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You have been gamified
I’m writing from Italy, but don’t worry, it’s raining.
And they just elected a far-right leader.
But if you squint, Europe still appears to be doing things right.
We took the train to Italy, one night in Paris, one in Turin, then finally the pockmarked paving slabs, gangster myths and impeccable pizza of Naples. The gradual two-day work wind-down afforded by train Wifi comes highly recommended as a holiday aperitivo. But you’re not here for pasta tips!
Hello to confused new subscribers joining from Chris Unitt’s excellent round up of cultural miscellanea.
Herein follows some thoughts on play, technology, culture and sustainability.
Take a moment to consider the incredible volume of intelligence that bubbles under Disney’s truly end-to-end entertainment umbrella. The sheer creativity of Pixar. The cutting-edge Disney Research arm. The hive-mind behind MagicBand, FastPass and theme park optimisation, persuading people to pay through the nose to queue through the nose for 60-second rides. The mega-immersive Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser stuff at $5k a pop and now Disney+, with added AR:
I’m not entirely convinced that watching a screen through a screen is “the future of at-home entertainment” but my laptop still has a lightening port, so who am I to argue?
We’ve been building a deck of benchmark immersive projects and it’s available FOR FREE. From Rain Room to Connected Worlds and beyond. Peruse at your leisure.
Disney’s newest launch of note is Dreamlight Valley, a game the thrust of which - forgive me for massively oversimplifying - is mundane task-completion in a bizarre soup of Disney IP. From the Guardian review:
“I want to know why watering 10 carrots and selling them to Goofy makes me feel so alive.”
My brain’s first leap is wondering why we’re not all learning to plant real carrots. This is because my work is mostly about using games and play to bring about some sort of meaningful transformation in an audience. Adrian Hon, well known for Zombies, Run!, the app that adds a flesh-eating story layer to your fitness routine, recently released “You’ve Been Played”, a book which touches on a common sore point in this line of work, the dirty word we all avoid: gamification.
Adrian gave a lecture last week at NYU Games Center (if you don’t have time to read the book) and mentions some classics, from DuoLingo to World Without Oil. He’s also written about QAnon as the ultimate Alternative Reality Game (ARG) and his breakdown is brilliant / terrifying. The movement has all the ingredients of a well constructed game and it seems that, in many walks of life, we are indeed being played. And we appear to be loving it.
When you think about the repetitive digging and painstaking creativity expressed in Minecraft or the endless home building of Animal Crossing, one wonders what hope there is for the revolution. Our collective ingenuity and industry is being poured down a virtual plughole in a Matrix-like vision of the future. Corporeal forms plugged into the metaverse, seeking solace from a world that withers under the strain of extractive capitalism — Hello again, new readers!
The trick is turning all this game-grind into real-world change.
People with too much actual land are loaning it to people who want to grow vegetables. And people with too much actual roof space are selling it to investors so they can build solar panels and share the profits. The Sun Exchange Project is an example of ‘purpose-driven tokens’, which smells like a rebrand of ‘carbon offsetting’, but investment in green stuff is good, right? This is the sort of gamification I can get behind.
As we continue riding this clunky segue from gamification to sustainability, we encounter Climate Fresk, the slightly cultish but curious model of franchised, game-based climate crisis workshops. Find one near you and…play your way to a better understanding? I’m all for community-building but I’ve not quite got my head around this one. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Daybreak is now available on pre-order, currently a casual $250k over its $75k target. This brilliant new board game from Matteo (former game designer in residence at the V&A / all round lovely bloke) and Matt, creator of Pandemic (the cooperative game of global disease-mongering, before global pandemics were all the rage) is about the climate crisis, but in a fun way, ok?
The Trials at Donmar Warehouse was a wonderful piece of near-future theatre that imagined a jury of teens holding adults accountable for crimes against the planet. Act I: the ad man. Guilty. Act II: the artist. Guilty, eventually. Act III: the oil-company R&D worker who happens to be - SPOILER! - the mother of a jury member. That the sentence being dished out is death makes this third act somewhat…tense. The young cast and punchy script brought a buzz and bounce to this difficult topic that is often lacking.
NHM cancelled their Generation Hope event series (arrivederci, Queenie, you were a good’un) but keep eyes peeled for the 2023 rescheduling because it looks great.
The augmented reality round up you didn’t ask for
Can’t face tidying up that pile of crap on your desk? Room Reset is AR at its best:
Science Museum, Niantic and Preloaded have released Wonderlab AR, which you might think of as Pokemon Go but with the objects and forces of science as found in the world around you:
Tate and Factory 42 have released Landscapes Reimagined, using AR to play with 10 famous paintings. 10 doesn’t feel quite enough to sustain interest over time but I’d wager even that many was a stretch. AR is expensive, folks!
The Keeper of Paintings passed me by earlier this year — the teaser video makes it look positively dreamy! — and now the National Gallery has a Roblox spin-off, The Keeper Council. NGX, the gallery’s R&D studio, is clearly bearing fruit; I wonder how many people are eating the fruit, and enjoying the fruit?
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I hosted my first in-person workshop a few weeks ago (Post-its on a wall!) and have another in October. After all this Zoom/Teams/Meet nonsense, I never expected to think twice about scheduling something in person, but…travel is expensive and digital tools are actually quite good. This is confusing and I’d love to hear your reflections on in-person versus remote workshopping.
Finally, I’m desperate for Thought Den to win a Playable City award. Their vision for 2022 is to reanimate our cities post-lockdown, inviting people to play and connect. We’ve been thinking about giant dice, talking trees, conga lines and impromptu orchestras. If you want to contribute ideas, play critical friend or just be nosy, give me a shout and I’ll share the Miro. Our deadline is Oct 17th, so…before then please.
Without further ado, adieu.
PS - In what feels like a veiled finger to the US, ordering an Americano in Italy results in a steaming mug of instant coffee, even whilst a shiny espresso machine stands to attention. Grazie.