Week 261

The view from the perch

I have just returned from the Alps this week­end and directly trav­elled to the Nether­lands to do some after hol­i­day catch­ing up with Kars.

Stand­ing is pro­gress­ing very nicely thanks to Simon’s hard work. We’ll be ready to launch the redesigned app and web­site soon. We’ve been in talks about mak­ing a game about cam­era sur­veil­lance and we cri­tiqued a for­mat for a TV show in development.

Camparc ball

Most of the rest of the week was spent on Cam­parc which has pro­gressed nicely since last I saw it. We demoed it suc­cess­fully to the client and shot a teaser video of the balls them­selves for your enjoy­ment. A crazy con­cept (huge balls with cam­eras in them) turns out to be really awe­some when you actu­ally build it.

Stielman coffee packaging

In cof­fee related news, the Utrecht stu­dio has pro­cured a cof­fee sub­scrip­tion from new Rot­ter­dam based roaster Stiel­man which we highly recommend.

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Come play Camparc

You’re invited to come play our lat­est game Cam­parc at the Strijp-S open day on Sep­tem­ber 14 in Eind­hoven, the Nether­lands. Cam­parc is a panoramic cam­era ball play­ground. It is com­mis­sioned by art and tech­nol­ogy fes­ti­val STRP.

At the event you’ll be able to play with sev­eral man-size panoramic cam­era balls in the Strijp-S area and see a live panoramic cam­era feed of each one on a big screen. We’ll also pro­vide you with a cou­ple of things to do with the balls which make use of their intrigu­ing per­spec­tive on the world around us.

So: head over to Strijp-S on Sep­tem­ber 14 and come play Camparc.

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Week 260

This was the first week after my hol­i­day so I spent Mon­day mostly just get­ting back into things. A process that used to be quite painful but ever since we mostly run on a com­bi­na­tion of Asana and Slack it is much eas­ier to get a sense of what has hap­pened and what needs to be done com­pared to the old email days.

My post-holiday blues were soft­ened by the com­pany of Tom, who had been in the coun­try for a few days. As always, it was a plea­sure catch­ing up, see­ing what he’s been work­ing on and shar­ing our own work. We wrapped up with lunch at De Klub, after which Tom went on to explore Utrecht before his flight back to London.

The rest of the week I focused on Cam­parc. On Tues­day I had a weekly sta­tus update call with STRP after which I drove down to Aldo’s stu­dio in Rot­ter­dam. There I had the great plea­sure to play with the pro­to­type cam­era ball he’s been build­ing. See­ing it live for the first time made a big impres­sion. The ball is seri­ously big and unex­pect­edly heavy. Watch­ing the gyro inside of it move around as you play with the ball is mes­meris­ing. See­ing the panoramic footage stream live as you move around is a bit mag­i­cal. For me it was def­i­nite con­fir­ma­tion we are on the right track.

Aldo with prototype Camparc ball

Dur­ing the rest of the week I delved into all aspects of Camparc’s pro­duc­tion, as there are quite a few things that remained to be deter­mined and arranged. Most notably I had a meet­ing with Trudo, who are the devel­op­ers of Strijp-S, which is the area where Cam­parc will be played. I shared our work in progress, got enthu­si­as­tic responses and we imme­di­ately set out to sketch out the exact loca­tions where we will be play­ing on the week­end of the event the game is part of (Sep­tem­ber 12–14).

On Fri­day, I reviewed our progress with Aldo and made plans for the next week in which every­thing will come together for the beta ver­sion of the cam­era ball, includ­ing cus­tom, brightly coloured 3D printed con­nect­ing mate­ri­als. I also went over the cur­rent state of affairs with STRP again, pin­ning down some details of the event’s time table.

Aside from Cam­parc, I put some prepa­ra­tions into our upcom­ing project with KLM, and a grant appli­ca­tion for a new col­lab­o­ra­tion related to urban plan­ning. I closed the week off in style with Fri­day drinks and very nice din­ner at De Klub.

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Week 259

I am get­ting back into things after a pleas­ant two weeks of hol­i­day on Bali. Mean­while Alper is head­ing to Aus­tria for two weeks of hik­ing, camp­ing and read­ing Piketty up in the mountains.

Judg­ing by the notes Alper has left me as well as the activ­ity logs in Asana and Slack, things have been pro­gress­ing nicely in my absence.

I am par­tic­u­larly excited by the work done on Cam­parc (FUNKOROGASHI) by Aldo. In the taxi back from the air­port yes­ter­day I watched with glee at footage shot by the first cam­era ball pro­to­type. Also, our first big water ball was deliv­ered, giv­ing us an oppor­tu­nity to get famil­iar with its phys­i­cal prop­er­ties. Size, weight and so on will greatly influ­ence the kind of play Cam­parc will afford. Aldo also built a gyro­scope for the cam­era and rasp­berry pi which fits the big ball, and he made good progress on stream­ing video from the raspi.

For KEGANI, Alper did some research into the pos­si­bil­i­ties of get­ting the game pub­lished by a Euro­pean boardgame com­pany. Results are kind of incon­clu­sive so we will con­tinue to talk to peo­ple and think about what is the best match for our slightly left field game con­cept and sub­ject matter.

For Indigo, the annual exhi­bi­tion of Dutch indie games, Alper reviewed a num­ber of games. There were a cou­ple of inter­est­ing entries so I’m sure the next big edi­tion at the end of Sep­tem­ber will be worth a visit again.

And finally before start­ing pack­ing, Alper pre­sented design lessons learned from esports at JOIN, the first local mul­ti­player game sum­mit which was organ­ised by our Berlin friends Sjors and Lorenzo.

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Week 258

The stu­dio is on a bit of a sum­mer sched­ule with one prin­ci­pal gone on hol­i­day and me fin­ish­ing things before I go on mine. Most of my time has been spent doing main­te­nance on exist­ing projects, mov­ing for­ward new ones and lots of social calls for lunch/dinner/coffee.

Two cur­rent projects did see sig­nif­i­cant progress:

Aldo built a hard­ware pro­to­type for FUNKOROGASHI that val­i­dates our assump­tions about what is pos­si­ble. The video of the pro­to­type in action looked like a proper tech­ni­cal break­through. When we have this at scale this is going to be quite something.

We pushed out an update release for the Cup­pings guide which is in the App Store already. There’s some fea­tures in there for peo­ple with­out loca­tion ser­vices and a lot of new cafes that our team has vetted.

I ended the week proof­ing Kars’s chap­ter for The Game­ful World book by the MIT Press. I was happy to find that we had proofed it well already but the final ver­sion is beau­ti­ful and well worth the wait.

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Week 257

I’m writ­ing this note (and will be writ­ing the next as well) because as we speak Kars is on a well-deserved hol­i­day in Indone­sia. He spent most of last week work­ing on Cam­parc final­iz­ing the design doc­u­ment with Aldo among a slew of other related things.

Full house for the TI final

Mon­day evening I took inter­ested friends to the Melt­down esports bar to watch The Inter­na­tional finale event. The place was packed and did not have any air­con­di­tion­ing which made it good (for us) that the best of five was over quickly.

We con­tin­ued work on Stand­ing whose new design release is shap­ing up nicely. We had an update call on KEGANI to see what issues remain open and how to move for­ward. We are look­ing for­ward to pub­lish­ing a pol­ished and top­i­cal card game. Dur­ing the small ses­sions that we’ve tested it we have been met with a lot of interest.

Sales efforts con­tin­ued apace with us prepar­ing upcom­ing con­sult­ing. We are also look­ing to fund a new project based on open­ing up sur­veil­lance as a sub­stance to be played with. Also one of our con­cepts has been included in the bid book for Varna Euro­pean Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture 2019.

I dropped by the Berlin UX Cock­tail Hours for some catch­ing up with local design­ers. Renato Valdés, founder of fit­ness app Human vis­ited our Berlin stu­dio for cof­fee and ramen. Kars chat­ted with Mapije and with some peo­ple from the Uni­ver­sità della Svizzera ital­iana. At the end of the week we both gave an inter­view to Mar­rije Schaake and Maaike de Laat from Achter het Scherm who pro­file Dutch dig­i­tal mak­ers and doc­u­ment the processes they use.

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Announcing Camparc – a public space game for STRP

Over the course of the next two months we will be cre­at­ing a new pub­lic space game com­mis­sioned by art and tech­nol­ogy fes­ti­val STRP. The game car­ries the work­ing title Cam­parc and Hub­bub code­name FUNKOROGASHI. It will be playable Sep­tem­ber 12–14 at Strijp-S—a Philips indus­trial site con­verted into city neigh­bour­hood. Read on below for a sneak pre­view of what we have planned. STRP have also posted an announce­ment in Dutch.

Strijp-S overview

Cam­parc con­sists of large-scale, con­nected objects with built-in cam­eras. Play­ers can freely move these “cam­era toys” around Strijp-S, using its streets, squares and fur­ni­ture as a play­ing field, obsta­cle course or race track. Mean­while, the toys will cap­ture the play­ers and the space and show the footage back to them on screens placed in the same space. Besides free play, we will also sug­gest games to play using the toys, described in sim­ple writ­ten rule­sets placed at strate­gic spots in the game’s area.

The project is inspired by Kata­mari, goal line tech­nol­ogy, new games earth balls, cam­era sur­veil­lance, selfie poles, panoramic cam­era balls, skate­board­ing and Park­our. We hope it will pro­duce an eye-catching, fun and inclu­sive expe­ri­ence which invites play­ers to reflect on new ways of tech-aided look­ing and mapping.

Camparc moodboard

We have invited Aldo Hoeben to join us for this project. Aldo is a ver­i­ta­ble wiz­ard when it comes to instal­la­tions involv­ing pho­tog­ra­phy and video. Keep an eye on our wee­knotes to fol­low the game’s devel­op­ment in the com­ing weeks and mark your calendars—we’d love to have you over to play.

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Week 256

Last week I trav­eled to Utrecht to do some main­te­nance work on an old project. I took the oppor­tu­nity to work at our Utrecht office and check out the Vecht­club XL’s new cafe De Klub. I am severely impressed how the venue is shap­ing up to become Utrecht’s num­ber one des­ti­na­tion. Another old project that saw some work—summer time being main­te­nance time—was Beesten­bende for which we shipped a new release.

The big event for the week was clos­ing FUNKOROGASHI and kick­ing off devel­op­ment for it in rapid suc­ces­sion. This is going to be an instal­la­tion game for STRP fes­ti­val which we’ll be post­ing more on this week.

Playtesting KEGANI at Dutch Game Garden

Kars and I playtested KEGANI which is shap­ing up nicely. It’s a fast paced card game with a seri­ous pay­load. Kars then also tested it at the Sub­cul­tures game night at the Dutch Game Gar­den. We talked a bit more about stu­dio strat­egy and how that is influ­enced by the realign of a cou­ple of weeks ago. That dis­cus­sion helped us to fur­ther pol­ish our tagline to “design stu­dio for play­ful prod­ucts” which we think is con­cise and cov­ers everything.

TI

I trav­eled back to Berlin on Thurs­day evening and did some remain­dered sales work on Fri­day before head­ing to our local esports cafe Melt­down to watch the open­ing games of The Inter­na­tional. I’m a big fan of Cloud9 who unfor­tu­nately have been knocked out of the tour­na­ment as I’m writ­ing this.

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Week 255

This week started on a high note with the open­ing of restau­rant De Klub at Vecht­club XL—the cre­ative work­space in which our Utrecht stu­dio is located. It is a lovely space serv­ing good food and drink (includ­ing fine cof­fees) but most impor­tantly a great place for serendip­i­tous encoun­ters with other Vecht­club res­i­dents and peo­ple from out­side of the building.

De Klub opening day

Much of my atten­tion was ded­i­cated to get­ting project FUNKOROGASHI set up. On Mon­day I adjusted the pro­posal we had sent out ear­lier with a new con­cept Alper and I had come up with in Berlin the pre­vi­ous week. On Thurs­day I headed over to Eind­hoven for a meet­ing with the client. We dis­cussed and adjusted the con­cept, then went out for a tour of Strijp-S which will be the site of the project. When I got back I imme­di­ately banged out a third iter­a­tion of the pro­posal and sent it out, ready for signing.

Exploring Strijp-S Eindhoven

Mean­while Alper went hunt­ing for a rather elu­sive Beesten­bende bug. With help from the mighty Chris Eid­hof he even­tu­ally man­aged to locate and fix it.

We were also pleased to sign a con­tract for a new project with KLM which we’ve code­named KUMA. It’s con­cept devel­op­ment, which includes work­shops and stu­dio work, aimed at pro­vid­ing insight into the pos­si­bil­i­ties of game-based learn­ing for a par­tic­u­lar appli­ca­tion domain. This will kick off next month and we are very much look­ing for­ward to it.

Dutch news weekly Vrij Ned­er­land pub­lished a piece on cof­fee and was kind enough to include a link Cup­pings—our super sim­ple app for find­ing great cof­fee near you. This imme­di­ately pro­pelled it into the app store charts again.

Cuppings mention in Vrij Nederland

I finally found the time to write up and pub­lish the talk I gave some time ago at a Behav­ior Design Ams­ter­dam meetup. It’s an attempt to describe an alter­na­tive approach to design for behav­iour change which puts peo­ple first and strives to increase in stead of dimin­ish their agency.

Through­out the week we had numer­ous meet­ings. Alper wel­comed a group of stu­dents from Belarus to the stu­dio who were on an out­ing organ­ised by the Hein­rich Böll Foun­da­tion. He also enter­tained friends-of-the-studio Ernst-Jan Pfauth and Jus­tus Bruns. I met with cura­tor Ine Gev­ers to dis­cuss games and art, vis­ited our friends Per­cep­tor at their the Hague stu­dio and talked inter­ac­tion design edu­ca­tion with Vik­tor Wij­nen who has just become head of the game and inter­ac­tion design pro­gram at the Utrecht School of the Arts, my alma mater.

We also vis­ited a Utrecht escape room and once again failed to solve it in time. I did how­ever man­age to nail one whole puz­zle, largely thanks to its visual nature.

The week ended for me with a very wel­come monthly Bier­club (“beer club”) in the sun at De Klub. Over the week­end I watched a few games of Dota 2 at The Inter­na­tional and Smash Bros and Street Fighter at EVO. Mean­while in Berlin, Alper tells me he caught up on email.

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Five Behaviour Design Principles You Never Suspected Would Work

A while ago, I was invited by friend-of-the-studio Iskan­der Smit to speak at a Behav­ior Design Ams­ter­dam meetup. Much of our work is related to behav­iour change, but we try to steer clear of the reduc­tion­ist think­ing that is quite preva­lent in the field. So I decided to use the oppor­tu­nity of pre­sent­ing to a room full of pro­fes­sional “behav­iour design­ers” to try and desta­bilise some of those ideas. What fol­lows is a sum­mary of what I talked about, plus a sec­tion I had to skip due to time constraints.

Aer­o­bie

As a first provo­ca­tion I showed this joy­ful image of a girl throw­ing an aer­o­bie. It is con­sid­ered the best fris­bee ever. Its inven­tor is Alan Adler who would later go on to cre­ate the awe­some aero­press cof­fee maker. To me, this is a superb exam­ple of the kind of behav­iour design I think we should aspire to. Some­thing that makes us more human, not less so.

Girl throwing aerobie

COM-B sys­tem

Around the end of 2013 and the begin­ning of 2014 we were involved with a project in the health­care field. We cre­ated con­cepts for prod­ucts that would help peo­ple lead health­ier lives. Sadly that work is all under NDA so we can’t get into specifics. But I can share some use­ful the­ory we were intro­duced to, and a play­ful design tac­tic we employed.

The COM-B sys­tem which is described in an open-access jour­nal arti­cle offers a coher­ent and com­pre­hen­sive way of think­ing about how to affect behav­iour through var­i­ous kinds of interventions.

In this project we used the sys­tem to help us eval­u­ate our designs for poten­tial effec­tive­ness. It can also be super use­ful for con­strain­ing your design space beforehand.

Article describing COM-B system

How­ever, it did not help us with invent­ing inter­ven­tions that would be inter­est­ing to engage in from an indi­vid­ual person’s per­spec­tive. To be fair, this isn’t the goal of the COM-B sys­tem. But it was some­thing we ran into in this “behav­iour design” project. The ten­dency to cre­ate a sys­tem that goes about dri­ving behav­iour in a purely instru­men­tal way is hard to fight.

We designed our way out of this by using a tac­tic that I think might be of use to oth­ers as well. For a while, we found our­selves painstak­ingly try­ing to remove all sources of fric­tion from the prod­uct. In doing so we also removed many oppor­tu­ni­ties for sur­prise, delight and expression.

So in the end we went back and actu­ally made those sources of fric­tion things for users to deal with, in a play­ful way. We used this play­ful­ness to frame the activ­i­ties we would like peo­ple to engage in. As a result they became fun to do, in stead of a chore.

Fun is only fun when it is stupid”

So there is a ten­sion in design­ing for behav­iour change between instru­men­tal ratio­nal­ity and play­ful­ness. It is cap­tured in a won­der­ful way in a story that Dave Eggers tells about a visit to the Mohe­gan Sun casino in Con­necti­cut. He goes there to see 70s revival band Star­ship play live. A friend of his has joined the band for the occa­sion and they’re being very snobby and ironic about it.

But at the end of the night to his own sur­prise Eggers finds him­self singing and danc­ing to the music along with the rest of the audi­ence. “Fun is only fun when it is stu­pid,” he writes and I think this is almost always true. There might be cer­tain kinds of fun which aren’t com­pletely stu­pid, but I think we have to acknowl­edge that there is some­thing deeply irra­tional about all sources of human enjoy­ment. As design­ers we ignore this irra­tional­ity at our own peril.

Starship performing

Yel­low Claw

As a fur­ther exam­ple of this ten­sion I con­trasted an Apple ad that I spot­ted in the New Yorker with a video by Dutch trap music pro­duc­tion out­fit Yel­low Claw.

The ad, which is part of the Your Verse cam­paign, shows sumo wrestlers using an ipad to analyse their move­ments. So tech­nol­ogy is used to make a very messy human pur­suit leg­i­ble, mea­sur­able and quan­tifi­able. This is how Apple mar­kets their tools.

Apple Your Verse sumo wrestlers ad in New Yorker

The music video is for a song titled Kroko­bil which is a weird pun on the Dutch words for croc­o­dile and but­tocks. A kroko­bil is a cro­cobutt. I’ll leave the lyrics of the rest of the song to your imag­i­na­tion. In short, this is stu­pid fun in the Eggers sense of the word. But here’s the rub: Kroko­bil is made with the same kind of tools Apple mar­kets as machines for mak­ing the immea­sur­able mea­sur­able, the very oppo­site of stu­pid fun.

If you can mea­sure it, then it’s not the change I want to see”

It’s not just a mat­ter of acknowl­edg­ing the human desire for irra­tional plea­sure. Con­tem­po­rary cap­i­tal­ism is in love, or per­haps more accu­rately in lust, with gam­i­fi­ca­tion. Mea­sur­ing the immea­sur­able as gam­i­fi­ca­tion does is the first step towards com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion. Today’s tech indus­try priv­i­leges instru­men­tal ratio­nal­ity over other modes of human think­ing and doing. This approach favours prop­a­gat­ing exist­ing insti­tu­tions over (re)inventing new ones.

So in the cases when we want to trans­form things con­nected to the sta­tus quo, we should also trans­form the prac­tice of how we deter­mine change. All of this and more is pas­sion­ately argued for by Paolo Ped­ercini at Indiecade East 2014.

Tweet by Bogost quoting Pedercini at Indiecade East 2014

Com­mu­ni­ties of play

As Ped­ercini points out, com­put­ing tech­nol­ogy is great at count­ing things. This is fine and use­ful in many cases. But this does not mean we should always count things, or try to make every­thing count­able. The ques­tion is: How do we allow for less ratio­nal and arguably more human ways of act­ing within the con­text of tech­no­log­i­cal or com­pu­ta­tional systems?

Breeze

One way sug­gested by Ped­ercini is to push parts of a system’s rules out­side of the soft­ware and into the social phys­i­cal space of peo­ple using it. This is a tac­tic we have employed our­selves as well.

A great exam­ple would be the “no-graphics digitally-enabled play­ground game” Johann Sebas­t­ian Joust. It uses tech­nol­ogy, but a large part of the game is socially nego­ti­ated. Dou­glas Wil­son, the game’s designer, calls this “deputis­ing play­ers”.

Johann Sebastian Joust

Our game Beesten­bende has sim­i­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics. We use an app as a game mas­ter of sorts, but it is the play­ers who we depend on for uphold­ing the rules.

Beestenbende

These kinds of games, and prod­ucts that share their depen­dence on social nego­ti­a­tion, are more mal­leable by the groups of peo­ple using them. This is sim­i­lar to what Bernie DeKoven describes in The Well-Played Game. He talks about com­mu­ni­ties of play and how the abil­ity to jointly change the rules of any game they are play­ing is super impor­tant for its con­tin­ued exis­tence. From this per­spec­tive play­ers are always more impor­tant than any par­tic­u­lar game. Extend­ing this to the sub­ject of this talk: Peo­ple are always more impor­tant than any par­tic­u­lar per­sua­sive product.

People playing with earth ball at New Games event

Adding degrees of freedom

Another tac­tic is sug­gested by David Kanaga in a response to Eric Zimmerman’s ludic cen­tury man­i­festo. At one point Kanaga pro­poses an alter­na­tive to tra­di­tional gam­i­fi­ca­tion, which he calls “soft gam­i­fi­ca­tion”. It is aimed at increas­ing pos­si­bil­ity spaces as a opposed to mak­ing things mea­sur­able and decreas­ing uncertainty.

Soft gam­i­fi­ca­tion solves no quan­tifi­able prob­lems; instead, it poses ques­tions. It merely takes an activity/situation, and ADDS DEGREES OF FREEDOM such that it is more mal­leable (more PLAYED, more of a game).”

Kanaga dis­cusses the same idea in a dif­fer­ent way in a talk at GDC 2014 which is every bit as bril­liant as the afore­men­tioned ludic cen­tury post. Using music the­ory as a lens for under­stand­ing games, at one point he intro­duces flux dogma: “allow all con­stants to become variables”.

Tweet by Heather Kelley quoting David Kanaga at GDC 2014

Flux dogma is best explained through exam­ples. Kanaga him­self is fond of using Infi­nite Sketch­pad. In this case, the con­stant that is the tra­di­tional draw­ing can­vas is made variable.

Playing with Infinite Sketchpad

A less obvi­ous exam­ple is Pro­teus, for which Kanaga cre­ated all the sound and music. In this “wildlife sim­u­la­tor” the player roams a pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated island. Every piece of scenery she encoun­ters has sound attached to it, in a non-binary way. Mean­while with the pas­sage of time the island con­tin­u­ously changes. There is a day/night cycle and a pass­ing of sea­sons. Kanaga offers “shift­ing pos­si­bil­ity space” as a def­i­n­i­tion of what a game is. Pro­teus fully embod­ies this.

Proteus

This idea of adding degrees of free­dom con­nects to Pedercini’s resis­tance to mea­sur­able change as a way of insti­tu­tional reform. Behav­iour design often hap­pens at the indi­vid­ual level. But true change also requires inter­ven­tion at higher lev­els of abstrac­tion. It is here that adding degrees of free­dom is of most importance.

Two fur­ther exam­ples of shift­ing pos­si­bil­ity spaces, before I con­clude with a note on ethics.

Open-endedness

When we made Vic­tory Boo­gie Woo­gie, we took on the chal­lenge of con­nect­ing lit­er­a­ture with play­ful­ness and ended up with some­thing like a play­ground for writing.

For this we were hugely inspired by the prac­tice of table­top role­play­ing games and sto­ry­telling games. A great exam­ple would be Fiasco, which enables a group of play­ers within the times­pan of one evening to tell a Coen brothers-esque tale of small-time crim­i­nals meet­ing unfor­tu­nate fates.

Sto­rygames like Fiasco sup­port a gen­er­ous form of play. Play that is non-instrumental. The rules are there to sup­port the play­ers and not the other way around.

Shift­ing pos­si­bil­ity spaces like Fiasco, Vic­tory Boo­gie Woo­gie, Pro­teus, Infi­nite Sketch­pad, Beesten­bende and Joust enable a dif­fer­ent kind of change. One that is not eas­ily mea­sured by virtue of being socially nego­ti­ated. One that adds degrees of free­dom in stead of reduc­ing uncer­tainty. These qual­i­ties sup­port a more eth­i­cal way of using tech­nol­ogy for behav­iour change. Finally, they start from an under­stand­ing that many sources of enjoy­ment are fun­da­men­tally irrational.

Ethics

Ethics is a major con­cern of mine when it comes to what I see going on in the behav­iour design field. Most often, the ques­tion of ethics is reduced to this: Behav­iour design­ers should use their awe­some pow­ers for good. The issue I have with this is that it pre­sup­poses per­fect trans­la­tion of a designer’s intent into a prod­uct, and from the prod­uct into a user’s behav­iour. It should be obvi­ous that this is a wholly unre­al­is­tic depic­tion of how tech cul­ture actu­ally is con­structed, deployed and used.

In stead of lim­it­ing ethics to a ques­tion of designer intent, behav­iour design­ers who are con­cerned with ethics should take their audi­ence seri­ously and allow for them to be full par­tic­i­pants in the shap­ing of a system’s work­ings. I would argue that a prod­uct that does not allow for the kind of user appro­pri­a­tion that I have been describ­ing so far is inher­ently unethical.

This posi­tion is hugely inspired by Miguel Sicart’s arti­cle Against Pro­ce­du­ral­ity which ques­tions the fetishi­sa­tion of sys­tems in the games indus­try. It is about games, but I would argue it equally applies to any tech­no­log­i­cal prod­uct. By way of expla­na­tion I’ll offer two short quotes:

With­out the player there are no ethics or pol­i­tics, no val­ues and no mes­sages. Objects can have embed­ded val­ues, tech­nol­ogy can be polit­i­cal, but only inas­much as there is a human who makes the politics.”

Against pro­ce­du­ral­ity an army of play­ers stand and play, break­ing the rules, mis­un­der­stand­ing the processes, appro­pri­at­ing the spaces of play and tak­ing them some­where else, where not even the designer can reach.”

Pig Chase

As an exam­ple of how this could work, I will point to the game Pig Chase, which we designed and devel­oped together with the Utrecht School of the Arts and Wagenin­gen Uni­ver­sity. It is a game peo­ple play together with pigs. Humans get an iPad app, pigs get a cus­tom dis­play which responds to their touch in their pen. They are invited to coor­di­nate their move­ments and “dance” along a sequence of goals which trig­gers colour­ful fireworks.

Pig Chase is about how we as humans relate to these ani­mals, but there is a lot of ambi­gu­ity built into the design. There is no clear mes­sage we are push­ing. In stead, we allow humans and pigs to play together and in the process come to their own con­clu­sions about the top­ics such as pig farm­ing, meat con­sump­tion and ani­mal intel­li­gence. It is a great exam­ple of adding degrees of free­dom, and it is also a good exam­ple of allow­ing for socially nego­ti­ated play (in this case across species).

Pig Chase

The sci­en­tist and the mouse

One of my favourite takes on how games work their spe­cial kind of magic is from Frank Lantz:

Games are Skin­ner boxes in which you are both the sci­en­tist and the mouse. You pre­tend to care, and then you get to expe­ri­ence what it means to care, only at one remove, like, with a clipboard.”

It is this dou­ble loop of action and reflec­tion hap­pen­ing at the same time which I think is also vital for a kind prod­uct for behav­iour change which does not just prop­a­gate exist­ing states of affairs, but also invents new ones and trans­forms exist­ing ones.

To do this, we need to always remind our­selves of the irra­tional side of human behav­iour. To strive to make room for it, in stead of reduc­ing it. So I’ll end sim­i­lar to how I started. Like the aer­o­bie, the game Ani­mal Upon Ani­mal is an exam­ple of the kind of behav­iour design that inspires me. I would invite you to play it and study it. And the next time when you sit down to design a behav­iour change prod­uct, think back to it. Can you cre­ate an expe­ri­ence that is equally social, dynamic and open to change?

Girl playing Animal Upon Animal

I col­lected links to most of the arti­cles and projects ref­er­enced in this talk at my tum­blr.

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