A description of Technicity

Whilst reading this morning I found what is probably the most straightforward and easy to understand explanation of Technicity. It is a heavily used, but highly disputed term amongst DCRC researchers.

The power of code to transform everyday life is not simply a function of extent or pervasiveness or visibility, but primarily of effect. Technicity refers to the extent to which technologies mediate, supplement, and augment collective life; the extent to which technologies are fundamental to the constitution and grounding of human endeavor; and the unfolding or evolutive power of technologies to make things happen in conjunction with people (Mackenzie 2002). For an individual technical element such as a saw, its technicity might be its hardness and flexibility (a product of human knowledge and production skills) that enables it, in conjunction with human mediation, to cut well (note that the constitution and use of the saw is dependent on both human and technology; they are inseparable). As Star and Ruhleder (1996, 112; our emphasis) note, ‘‘[A] tool is not just a thing with pre-given attributes frozen in time — but a thing becomes a tool in practice, for someone, when connected to some particular activity . . . The tool emerges in situ.’’ ‘‘In large-scale ensembles, such as an automobile engine consisting of many components, technicity is complex and cannot be isolated from the sum of individual components (and their design, manufacture, and assembly), its ‘‘associated milieu’’ (e.g., flow of air, lubricants, fuel), and its human operator(s), that ‘‘conditions and is conditioned by the working of the engine’’ (Mackenzie 2002, 12).

Dodge, M. & Kitchin, R. (2005) ‘Code and the transduction of space.’ Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 95, 162-180.

Their work is great and I’ve got a lot of respect going back to the mapping cyberspace project. Looking forward to their capstone book in this code/space project.

I’ve got a Blast Theory residency

This August, I’m doing a one month residency in Brighton with Blast Theory. In my opinion their pieces relate very well to Victor Turner’s Ritual Process and I intend to spend the time grilling them about their work and getting close to their creative practice. Through this I want to see how applicable the Turner anthropology is to the field of pervasive games. In the month there I’ll be writing a chapter of my PhD using their work as case studies and stepping stones.

It is really old news, but I’ve only got around to posting about it. But as the months are rolling by I’m getting increasingly excited about it again. This will be a great opportunity and the chance to do some concerted writing and PhD production.

Gamification: The House Always Wins

Just did a little poking around the preview of the upcoming Gabe Zicherman (O’Reilly) book on Gamification. This bit sums up his whole attitude and approach really. Brutal and self-interested. The rest of the book appears to be just as medieval.

And that truism underlies the last basic lesson of games in the real world: No matter what the player thinks, the house will always win a well-designed game. Like any casino manager will tell you, while the illusion of winning is vital to motivating use and play, actually winning is much harder than it seems.

Broadly speaking, this has implications not only for players, but also for those of us charged with building and designing great user experiences. As markets gamify and consumer demand for fun, engaging and creative experience increases, you have a fundamental choice: either be the house, or get played.

Trust us, you want to be the former.

So are they in the business of making things fun or just playing you? And as with casinos, I’m just waiting for the Mob to move in on Gamification and Social Games. Oh wait they have.

A new, revolutionary direction for my PhD

Recently I’ve been reading more Lefebvre and from that getting onto some Althusser, Marcuse and Gramsci. I have to say it has been leading me in some new and interesting directions, the upshot of which is that I’m going to radically change my PhD direction. Starting with retitling it “A Contribution to the Critique of Pervasive Economy.”

Starting with an analysis of Pervasive Gaming as a cultural superstructure which represents and reflects an underlying socio-economical base we can see that there is a fundamental global shift shift currently occurring. There is a dominant techno-political hegemony which results in the emergence of things such as the internet and ubiquitous computing. These technologies are mobilised into oppressive structures, but they are merely a result of larger scale economic changes.

In this world the techno-bourgeoisie controls the means of aggregation, they control the rules of the game-overlay. However the users do control the means of content generation and through this the inequality can be overthrown.

Using various continental philosophers I’ve plotted the eventual social evolution or development, and postulated a world in which the technology can be distributed equally and everyone can have a jail-broken iphone.

Users of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your 3G contracts. The revolution will not be televised, it will be downloaded via bittorrent.

To this end I’ve started writing down some of my thoughts in a little book. The biggest question of the revolution is, “What colour should it be?”

The Big Society, Play and Broken Realities

I was just sent a link (thanks Ed) to this Pat Kane presentation about how the big society should/might maybe be a playground, but it is not. He’s channelling Sebastian Deterdings points about what separates gaming from mere pointification. Meaning, Mastery and Autonomy. He’s got a nice quote in there about play flourishing in the right mixture of risk and safety. It certainly doesn’t flourish in an atmosphere of risk and pain. Big Society Britain is about as playful as the Roman Arena. So I can fully agree with Pat’s final “Big Society: 50% right idea, 100% wrong time” comment. Spot on.

About the same time I saw a bit on Zocalo about applying game design to work. Basically responses to Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken. Most of them obviously hadn’t read the book and were talking from their own point of view, but Jesper Juul’s point is spot on. Games are abstractions, simplifications and simulations of real world situations. Applying them wholesale to different environments – work, companies, the Big Society, etc – loses the richness of the situations and creates black and white decisions where there need to be fuzzy, political, sensitive ones.

Also if we do end up creating effective systems for feedback and control that are ‘fun’ we have to think about what that ‘fun’ is. I always like the last of Marc LeBlancs eight types of fun. Submission – the aesthetic pleasure of a game as mindless pastime.

Notes on Pervasive Media and Experience

This morning we had another of Jon Dovey’s weekly Pervasive Media KTF project discussions. Here are some of my notes and thoughts, and my attempt to contextualise it within the scope of my research.

As a group we all had problems with the terms Pervasive, Media, Experience and Design. A pity there is no hyphen to take issue with. Perhaps less so design, but certainly the other three.

Pervasive Media (PM) is not really a new thing, it opens up new avenues, but doesn’t create the possibility for Completely New Experiences. Maybe PM becomes a toolbox for new forms of experience design.

When we’re describing Pervasive Media, we’re actually talking about Pervasive Media Experiences… or perhaps even more simply Pervasive Experiences. However this starts to make less sense. The term ‘Media’ is more than a little problematic when we’re talking about activities and experiences. Experience design would seem to be core to the creation of Pervasive Media because of this experiential angle.

There was a lot of discussion about what experience is and what experience design might be. Sam K brought up Deleuze’s philosophy of events, bringing in activities, affect and ethological type thinking. This chimes with my reading of experience and behaviour from Victor Turner’s chapter in The Anthropology of Experience. Turner uses Dewey and Dilthey to explain that we can’t experience other people’s experiences, so we are stuck with just observing behaviours and making an informed judgement about what their experience might be. So when we talk about experience design we’re really talking about behavioural design.

Unsurprisingly Disney came up and quite a bit of the discussion revolved around the total experience (behaviour) design they are masters of in their themeparks. The interesting thing that this lead to some thoughts about managing the “gaze” in pervasive media. Where is the attention and how is it lead, managed, engineered? Later on everyone agreed that one of the core descriptors of pervaisve media is that it is interleaved with the everyday/real world and not heavily stage-managed, controlled and locked down in the same way as a themepark or a curated experience. That a mixing of the experience and context is an important aspect. Towards the end we did again bring back in the idea of mindfulness verus having one’s mind elsewhere. How does being distracted break the experience, or how can this be worked into the experience? I (jokingly) brought up the (debunked) notion of the aesthetic stance and suggested that maybe what we were talking about was pervasive participants needing to have a pervasive stance to appreciate their experience.

Unlike other media or experiences the observer of PM has not yet been constructed. Things like TV, cinema, etc needed to construct an observer and create an audience. The norms and behaviours required to consume the media are not natural, but constructed.

With respect to (at the very least) theatre-like pieces. They need to “Sit comfortably in a reality that is good for [the player/participant].” That is the real world situation and the narrative of the piece need to be diegetically interwoven, so that things like the presence of all the participants is explained through the piece.

Much of the work in the studio comes from a design perspective and the term experience and experience design comes from that as a discipline. Art, although obviously implicitly experiential, isn’t as concerned about the term. Or more likely has moved beyond it into a more nuanced understanding of the aspects of experience that are specific to the capabilities, possibilities, affordances and constraints of a particular medium.

Is experience a verb or a noun? Should we be using it one way or the other? Using experience as a noun tends to commodify it. A problem with experience design as performed in a commercial and mass market product setting.

Location based games 2010 and beyond

Nicolas Nova is on the mark with his comments on the state of locative games. These mainly address the idea of device-based, lone-player, location-based game, where the socialisation or gameplay is computer mediated, with a minor digression into ARGs. My take away points are:

  • Real world gamification – Oh no, there it is again. For example services like foursquare or SCVNGR.
  • Building on existing platforms – Using the APIs and services that exist as the technology route. Facebook places, latitude, or Foursquare yet again.
  • Location based data as another piece of the game design, not part of the core experience

The ubiquity of Foursquare makes me a bit sad. There is no richness in this locative ecosystem, Foursquare are uninterestingly dominating the space. Mind you, it is just like Facebook dominating social networking. Is it just like Highlander? Can there be only one?

Conclusions from his post:

So, what did we learn?

  • Geolocation is only one kind of data that can be employed and LBG should be framed in a broader context: ARG or pervasive games. Coupled to pertinent and original forms of storytelling and game mechanics, the articulation of data such as location, pictures, SMS, tweets, or the ones generated by touch sensors (NFC on iPhone?), accelerometers, have the potential to lead to curious interactions.
  • In terms of innovation, the video game industry is definitely not the right actor here. Rather digital communication agency, small interaction design boutiques and digital studio who work on interactive fictions seems more willing to push the envelope. Curiously, the new media art community has slowed down on the “locative media” meme. I have to admit that I haven’t seen a lot of projects in the field in the 1-2 years (which correlated with the release of “Spook Country by William Gibson).
  • I haven’t mentioned Augmented Reality, I don’t know what to think about AR and location-based games.

And what are the possibilities ahead?

  • To avoid the empty room problem there is a need to design for single-usage, then for collective usage. We can expect platforms like these in the near future.
  • Focus not only on geolocation but also other types of data. There will be games that combine the different sorts of data that can be captured or collected. Of course the most simple forms of data (self-declared such as check-ins, pictures taken with the camera) are the most likely candidate.
  • Location-based games with scenarios that are too disruptive and complex for daily usage will continue to remain niches. Will people change their route to go to work in the morning? it’s a bit unlikely.
  • There is still some room in different urban activities: think about urban sport (skateboard, rollerblade, fixie/bike ride, parkour, etc.). The articulation of location-based games with these types of sport is an original idea that can produce good possibilities.

It is now cool to hate gamification

Two of the things that are on my radar at the moment are gamification and the construction of cool (as capital). I was just reading Margret Robertson’s post on Hide and Seek decrying the current business/design practice of gamification. Whilst I think she’s spot on, and entuirely agree with her, it does seem that there is a massive backlash against gamification. It is now cool to hate it.

This was really obvious between this year’s Playful and the one of two years ago. Two years ago we had the first flush of this new approach, I remember Iain Tait and Tom Armitage talking about things like points and high score tables. Although they weren’t the TV evangelist preachers of gamification that are currently touring the speaking circuit, they were hinting at the beast.

At his year’s Playful Sebastian Deterding got the feeling of the room right and if gamification was somehow physically present in the room, we could have taken it outside and dispensed some rough, mob justice. All whilst half the baying crowd checked in to the lynching to make sure they were mayor.

Hipsters and Big Games

Slides of my talk today on pervasive gaming ethnography. A bit of history and explanation, but mostly an exploration of current practice in gaming festivals this year. To contextualise it, this is a piece of cultural studies influenced field work looking into the aesthetic, cultural and social context of big/urban/street games.

You can see the notes on slideshare, but they are hard to find. Without the notes it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. The blank pages also had some video excerpts that are quite vital in telling the story, but due to size and a need to not widely publicise the identity of the players, I’ve left them out.