Here’s a somewhat lengthy post I wrote for the Mudlark website about what happened (I think). There are lots of brilliant posts and collections of photos elsewhere…I’ll try to post some over the next few days to keep here for posterity. Anyway:
Toby started the day off with an apology. An apology for GAMEIFICATION. Not so many years ago, the novelty of Chore Wars hadn’t worn off, and it seemed like an amazing idea that everything could be made more fun and motivational with achievements and points. Of course, we now know it’s crucial that we make good games, rather than take the easiest bits to reproduce (points) and apply them to everything (banks).
This became a common theme of a day which, in some respects, laid out what needs to happen to prevent Games becoming just Stuff-With-Gamey-Bits. Margaret Robertson hit the nail on the head towards the end of the day when she said, “Your game is only a game if you’ve got a Game Designer.” Margaret also presented her talk in Minecraft, eschewing Powerpoint for an entire island where slides had been carved into wooden signs, and mantras turned into towering infernos of hay bails.
There was a definite feeling of, “We’re only at the start of something here, a turning point, so we better steer it well” throughout it all…
Paul Bennun talked about audio-only games. These are sensory experiences, ‘flow’ inducing immersive experiences that really on physical movement and audio feedback. Close your eyes, and try not to think of how weird you look to people who aren’t playing…
Naomi Alderman wondered why character in games don’t change. The prime (and probably most cited example since her talk) example being Red Dead Redemption where, after slaying over seven-hundred people (some of whom were close friends and even family) the character remains essentially the same. No scars (physical or emotional). As Naomi said, “You’d think that would change a person!”
We took a chance that we’ve not seen any other conferences do yet – we got a nine-year old girl up on stage. Bea Davy-Sutherland is from Brighton and likes ethical games. She presented a video of her interviewing Moshi Monsters and Club Penguin about teaching ethics in games. “Why,” she wonders, “don’t you make the igloos melt to teach us about global warming?”.
Not all of the talks were call-to-arms for the future of games and play – both Richard Hogg and Pat Kane had everyone in stitches. The latter talked about humour, and how Frankie Boyle is the pits, but Old Jews Telling Jokes is immense. Richard Hogg however gave one of the most original talks we’ve seen, about being a contrarian. If you like something, Richard won’t – and not because it’s not good, just because you like it. Richard only plays infuriatingly hard games, and used a Nokia 3310 until only very recently out of protest at everyone having an iPhone. He’s a very funny man, a great illustrator, and now a Blackberry convert.
Tom Muller is a brilliant designer and artist. He also shares a love of typography with Toby, hence the contact and the invite. Tom’s talk was one full of love and inspiration – from his father’s sci-fi interior design (seriously, Tom grew up in what looked like the set of 2001) to his extensive love of comics and respect for their creators. It was a shame that the slot was only 20 minutes long because Tom could’ve gone on for hours and we wouldn’t have complained…
In the What-Amazing-Things-Have-People-Been-Making-That-We’re-Yet-To-See category there were some real jaw on the floor moments. Bertrand Duplat showed us some absolutely entrancing interactions between capacitive touchscreens and miniatures, with iPhones and iPads able to identify cards and miniatures laid out on them, even determining their orientation correctly.
Dom Hodge and Dave Haynes presented the results of several music hack days, including some very beautiful and some very silly music related hacks, such as a filter that turns any song into a swing version of itself, a cross between Snake and Tenori-On, and a geo-locative song-drop application for mobile. Nicholas Nova went more into the hardware side of things with his history and evolution of controller design. His workflow is as follow: 1. collect all controllers 2. photograph them 3. recreate them as vector art 4. categorise and visualise. It’s magic when you see it.
We’ve been trying to get Jonathan Smith from Traveller’s Tales in since the beginning of Playful, and he finally made it. A funny and engaging speaker, Jonathan spoke about his work with Lego (and the Lego games that TT make), their passion for playful learning and building – and that the important thing about games is the balance between expectation and reality. On a different slant of game design, Alexis Kennedy from Failbetter Games (the makers of the immense narrative game Echo Bazaar) talked about how much people like to be miserable. He’s a narrative architect, and he wants to make you suffer, and you LOVE IT.
James Wallis is a game designer, and his game was selected to be made by Cadbury’s as part of their Spots V Stripes Pocket Games campaign, getting everyone playing games in the run up to the Olympics. In his usual style, James managed to cram in child-like wonder, french philosophical inspiration, and great simplistic design into about 6 minutes of stage time. He also hopscotched from one end of the stage to the other (and back again!). Sally Manning also won. Sally is not a game designer, she’s a hairdresser. So it was really interesting to see how she approached the brief and won.
Definitely the most academic talk of this year’s Playful, and one that really delved into the depths of the slightly ‘anti-gamification’ theme, was delivered by Sebastian Deterding. Starting by illustrating the recent proliferation of location based/badge-earning ‘games’, and concluding with the wisdom that ‘One who must play, cannot play.” In other words, if you have no choice in the matter, it’s not a game.
The balance between Sebastian’s talk, and the previous one was unexpectedly brilliant, for he followed the one we were most nervous about – a live recording of podcast Shift, Run, Stop with Leila Johnston and Roo Reynolds. Not only were they recording live, but they were interviewing someone via Skype in Nova Scotia. And, that person was the one and only Dominik Diamond. A funny scot usually, the breaking up of the Skype audio made it all the more hilarious as very often all words in a sentence were static’d out and the only ones that made it through were either absurd or rude.
I’ve spent the last two hours going over all this and writing it up. It’s exhausting the amount of varied stuff…but that’s what Playful is about. If it was anything less I’d be worried. It is supposed to fry your brain. It is supposed to wear you down. And then you wake up the next day and take a step back and go, “Woah! That right there might just be the future of game design in one day!”
Here, to close this post, a video that opened the day, sent from the future by sceptical futurist Stuart Candy…a future (or present) where everything is a game:
Stuart Candy’s Short Playful Intro from the future. from Toby Barnes on Vimeo.
Massive thanks to our sponsors at Microsoft, Cadbury’s, Preloaded, Mind Candy, Frukt, Ogilvy, Somethin’ Else, and Lanyrd.
Vimeo (coming soon)
Nicholas Nova’s roundup
Pat Kane’s talk (Slideshare)
Anjali Ramachandran’s roundup