Sunday, August 05, 2007

Parallel Play

As the Sandbox Symposium drew to a close, the morning keynote featured John Klima of CityArts, who showed a lot of girl-on-girl kissing strangely to demonstrate the potential of a new virtual world and social networking environment that supposedly targeted older girls and young women, The Music Lounge, an online dance club environment. (Kissing on couches between girls of radically different heights seemed to be the main challenge in designing convincing computer animation.)

The next speaker of the day from WiiMedia seemed to address concerns about obstacles to game development placed in the path of independent developers by the proprietary game giant Nintendo, which were recently raised by Ian Bogost. Akihiko Shirai appealed to user-generated practices for creating everything from games for drawing to those for racing.

Then Michael Youngbood of the University of North Carolina discussed studies about remembering posters in virtual environments in which the player is on a quest to locate an IED. Now that even the Nielsen ratings are paying attention to in-game viewership, Youngblood's research is probably of great interest to advertisers. Unfortunately, this research didn't necessarily consider the role of standard information design principles to make posters for the U.S. Army, fruit, and an Indian named Willie memorable, since fonts and colors often interfered with legibility.

The day closed with a discussion of game prototyping, including a discussion by Nokia's Elina Koivisto about the value of paper prototyping for understanding the importance of the social dynamics involving game play, even with a simple "hot potato" game played with mobile phones. The final session, a panel on rapid prototyping, featured a lot of humorous meta-rhetoric, including a PowerPoint made up of LOL cats and one that was critical of standard game conference genres that used PowerPoint, chartjunk, and demo videos. Of course, I thought the game designer Vander Caballero was being somewhat disingenuous in promising that his games would somehow get beyond "rhetoric," which he strangely treated as a pejorative term, even though this creator of the engagingly homosocial Army of Two, which employs AI technology along with a life-saving tampon and a social feedback loop based on the low five to dramatize this somewhat counterintuitive story of healing and friendship. In terms of information aesthetics, I probably most enjoyed the presentations from Spore's Chaim Gingold, which showed how simple procedural rules could create beautiful patterns to understand both cosmic and urban development. I also thought that the presentation on Child Eater was pretty funny, given the ironies of public anxieties about children interacting with digital media.

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