that is an occupation that sounds interesting. You don't just play games, you get to make the games. Her games are not board games. She uses public spaces; parks, cross walks, and cemeteries. She told the story of the development effort to create a game based upon a video game called GUNS which was set in the Old West. She wanted to do something to bring people into cemeteries. The average person visits the cemetery once, for the funeral and then not again. Crime is rising due to the underutilization of the cemeteries. No one is around so it is easy for the hooligans to go in and knock over some tombstones. Cemetery space is becoming an endangered species for some cities. Disinterning the buried and moving them to another location is sometimes economical considering what the useful value of the land is.

She was concerned about bringing people into the cemetery for the game. She wanted to be resptecful of the environment. Her research found that cemeteries were places of recreation. In the early 1900's, men would take their dates out to the cemetery for a picnic. Today, a cemetery in the Washington, DC area sells a dog walking license that is quite popular. The increase in dog walkers has dropped the crime rate. So how could she extend the video game to the cemetery to create a good game and be respectful of the environment. She came up with the theme: "You killed them, now go play your respects."
Her formal process for creating the game was to look into the historical uses of the space (of the cemetery, in this case). To look at what is universal about the space? (tombstones in a variety of sizes and styles). What is the personal alternate experience associated with the space? (She recalled an Easter egg hunt as something she did when she was growing up.) What are the obstacles to creating a game in this space? (Respect for the environment, especially if the game was going to be played when a funeral was taking place...)
She set up the Last Call Poker Game. She had the gamers bring a flower to the cemetery. This tied to the original use of the space and helped to identify the gamers as they arrived. They also could print out the game instructions. The card and flower combination would be visible and help the gamers meet and greet each other as they arrived. She had scattered poker chips amongst the graves. This enabled the gamers to explore the area with a reward, picking up the chip (a la the "Easter egg hunt"). The chip rewarded the gamers for finding it as well as gave the gamers permission to explore.
She then created a segment called Tombstone Hold'em. Patterned after the current poker craze of Texas Hold'em but using the tombstones to provide the hand for the players. There was a whole scheme designed to utilize the tombstone and the markings to determine the card it was.
Tombstone Hold'em Poker (THP) is a variant of Texas Hold'Em Poker developed in conjuncture with the 42 Entertainment's ARG Last Call Poker. In THP, tombstones become playing cards as there are only four basic shapes that are used to top them.
-Tombstones with rounded tops are hearts.
-Tombstones with pointy tops are spades.
-Tombstones with flat tops are diamonds.
-Tombstones topped with statuary are clubs.

The value of each 'card' is determined by the last digit of the date of death on the tombstone. Digits 2-9 are what they are. 1's are aces and 0's are tens. If two or more people are listed on a tombstone, you ignore the date of death.
-Two people listed is a jack.
-Three people listed is a queen.
-Four, or more, people listed is a king.

So a pointy-topped tombstone with the name of one person on it who died in 1941 is an ace of spades. Finally, if you find a tombstone of someone who died on your birthday, and you've got the ID to prove it, you can use it once as a Joker during the game.
Quite ingenious! She had a couple of other aspects of the game that she did not get into the details for in her time allocated.
Aftre following a bunch of links from her blogs, I know a little more about I Love Bees and will have to keep the radar tuned for a game to play.
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