Friday, April 20, 2012

Doing Ridiculous Shit With Technology

Douglas Wilson, a PhD student at IT University of Copenhagen's Center for Computer Games Research, gave a talk about his work, his inspiration from folk games, and his creative uses of technology. During the roundtable discussion, the attendees debated on topics of rhetoric vs. design and creating art vs. making money.

  • Douglas's mission statement: Games that are confrontational, silly, broken, or incomplete can shift the focus of games from winning to a more festive, co-dependent, and performative play.
  • His sources of philosophical inspiration include Hannah Arendt, Dave Hickey, Bill Gaver, Grant Kester, Chantal Mouffe, Bernie DeKoven, Paul Dourish, and Richard Schechner.
  • The games he created include Dark Room Sex Games, B.U.T.T.O.N., Johann Sebastian Joust, and the in-progress Mutazione.
  • During a summer when the Playstation Move controller was on his mind, he created Dog the Wag. In this game, players tie a Move controller to their butts and get on all fours. The more they shake their butts and effectively "wag their tails," the more points they get. Sometimes, a player's controller will flash, making him vulnerable and causing the other players to tackle him to eliminate him from the game.
  • Folk games are physical party games, many of unknown origin. An example of a folk game is one where players tie a string to their butt and tie a rock to the other end of the string. They run through an obstacle course while trying to knock objects with the rock.
  • His first attempt at a motion game was inspired by Street Fighter. He created a 2-player fighting game where the fighters would perform fantastic moves based on the players' movements. However, this game didn't work out and ultimately failed. He realized that using traditional games as a precedence for motion games was leading him down the wrong path, so he turned to folk games for inspiration.
  • Folk games are defined as traditional, ethnic, or indigenous sports or games. Folk games often are simple in design, use common equipment, spread by word of mouth, are open to house rules, physical, and deliberately silly. Folk games are an attitude. They are egalitarian.
  • Ninja is a theatrical, turn-based folk game where people perform ninja poses and try to slap each other's hands.
  • There is a distinction between modern sports and popular sports. A modern sport is a ritual of perfect achievement where athletes set records (ie. Olympics, NBA, NFL, etc.). A popular sport, however, is festive and not serious. Anyone can get involved and there is a joy of subversion.
  • For example, in Dog the Wag, tying a controller to your butt exhibits the joy of subversion. No matter what the game is, you are already having fun.
  • Beacons of Hope is an installation game designed by Douglas. It is played with 20 people in a completely dark room. Two of the players are monsters who must try to catch all the human players and eliminate them from the game. The human players have to find three Move controllers in the dark (representing beacons) and simultaneously turn on all three beacons at the same time to win the game. This game is a direct ripoff of an old camp game.
  • MegaGIRP is another installation game designed by Douglas, based on an existing web game called GIRP. MegaGIRP uses four Dance Dance Revolution pads instead of a keyboard, so instead of being a "Twister for your fingers," it becomes actual Twister. The game isn't so much like mountain climbing, but it's definitely a taxing and annoying physical exercise that's ultimately fun. The obvious inspiration for this game was Twister.
  • Johann Sebastian Joust was inspired by two separate folk games. The first was the game of chicken played on a tight rope. Two players start on opposite sides of a tight rope and their objective is to get to the other side while pushing the other player off the tight rope. The second point of inspiration was a folk game where two blindfolded players carry a small fruit with spoons. The first person to hit the other wins or whoever drops the fruit first loses. This gave him the idea that a slow motion physical game is incredibly fun. Lemon Jousting, a very similar game to the second folk game, was unbeknownst to Douglas when he worked on Johann Sebastian Joust.
  • Monkey See, Monkey Mime was a game about mimicking.
  • Edgar Rice Frotteur was a game jam project where he hung 20 Move controllers on the ceiling and created a jungle gym game.
  • In the marketing for the Move controller, the slogan was "This changes everything." There is an iconic image of Kevin Butler holding two Move controllers and projecting a bow and arrow. Sony wants to get across the idea that you can do anything with the Move, but this is not true in reality. Douglas thinks it's better to embrace technological limitations than to fight it.
  • As an indie developer, your best option is to embrace your constraints. For example, accelerometers are terrible and instead of making a game heavily based on the nuances of movement, he designed games that are essentially binary. You are either moving it or not.
  • In the same note, he realized that he doesn't have to let the technology enforce all the rules of the game. He "deputizes" the player, letting them enforce the rules themselves. In B.U.T.T.O.N., the game doesn't know if the players take ten steps back or spin around in a circle when told, but the players have to enforce these rules among themselves or else the game is not fun. Likewise, in Johann Sebastian Joust, the game doesn't know if they players are standing within the circle or not.
  • There is an aesthetic beauty in imperfection. His games let players to act the fool, to have "half-baked fun." He considers motion control as slapstick comedy. Many of his games don't need a screen because it's fun to just watch the players.
  • He considers Wario Ware: Smooth Moves by far the best game on the Wii. It is a game that embraces the limitations of the Wii remote and institutes a carnivalesque environment.
  • Frobisher Says is a PS Vita game not yet released in the US. It uses all of the Vita's technology. It includes a minigame called Look Away where the player loses if the Vita's camera ever tracks the white of the player's eyes, so the player plays the game without ever even looking at the screen.
  • Fingle for the iPad is like Twister for your fingers. It cased in 70/80s sexual innuendo and makes players feel uncomfortable as their fingers cross into awkward positions.
  • How does technology improve games? Douglas thinks this is the wrong question to ask and almost offensive to think about. The real question he wants to answer is, How can games improve technology?
Question and Answer
  • Ninja didn't inspire Johann Sebastian Joust. But both games provide good public spectacle and Ninja is a good reference point.
  • What are the social settings for his games? People wouldn't play Dog the Wag unless they are crazy or completely drunk at a party. It would be interesting to play his games at a non-traditional setting for party games such as a cathedral. Game studies often ignore the social contexts of games. As a designer, it's useful to think of social environments pragmatically.
  • He looks at the last 50 years of contemporary, theater, and performance art as inspiration for his games. He wants to move away from the "banking model of art" where artists deposit meaning into objects and audiences withdraw meaning from the objects.
  • Dog the Wag can be a violent game. It is something you don't want to play with strangers. This doesn't mean that all physical games of this nature are dangerous, but they need moderation on their brutality.
  • Family picnic games were created as ice breakers and a general way to prevent the family from fighting each other. But these games and camp games can be brutal and violent. Dodgeball is historically brutal. It is up to the players to set the tone of the game.
  • Frank Lantz mentions there is tension between Douglas's aggression against winning/losing as stated in his mission statement and the fact that all of his works clearly involves winning/losing. Douglas claims that his games, in a way, are parodies of winning/losing. They are games where players need to modulate themselves. In B.U.T.T.O.N., for example, players can easily win if they never take any steps back, don't follow instructions, and act violently, but the game wouldn't be fun at all.
  • Frank is annoyed by creators having contradictory rhetoric and work. This can be attributed to the fact that many creators often have to take exaggerated rhetorical stances to defend their art. "Everything is an overcorrection." Meanwhile, writers like strong quotes to provoke people.
  • For Douglas, as a designer, it useful to have a strong rhetoric as a framework for design. But according to Eric Zimmerman, the danger of overcorrection is that you become less flexible as a designer.
  • Brenda Brathwaite has stated "mechanic is the message" and "rules are everything." These have been responses to the over Hollywood-ification of the industry. Don't confuse cutscenes and narrative as the game itself. This is a very strong rhetorical stance that she has taken, though it may be the case that she doesn't think it's necessarily true. Frank criticizes Ian Bogost and Miguel Sicart for being guilty of this.
  • Douglas thinks Proteus is the best game of the last decade.
  • Douglas claims that "Braid is a shitty game because Jonathan Blow doesn't take writing seriously." Some of the NYU faculty thinks that Blow does take writing seriously; he's just a bad wrtier.
  • How do you balance being a creator of art and a creator of commercial products? Definitely a challenge. There are many new venues celebrating indie and art games such as Babycastles, Wild  Rumpus in London, Kill Screen, No Quarter, and Gamma. There are also some organizations supporting the creation of art games like Eyebeam.
  • Terry Cavanagh is a creator who made a lot of money from VVVVVV. Now he is working on ChatChat, a game about cats talking to other cats, even though this game would probably not make him any money. It's important for creative designers to be able to work on their passionate projects, but also something else to pay the bills.
  • Another example is Zach Gage who makes commercial games like Spelltower, but also does a lot of weird art pieces.
  • What about ludic forms in the art world? There are many great contemporary ludic art pieces such as Carsten Höller's Slide at the New Museum or Oliver Herring's TASK Parties. There is also the Fluxus art movement. Meanwhile, there are many games that are invading the art space such as the exhibitions at MOMA and the Smithsonian.
  • Why does Douglas use commodity hardware like the PS Move controller and DDR pads? As an indie game developer, he needs peers to test his games and needs easy distribution. Having self-created tech is not reliable and there is no way to easily move his tech around. He always finds a nice aesthetic in the subversion of commodity hardware (ie. using these expensive, high-tech PS Move controllers and strapping it to people's behinds).
  • Katherine Isbister mentions there is a weird feedback loop where engineers make things based on science fiction, which in turn is written by people who don't understand technology. 

1 comment:

Noumenon said...

That Wag the Dog game is a brilliant concept.