Archives for the month of: October, 2011

In the last couple of days, I have appeared in a couple of top-notch video projects about games.

I’m featured in the latest video in the PBS web series “Off Book,” where I talk about games alongside game scholar Jesper Juul, game journalist Leigh Alexander, and Babycastles curator Sayed Salhuddin. Stay tuned to the end of the video for a great list of game recommendations.

When I was in the Netherlands speaking at the DiGRA conference, I was also shot by a crew from the Dutch website Submarine Channel and they also put together a great video based on that interview.

I’m not sure what it is in the air these days, but I’m happy that such great videos on games are coming out.


The Metagame Culture Edition is OUT! If you’ve been reading my blog for the last six months, you have undoubtedly read about the Metagame, the card game I created with Local No. 12 (John Sharp and Colleen Macklin and myself) in which players debate about videogames.

After we premiered the game at GDC and in the midst of our Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a bigger printing, we were approached by Esopus magazine to create a special edition of the game. The result is the Metagame Culture Edition, which expands the game content to include film, music, theater, literature, fashion, architecture, television, comics, and other forms of art, design, and media.

You can get your Culture Edition cards here on the Esopus magazine website. There are three sets of cards, each with a unique set of cultural references. To get the entire game, you’ll have to purchase all three versions of the issue.

If you’re in NYC on November 1, Esopus is holding a launch party for the issue. More information and RSVP here.

I can now officially announce a game I’ve been working on for the last couple of years – a Kinect title called Leela, which I created in collaboration with Deepak Chopra and Curious Pictures, published by THQ. I played the role of lead game designer.

Yes, you heard right: Deepak Chopra. Leela (the name means “play” in Sanskrit) is a game about play as a form of meditation, and conceptually it is based on Yoga traditions centered on the Chakras and meditation. While I’m not a disciple of Deepak, I do study Kung Fu and I am interested in meditation through physical action. Perhaps more importantly, Leela is also an experiment in game design on several levels.

The Kinect platform is quite new, and we started work on Leela before it had been released. It presented a tremendous number of design challenges, from working within the technical limitations to creating interactivity using a player’s whole body. Leela also offered a content challenge – making a game about Chakra meditation. Working with Lewis Kofsky, the Executive Producer, and the teams at Curious Pictures and N-Fusion (who spearheaded coding the game), we opted for a quite abstract approach in which different games within Leela focus on different parts of the player’s body.

Then of course there was the challenge of making a game about meditation. While I firmly believe that any well-designed, deeply played game is capable of a meditative experience (think Tennis or Tetris or Halo), in Leela we tried to create a game that foregrounds the idea of playing and meditating.

The game hits stores in a couple of weeks (November 11). I’m not sure if it will be hailed as the most interesting game yet developed for Kinect, or instead as a bizarre, new-age experiment. But I look forward to seeing what people think about it.

I recently keynoted two game studies conferences – Think Design Play, the Digital Games Research Association conference in Hilversum, Netherlands, and F.R.O.G., the Future and Reality of Games conference in Vienna.

At DiGRA, I gave a talk called “In Defense of Beauty” which made an argument to consider games from an aesthetic standpoint. The FROG talk, which I delivered together with Nathalie Pozzi, was called “Spaces of Possibility” and explored the mechanisms by which games create meaning, leveraging architecture as a model for thinking about game design.

One common theme in both talks was the idea of a “Ludic Century” – a recent turn in our culture that gives games a special relevance to literacy. I also want to challenge game scholars to stop instrumenalizing games and instead use research approaches that foreground their role as educators of the public, while also doing justice to the ineffable spirit of play.

I also presented games at both of the conferences. DiGRA featured a conference-long Metagame, in which each of the attendees were given a starter deck and a tournament was held at the closing ceremonies. At FROG, Nathalie and I premiered a “tabletop” version of Sixteen Tons that groups could play at the conference dinner. Nathalie’s graphic design was quite stunning, and perfectly color-matched the wooden game pieces – perhaps we should sell some of them onlne as a limited edition of the game.

I also enjoyed the culture of boardgame bars in Vienna. “Spiel Bar” and “Brot & Spiel” were right around the corner from my hotel.

Michael Brown at Cultured Magazine has devoted an entire issue to the Metagame. Featuring interviews with Local No. 12 collaborators Colleen Macklin, John Sharp, and me, the magazine is stuffed with more info than you want to hear about the history and design of the Metagame. You can download a free digital copy of the magazine, or order a hard copy online. Thanks, Michael!

Stay tuned here for more Metagame news, coming soon…

Another Indiecade has passed, and another of what is always one of the best game events each year. The magic of Indiecade is that it is actually manages to live up to its name as a *festival*. Not just a conference or an exhibition, attending Indiecade feels like a great weekend with friends, strolling to and from sessions, playing games, and getting a taste of what’s new in independent and experimental games.

I had a busy weekend. Gamestar Mechanic, the game I conceived with Jim Gee and developed with my company Gamelab, was a finalist in the festival. Scott Price, the project lead at E-Line Media, the company that runs Gamestar along with the Institute of Play, presented the game in one of the exhibition galleries and he was happy with the response from the crowd.

I spoke at a couple of the sessions. Nathalie Pozzi and I spoke about our work together on a panel about collaboration, where we premiered a video about our recent project for MoMA, Starry Heavens. Since – compared to a digital game – not many people get to play my gallery work, I’m always happy to share. Perhaps we’ll enter Starry Heavens into Indiecade next year, if we can find the funding to put it on.

I also led Iron Game Designer, a session in which teams of designers compete to create a game in real-time in front of an audience, using a mystery ingredient and a theme that the audience chooses. (The session is inspired by a similar event created by game designer Marc LeBlanc.) I co-hosted the event with Colleen Macklin, and we made a number of innovations this year to the design of the session that helped to kick things up a notch.

For example, instead of pre-defining teams, we only determined team captains. Each captain could pick a co-captain from the audience, and each team also got two random team members from the audience (we drew their names from a hat). That kept the event feeling more inclusive and unpredictable. We also got rid of our “panel of judges,” who never felt essential to the session. The biggest change to Iron Game Designer is that instead of a table full of office supplies – cards, dice, paper, etc – for making game props, we only gave the groups the mystery ingredient – nothing more! We made this decision only a few minutes before the session was about to start, but I am glad we did. The table of supplies always made the session feel too much like an arts & crafts class, and the games that resulted were more elegant as a result. The ingredient, by the way, was bananas, and the theme that the audience picked was The Amish. All of the games were hilarious. In the winning game by Catherine Herdlick’s team, young Amish struggles to emerge from their community of locked arms to reach the forbidden fruit of tasty bananas. For me the biggest thrill was not the (impressive) games that the teams made, the rolling-in-the-aisles laughter of the audience, or the challenge of the game show-style hosting with Colleen, but just that I was able to continue to iterate on the design of the session. I guess that’s why I am a game designer.

One of the final events at Indiecade this year was a Metagame tournament. At the closing party, we gave out starter decks of the game to anyone who wanted to play, and the four who had collected the most cards battled in front of the audience for the championship. Congrats to Miles Nye, who among other techniques drew his cards randomly for the tournament and actually rapped his argument for Parappa the Rapper against his opponent.

See you next year, Indiecade!


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