I spent a big chunk of yesterday sitting in Sony’s living room talking about games with interesting people.
Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.
The occasion was GameCamp London – an unconference about games. As an event, it could have been the bastard mashup of a gaming conference and a private loft party in London’s East End, (minus the drinking and cheeky lines of coke). The venue was Sony’s 3Rooms, a plush private space full of designer couches and game consoles Sony has hidden behind steel doors somewhere near Spitalfields market.
GameCamp is organised along the principles of BarCamp: the conference is announced mere weeks before it’s supposed to happen, no one is supposed to have a big, formal presentation prepped, but everyone is supposed to talk as well as listen to the other campers. It was the first time I’d been at something like this, and the format works quite well. Informality is key.
Among other happenings, I attended a couple of really interesting discussions on ARGs.
James Wallis Levels With Us
One was by James Wallis, who asked us “ARGs – are they fucked?” He said the subject was a riff off a recent blog post:
This is the big problem I have with the state-of-the-art in ARGs: it doesn’t scale for density. The more ARGs there are, the less successful each of them will be. There is a limit to the number of ARGs that one can play or follow at the same time. Even with the low-investment ARG-alikes such as Lonelygirl and Kate Modern, where the majority of players’ involvement doesn’t go beyond watching a few minutes of video a day, there’s only so many that people will want to follow.
Basically, said James, ARGs have become more and more mainstream, and there are now too many of them around. This spoils the TINAG ethic, so ARGs will die.
I don’t entirely agree that this means ARGs are ‘fucked,’ to use the technical term. There are also way too many books and movies out there for anyone to follow them all, but the better ones still seem to find an audience. In fact, books and movies get larger audiences because they’re well-known media. ARGs are just starting on this path.
Besides, if you ask me, one of the most important things about ARGs isn’t the established form of ARG as distributed entertainment experience. Heck, even the guys who make them are starting to think that there’s a lot more to ARGs than following the pattern laid down by The Beast.
I think ARGs are important partly because they embody the concept of pervasive gaming. That is, ARGs are examples of using game dynamics to improve other activities, like collective intelligence training, telling short stories or collecting business cards. This is what Jane McGonigal was talking about in her GDC rant earlier: the power of using games to improve life.
James himself had a great example of this – right on the back of his business card. It’s a game called business card snap, and the rules are on the right (the pic gets bigger if you click on it).
Politics: The ARG
Another good discussion was led by Tassos Stevens from Shoal Media, who led us into a look at the political implications and possibilities of ARGs. (i.e. what if people start protesting inside The Lost Ring?) The discussion eventually wended its way to this idea: could you organise a political party as an ARG? Use game dynamics to animate the political process, and you get points for canvassing, campaigning, fundraising . . . you level up from drone, to officer, to minister, to – Prime Minister? It’s crazy, but it could be done . . .
Anyone who wants to brainstorm this with me – you know how to get in touch. I’ll co-GM a political party any day of the week.
As for me, I didn’t have anything intelligent to say about gaming so I lead a practical workshop on how to kill a person with a single elbow strike. The best bit was trying out our kiais on the rooftop terrace and hearing them echo off the Bishopsgate towers . . .