Blast from the past: Emergent Game at H&S 2009

Whilst looking for something else I stumbled upon a video made by a player at the Hide&Seek Weekender in 2009.

Brilliant! The first section is a player’s-eye-view of Emergent Game – the game I ran at the event!

It’s not all fun and games though. At one point this poor young man got trapped down a mine shaft and Jeff had to fetch help…

Re-enacting a scene from Hollywood as one of the Emergent Game missions

Re-enacting a scene from Hollywood as one of the Emergent Game missions

Emergent Game website relocated

Gosh, 2 years since I started sending people around the city seeing things from the perspective of soft toys.

The original Emergent Game website has now been archived at

Pirates with parrots and rabbits with robots,
Witty repartee and elegant sub-plots,
Yellow fluff furballs that hang down on strings,
These are a few of my favorit things.

Angry triangles and dogs that do scuba,
Tractors and raptors and rum straight from Cuba,
Avataris that fly with a cape, no wings,
These are a few of my favorit things.

Overnight braveness in frizzers and fridges,
Ventures to Edinbra and bartrin’ for bidges,
Rodent detectors with baubles and springs,
These are a few of my favorit things.

When the peas talk,
When the bots bork,
When I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorit things,
And then I don’t feel so bad.

Egor Beaver, My favorit things

My favorit things from Egor Beaver on Vimeo.

The Grid at Mowmacre Hill Primary School

I was asked if I would run some workshops as part of Mowmacre Hill Primary School’s Creative Learning Day – a day aimed at trialling a range of creative learning activities and developing the pupils’ role in the planning, reflection and evaluation stages of Creative Partnerships projects.

Working in mixed-age ‘research groups’, each consisting of 30 pupils, the children were exploring the following 5 areas of creativity:

  • Envisaging what might be
  • Questioning and challenging
  • Making connections and seeing relationships
  • Exploring ideas and keeping options open
  • Reflecting critically on ideas, actions and outcomes

So, I needed to provide an activity that would work with children aged 5-11 years old and would provide a framework for the areas of creativity. After some discussion with the Creative Agent (representative from Creative Partnerships) we decided to use a version of Emergent Game.

Given that at least 50% of the adults who play Emergent Game pay to keep hold of their avatars, I thought it would be prudent to change the format to one that didn’t involve soft toys!

A selection of mysterious liquids

A selection of mysterious liquids

Inspired by the workshop we did at hanare project in Japan last year, where we ran out of toys and one of the players used a glass of water instead, I decided to theme it around some mysterious liquids…

I was also keen to build on the immersive experience work I did earlier this year at Linden Primary School, and experiment with how key strategies from that might be scaled down into something much smaller. In this case, a workshop lasting about an hour.

Starting off in a room next door to where I had laid out the grids, I first introduced myself as a secret agent. I wasn’t allowed to tell them much about my job, other than that we were on the lookout for fresh talent to join my department in the years to come.

I gave them a description of the sort of people we were looking for:

  • People who can notice the smallest details.
  • People who can think the biggest ideas.
  • People who can tell the best stories.
  • People who can imagine the wildest dreams.

I then informed them we would be doing a series of missions as a sort of a job interview, and I would be watching to see who had the skills we were interested in.

We also wanted people who were good at team work, so I gave them 1 minute to get into pairs (preferably with someone from a different year). After that, I told them our missions would be based around investigating some mysterious liquids. The scientists in my department had no idea what these liquids were, so we needed the pupils to figure out what the stories might be so the scientists knew where to start with their research.

The mysterious liquids were all in a rucksack and the teams of special-agents-in-training did a lucky dip to get the one they would be investigating. Whilst the bag made its way towards the back of the group and after the initial exclamations of “its just water” had been heard, I reiterated the four skills, asking after each one if they thought “its just water” would be the sort of thing we were looking for. Generally, they thought not!

The Grid

The Grid

With all the mysterious liquids distributed, we moved next door into the mission laboratory and gathered around the edge of the grid. Here I explained the first mission:

What is the name of your liquid?
Where is it from?
What is the best thing it has ever done?

From this standing start, the children only had about 3 minutes to come up with the seeds of a back story for their mysterious liquids.

They did me proud with intergalactic waters of several different sorts; healing octopus blood; water from a river-and-washing-up-liquid accident; jelly from London that would make you powerful and water from Antarctica that looked innocent enough, but only the two agents working with it had the special eyesight to see what it really was…

It poisons you because a part of the moon has fallen into it...

It poisons you because a part of the moon has fallen into it...

Where some of the older kids were sniggering and wanting to say their mysterious liquids were urine, I called their bluff and demanded more details.

Frog wee/wii

Frog wee/wii collected by a farmer over the course of one day

Next – to some embarrassment from aforementioned sniggering kids – was the reporting-back session, where each team told the rest of the group what they thought their mysterious liquid was. This gave me a chance to make sure everyone was entering into the spirit of things and identify the very few who were unable to see anything more than a bottle of water. It also meant that everyone could see what sort of standard was being set and what they had to match up to.

Next I unleashed the remaining missions: one asking them to write a postcard from their mysterious liquid to one of the other mysterious liquids; one asking them to design a creature that might live in the liquid, giving me information about what it looks like, how it moves and how it breathes; one asking about what it might have been used to wash clean; and one explaining where the liquid might (and might not) like to hang out in school.

The creature-designing mission was by far the most popular mission, but again the pupils did amazingly well, with most of them completing all four missions in something like 15 minutes.

We concluded with a second reporting back session lasting about 10 minutes in which each team was asked to share their best mission.

Here is a slideshow of some of the mission cards that were produced during the three workshops:

It was great for me to be able to run the game (although I never actually called it that in front of the pupils) 3 times back-to-back, because it meant I was able to try different formats and tweak things that weren’t quite working as well as I wanted.

In addition to this, the pupils were also involved in evaluating and reflecting on each workshop immediately after it finished. I wasn’t part of these sessions, but you get the gist of them from the evaluation sheets each child completed:

Did you...

Did you...

At the end of the day there was a final session where the pupils were again asked for their thoughts on the different activities they had taken part in, this time feeding back verbally in response to questions such as: did you think the activity was better suited to any particular year groups; what did you enjoy about the activity; and what aspect of learning did they think it was relevant to.

I followed my last group into their final session and so was able to get a feel for how positively it had been received. I missed whether they thought it was suited towards a particular age group, which was a shame because I want to know how the youngest children got on with it.

There was potentially a large focus on writing during the game, and I wanted to check whether the working in pairs (and often with a teacher supporting them), coupled with the verbal reporting-back sessions, meant that they were still able to express their ideas in a way that wasn’t too daunting (more important to me than actually generating written documentation).

A really interesting thing that came out during this evaluation was how much the pupils were linking it to their maths and science lessons. It’s possible it could also have been influenced by us working in the science room, but they were mostly making an incredibly strong connection to the containers of liquid and their work on capacity etc!

Another piece of feedback I received, this time from a member of staff at lunch time, was the value of the reporting-back sessions in going towards developing some much-needed speaking and listening skills. This was really useful, because up until then I had been a little bit concerned about the pacing and whether this bit slowed things down too much.

Anyway, many lessons learned, and I’m confident that the Emergent Game framework can be successfully and interestingly adapted to use in different education contexts. Next challenges might be to explore how it might be harnessed to a specific set of learning objectives. It would also be good to get the pupils roaming around the school a bit and interacting with their surroundings. I’d also like to see what happens if we re-introduce the emergent aspect and ask the pupils to start generating their own missions…

Emergent Game playtest at BARG #3

This time last year we (myself, Ana and Stuart) pulled a few strings behind the curtain of the first Emergent Game.

Last September we experimented with simultaneous play in the UK and Japan, culminating in a weekend of missions to coincide with igfest in Bristol.

Both versions used Twitter as the primary means of communication between players. But whereas the first game unfolded over about 2 months, the second one ran over a much more compressed timescale (for players at the festival, only a few hours maximum). Here Twitter became more of a hindrance than a help. We were spending far too much time explaining how it worked and then it was too much work for our players to try and monitor new players and who it was they should follow in order to be a part of the overall conversation.

We did however see some amazingly creative stuff come out of the workshops we ran in Kyoto and Yokohama, so when we were approached to maybe do something at a certain London-based games event it was kind of obvious by that stage that the festival context requires a Twitterless version.

So, last night’s BARG was dedicated to trying a low-tech Emergent Game.

Naturally the soft toys and creative, open-ended missions were still there, but the online communication was replaced by a massive grid marked out on the floor of the Lamp Tavern pub in Digbeth.

The Grid

Each mission had its own row, and each player had their own column. Documentation for the successful completion of a mission goes in the relevant cell. Et voila: a hugemongous pseudo scoreboard that instantly shows you how active you are being compared to the other players! We loved how we were always in it.

This time-lapse video shows the construction of The Grid and then stuff getting added to it as the game progressed:

Emergent Game playtest at BARG 3 from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

I keep watching this video over and over again. Did you spot Ben having a tête-à-tête with George (quite possibly the world’s softest octopus)? Did you like the Grid Dancing? Did you notice when Bobbity took Milo and some of the others down the road to the abattoir?

Why would Bobbity be taking Milo and some of the others on a trip to the abattoir? This is why…

Milo’s profile:

Milo the butcher McCreedy

Milo’s postcard to another player:

Visit Sunny Wormwood Scrubs

Dear George...

Milo’s hat:


Milo’s suggestion for an ingredient to add to stone soup to make it oh-so delicious:
[…well, you can probably guess!]

There were many other glorious moments too, but you’ll have to have a look at the Flickr group pool or track down some of the players to find out what they were. What it boils down to is that I was seriously impressed/delighted/entertained at the way characters for the toys were rapidly developed and maintained throughout the whole 2 hours we played for.

It was also nice to speak to Lorna and realise that the toys provide something of a magic vest: investing the players with special powers for approaching strangers and talking about random stuff.

Last night we played with about 10 people in the back room of a pub in a less than salubrious industrial area of Birmingham. I can’t wait for the opportunity where we play with lots of strangers in a location where there’s lots of scope for roaming around outside and interacting with strangers not in the game!

Many thanks to Ana, pindec and Antonio for helping to organise the event, and more thanks heaped upon all those who played and gave feedback afterwards.

Time now to start thinking about what to do at BARG #4. Any suggestions from some of the people who have approached me over the last few months with the line “Nikki, I’d like to talk to you about an idea for a game…”? You know who you are!

Almost Perfect; almost possible

As I outlined in yesterday’s post, Emergent Game is going great guns at the moment with us going to Japan to do workshops as part of Dislocate08 and alongside project space hanare. These then feed into a weekend of intercontinental play and exploration as part of igfest.

And that’s only the stuff that’s happening next month…

Meanwhile, I’ve been approached by the Banff New Media Institute, Canada to apply for their Almost Perfect co-production residency that runs throughout November.

Apart from the obvious excitement of potentially being able to develop work at the Banff Centre, I’m regarding this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with the timing within the evolution of the Emergent Game series being spot-on and the peer advisers guiding the residency being incredibly relevant to my practice.

I’ve submitted a proposal to develop prototype hardware/software that can be placed in the game area that allows your average mobile phone to start interfacing with protocols such as Twitter, Flickr and GPS.

Our experience with Emergent Game so far has shown us a) that it’s a great framework for motivating groups of people to interact creatively but also that b) the extent to which people can use methods of engagement that are technically possible are limited by what features are available with their mobile phone. In the first iteration of Emergent Game we noticed a completely different style of play from a Ludens with an iPhone compared to the majority of participants using older, mid-range phones.

Using GPS and being able to access the internet whilst on the move are towards one end of spectrum that even has something like MMS at the other. Picture messaging may be possible, but cost often makes it prohibitively expensive. We need to overcome some of these hurdles in order to open up the accessibility and make Emergent Game more viable for larger-scale projects.

Before I can get to tackling these projects though, there’s another hurdle to get over: finding the funding to get me to Canada.

Coming so soon after the activities in Japan (I’ll be there for 4 weeks in total) it’s not going to be possible for me to self-fund the trip to Banff. I estimate I need about £3000 to cover airfare, accommodation, food etc.

Arts Council
have generously contributed to the funding of mine and Ana’s work in Japan, so for various, entirely understandable reasons they’re reluctant for me to simply put in another application to them. However, we’ve negotiated that I can put in a second application, but this could really only be for a maximum of half of the total budget and I need to match that with cash contributions from elsewhere (NB cash rather than support in kind).

The timing is incredibly tight, so logistically I need to submit any Arts Council application by the start of next week. That means I also need some ideas of where to get the match funding over the next few days.

So, this is a crowd-sourcing post: has anyone any suggestions for sourcing about £1500?

Emergent Game: Call and Return

A few months ago, myself, Ana Benlloch, a swathe of other collaborators and a posse of participants designed, shaped and played Emergent Game.

This was an amazing experience in itself, but to turn it into Learning we are doing it again.

Next month Ana and I will fly out to Japan where we will be contributing to the Dislocate08 festival.

Dislocate is an ongoing project examining the relationship between art, technology and locality. Exploring the impact of new media upon our experience and expression of place, Dislocate08 examines the creative potential of the technologies which surround us to heighten our awareness of our locality, transforming our encounter with our direct environment and the manner in which we attempt to communicate this to elsewhere.

There’s a pdf overview of intent and participating artists here.

Being in Japan also gives us the opportunity to work with hanare: a sort of artist-led space/meeting space/café space in Kyoto. (You may remember the 4649 project.)

On the 8th of September we’ll be doing a workshop at hanare, and on the 13th of September we’ll be doing a workshop as part of Dislocate. We’ll be using these workshops to shape the Japanese component of a long weekend of Emergent Gaming happening on the 19th, 20th and 21st of September. Why? Because Emergent Game has also been accepted as part of igfest (Interesting Game Festival) in Bristol.

So, coming up is the second iteration of Emergent Game in which we’ll be investigating what happens when you have two groups of players exploring places separated by differences in language, culture, geography and timezone.

As some of the players will be in the UK and some in Japan; some having online access and some not; there will be variations in what is possible: part of the game experience will be how your avatar negotiates this. Perhaps you will make friends with a player in another country and barter things with them by post; perhaps you will be a ‘lone avatari’ with a mission of your own; perhaps you will find new spaces online where participants can interact.

We’re still negotiating the starting points for these activities and, of course, the eventual shape of them will largely be determined by those who get involved. But for now the initial instructions from the first game apply to the one coming up in September.

We’d quite like players based in the UK (or elsewhere) to get involved (online) in the two workshops on the 8th and 13th and we definitely want you guys involved in the weekend of the game itself (19th-21st) which is when we’ll be running the mission challenges. The way we see it working is that you now have a few weeks to find a toy to represent you, set up a Twitter account for it and to start some conversations with other players. Be sure to set the location in the Twitter settings to “emergent game” and to follow the likes of @yohmoh and the other soft toys located in emergent game. The rest will take care of itself.

This headstart will substitute for the workshops we’ll be doing with the players in Japan, so use this time productively…

The Ludogeographic Society

During the course of the first Emergent Game, a new collaborative group was formed between myself and two other artists I worked very closely with to realise the project: the aforementioned Ana Benlloch and also Stuart Tait. The Ludogeographic Society will be an identity we will use for future collaborations that explore similar territory to Emergent Game so this upcoming game will be realised as a project under the name of the Society, rather than under my name alone.

We’ll let you know when The Ludogeographic Society’s website is up and running, but in the meantime announcements will be made here and via the usual channels.

In Deep End-Dance +1

The Grand Finally of Emergent Game

[warning: this post contains Ludens’ speak]


Saturday was the big ‘closing’ event for Emergent Game (again, we all seem to have trouble thinking of it in terms of being the end) and, as usual, my head’s full of stuff that I’m going to inflict on you as part of the process of sorting through it and pulling out threads. There are lots of photos to be shared and stories to be told, but I expect this will be done in a different place and in a different voice.

Here are some initial thoughts from the point of view of organising the event:

What is?

Partly through needing some distance and partly through commitments to other projects in the interim, there was quite a long gap between the NGA festival-related part of The Game (up until 20th of June) and the Grand Finally.

Though I didn’t have a lot of time for directly organising stuff, it did give me the opportunity to think a lot about more general things like what sort of an experience I wanted it to be. The event had been presented in terms of being a combination of the City Wide Treasure Hunt mission (coming from random descriptions in the festival literature) and the Ludens’ Tea Party mission – both big scorers within The Game and ideal ways to combine cabaret and collaboration.

As it began to take shape in my head though, I increasing lost sight of this and, especially after going to Hide&Seek last weekend, was thinking more in terms of the types of behaviours I wanted to encourage.

That sounds odd. What I mean is…

…that after much thinking I decided that the aim of the day was not to discover the location of some object or to solve a puzzle; it was to give people the opportunity to do things they wouldn’t normally do, within the framework of a larger context that added layers of excitement such as trying to remain anonymous when you knew there were other Ludens criss-crossing the same space at the same time.

Looking back at it now, I’m wondering if it’s enough to regard the larger context as being the day’s event, or whether you have to include all the play that came before it? Would the Grand Finally have been possible/as successful had there not have been the 2 month’s worth of conversation and interaction that built up the characters and narratives involved?

Certainly when I was planning who should do what, a lot of the missions were based on references to things that had developed out of the game. @egorbeaver was given a lot of tea party themed activities, @cross_triangle’s day was based on glyphs and @LeonHerring got to spend some time at the beach. With other players I knew who they were in real life and so was able to build in references to things outside of Emergent Game.

The other benefit to having been through all the missions and stuff beforehand was that I’d got a sense of what, for me at least, provided the buzz: knowing that you might find yourself at a drop-off point at the same time as another Ludens; having to work with your avatar in public locations; having to either explain to Sapiens what was going on or pretend that nothing out of the ordinary was going on and it’s perfectly normal to be taking photos of this soft toy in this shop thank you very much.

By the time it got to In Deep End-Dance day I knew that I wanted In Deep End-Dance Day +1 to be based around the following:

  • A Common starting point and a common end point (i.e. the pub!)
  • Going to parts of the city you probably hadn’t been to before
  • Interactions with Sapiens
  • Remote interactions with Ludens – i.e. transfers of information and objects
  • Possibility of accidental direct encounters with Ludens – i.e. crossing of paths

That and 2 things to follow up on after a barrage of phonecalls and texts to possibly friendly Sapiens were pretty much all I had to go on at the start of spending the day in town looking for ways to string it all together…

Interactions with Sapiens

In moments of optimism I had thought it might be nice to have Sapiens tweeting in tasks etc over the course of the event, however the degree of interaction from Sapiens up until this point had been, frankly, disappointing so I gave up on that idea.

In comparison, the support I had from random strangers as I wandered around town and made strange requests was phenomenal.

First stop was the Borders bookshop in the BullRing where a supervisor friend volunteered two front-of-store staff to be in on the Grand Finally. Thanks to them I was able to leave several mission packs in a couple of different locations.

richard and judy zone

travel table

Four of the Ludens and two watchers passed through this space in the first hour or so of the event – I’d like to see the cctv footage!

Pen Room typewriter

Likewise, assistance from the staff at the Pen Room really made a huge difference. I’d only had a glimpse of this place a few years ago and wasn’t disappointed on going back for a closer look. I strongly recommend you do the same.


In the 2nd of the two pen room rooms is was immediately apparent that this was somewhere to send not only cross_triangle, but also the stamptmeister Loki. A big thankyou to Malcolm both for his enthusiasm and his assistance in relaying contents of emails.

A meeting in a coffee shop then secured the assistance of Zebra Scraf Woman on the Fluxus boat trip …and also the name of a friend’s mum librarian …which led onto one of the players being shown some of the Central Library’s Shakespeare Collection.

The other big contribution came from the security staff at the Victoria Law Courts at the top of Corporation Street. This is a favourite hidden gem where I usually take visitors to the city. Once you’re past the x-ray machine you’re immediately in another world of 19th Century architecture. Check. It. Out. (information sheet available from the desk inside)

I checked to see if they’d be open to the public on Saturdays and at first it looked like they wouldn’t and that I’d have to come up with another idea. So I asked them if they could think of any alternative locations and that drew a blank. …and then suddenly I’m proudly being shown the portcullis over [under] the main entrance [can anyone confirm this is the only one still in use in the world?] and we’ve worked out a deal that if I send a player along first thing then they’ll probably still be there and everything will be OK. Love it – and what’s more it sounds liek they were conducting their own personal treasure hunts when LeonHerring turned up with Leon’s mission:

law courts

As the Grand Finally progressed we also had encounters with various unsuspecting members of the public including (but not restricted to) most of the staff of Borders, someone with a clipboard, the man with the cigar photographed with egorbeaver at a prominent Birmingham landmark, the person ad Hudsons who took temporary custody of the receipt for the mug that had the photo of the man with the cigar photographed with egorbeaver at a prominent Birmingham landmark printed on it and the patrons of the children’s library. Job done.


Some of the players had to get to certain places by certain times before Law Courts shut or boats set sail. The timetable looked like this: (click for larger)


Needless to say most people were late turning up for the start and a few coffees later quite a few things had to be jiggled. Didn’t seem to matter too much in the end, but lesson learned to leave more allowance for this sort of thing next time around.

Using Twitter

incoming tweets from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

Love it or hate it we relied on Twitter really heavily through all stages of Emergent Game. It’s caused us headaches on more than one occasion so I made sure everyone had my phone number before the Grand Finally began. Just as well really, because somewhere between Manchester and Brum egorbeaver discovered egorbeaver was suffering from the same PIN thing that had prevented me from playing Cruel 2 B Kind the weekend before.

So, for the first hour or two I was relaying instructions to egorbeaver by text. Luckily I did then manage to log onto egorbeaver’s account from the Grand Finally HQ in Coffee Lounge and get things working again later!

One thing I hadn’t really anticipated was the extent to which 7 people tweeting would eat up the battery life on our phones. We’ve talked about the benefits of using Twitter for a decentralised method of communication, but my phone gave out about 20 minutes before the end and we came really close to losing a few of the others too.

Next time around we’d have to consider either a) doing things over a shorter time-scale, b) doing things over a much longer timescale (i.e. you can go home and recharge between missions) or c) making more use of direct messages so that players only recieve tweets for them and not so much of the general chit chat. Hmmm, not sure if I’d want that or not…. I’m curious to find out more about egorbeaver’s experience of playing for a few hours with Twitter silence to see what this is like in comparison to having an awareness of what the other players are doing.

The other thing I like about public tweets is that they are then available as an archive of what happened in the way that direct messages are not.

Documentation and commentary

Puppet Mastering the Grand Finally was an intensely hectic experience. I didn’t get a chance to pause for the whole 3 and a half hours and only got the chance to go for a wee when Loki’s brain went bork and Loki joined me for a few minutes before going to collect the mug.

I’m definitely thinking in terms of this being a two-person job next time around. There certainly wasn’t any time available for live blogging or LudensShow tweeting for the benefit of any Sapiens.

I’m really glad that Alex and Vanessa agreed to join us as Ludens Stalkers and help document the event. I’ve now got some great images of various players at different points of the game and it seems like most of them were unaware they were being followed!

Although we heard a few tales in the pub afterwards, I’m really hoping the Ludens will take the time to write up their experiences so we can start to piece together what happened and, more importantly, what it was like to be in it.

The meet up

So, the guessing game is over! Now we know who they are! (Well, some of them, anyway.)

A bunch of Ludens in a pub eating beevapoo… who could have known that would have made me feel so happy! :)


One of the things several people commented on as the Ludens started to appear was how so many of them were women. Normally I’d pay as much attention to gender labels as I do to those for Art and Science (i.e. I try not to), but it does seem this is something significant. It would be interesting to find out who all the other players are to see if this trend is carried out across the whole Ludens population.

It’s interesting to look back now with hindsight and look at the different assumptions I made about whether Ludens were male or female. In my mind’s eye egorbeaver was male until I got the furball in that box and somehow the handwriting was female too. Oh, and the singing voice!

My favorit things from Egor Beaver on Vimeo.

Ditto for cross_triangle: female handwriting on the labels that accompanied the treasure. What the hell does female handwriting look like?!?! How do I have an opinion about what female handwriting looks like?!!?

It occurred to me this morning that what we had in the pub was a bunch of web-literate people talking about digital stuff …who mostly happened to be women – and it all felt very, very different to the one blogmeet I’ve been to.

Anyhow, it feels like it would be a heinous crime to reveal anyone’s identity, so I’m going to leave it there.

Lessons learned and a big thank you to all those to whom I owe thanks.

Was fun an much citements yesno?

Hide&Seek 1: Emergent Game resonances

Yesterday I journeyed to London for the last day of this year’s Hide&Seek Festival. It was a packed day and there’s so much I want to get written down that I’ve decided rather than write an impossibly long post (impossible to read, let alone find the time to write) I’m going to break it down into chunks. That way I can prioritise stuff and hopefully keep the momentum going.

First up I’m going to tackle things that happened on Friday. When I wasn’t there. When things happened that I don’t know about!

Fixed to one of the pillars in the indoor space for Hide&Seek were two tantalising sheets of paper. Perhaps visual aids from a presentation? I don’t know what the topic of discussion was or who was doing the discussing…


Several of the phrases on them jumped out at me immediately so this post is going to be a bit of a Counsel for the Artist on them where I take them out of context and jot down some of the trains of thought they triggered. (Blog-as-notebook: more for me than for you!)

I had much the same reaction to several things mentioned in this recent post from Jane McGonigal, so, since there’s a high chance this panel might be where the visual aids came from, I’m going to bundle them in together…

ARGs for the (socially engaged) arts

Emergent Game! …or rather what I hope Emergent Game might become a few iterations down the line…

[I know it isn’t an ARG and, with hindsight, it didn’t really evolve into a game either. Perhaps in a parallel dimension I named it Emergent Play instead?]

It was reassuring to see Jane’s comments about extent of active participation

…more than 50% of ARGs fail to be good at either of this, not through any failures of the designer, but through the failure of players to show up and actively participate. Which, by the way, is the standard percentage of social media projects that fail to reach a community size of any viability and fold within the first year.

I don’t think the game format helped to overcome limited engagement (one of the problems with getting people involved in participatory art projects that we wanted to explore) but now we’re (nearly) the other side of Emergent Game I still think a game format has a massive potential as a tool to drive socially-engaged projects. I’m hugely proud of the way the Ludens consistently managed to floor me with their generosity of time, energy and creativity – not only in the physical/digital things they produced, but also the extent to which they developed the various narratives and characterisations within the project. How can that effort be harnessed to other goals?

My favorit things from Egor Beaver on Vimeo.

…the pyramid of participation. The power law curve. 80% of your “players” won’t DO anything except casually look at it or poke at it. That’s how ALL social media works. 1% of your players will do 90% of the active “gameplay”. Which isn’t really gameplay by the way, it’s social media creation (wikis, forums, videos, etc.) So when you imagine your great big player base, be realisit [sic]. Don’t try to make social media work like a game. Social media thrives on superusers, not the base, not the typical user.

Is it possible to regard all the Ludens as the Emergent Game power users? Maybe.

We had several players get enthused at the workshops only to never be heard of again. Some players we know dropped out because of work commitments, others because they were intimidated by Twitter, others probably lost interest or decided it wasn’t for them. Generally though, those that took part during the Game phase were very committed.

Power users and the value of spectatorship

Having spoken a lot with Markuz about modes of participation it was important to me that Emergent Game made official provision for an acknowledgement of those who wanted to participate just by watching. We tried to leave the barrier between Sapiens (spectator) and Ludens (player) as permeable as possible with opportunities for Sapiens to get involved although, this pretty much didn’t happen.

A phenomenal amount of my time was spent catering for the Sapiens by way of the daily commentary and @TheLudensShow. Although we didn’t have anyone comment on the website, web stats and secondary write-ups did justify this effort to an extent. By its nature, degree of engagement with Sapiens is a tricky one to judge.

At this point I’m still undecided about whether what grows out of Emergent Game should try to be all-inclusive and cater to the ‘typical user’ that Jane alludes to or embrace the power user and the ‘elitism’ that comes with that. I still stand by “Strive to achieve modest connections” from Counsel as a quality-rather-than-quantity approach but I suppose the final verdict depends on the particular context for which you are trying to use the game. Sometimes elitism can be good, right?

Collective Intelligence and real world problems

I now firmly believe the “game” needs to be about something real. Pick a real mystery or problem and do a real investigation and give players social platforms like ARG players use, and have puppet masters oversee the pacing/tempo of the investigation, giving feedback and showcasing excellent play/work.

Although we tried to foster a spirit of Collective Intelligence with some of the resource-mapping type missions within Emergent Game, the closest we got to dabbling in it was with the second reconnaissance mission to map free internet access.

We needed to do this in order to assess what options were open to us for the main game play later, but this rather rapidly became interpreted from outside as being a “free WiFi in Birmingham” challenge. We weren’t too happy with this, even though the mission did partially come from awareness of a particular context in Birmingham.

As it happens, a request came through from Sapiens Nick Booth:

I’d love it if the ludens could add anygeo tagged images to this flickr group set up a while back

This group map had three images on it before the Ludens came along and added a few. There was also a similar story for several other Brum WiFi mapping attempts we came across: there was obviously a need for this information to be pulled together, but when it came down to it no one had knuckled down to produce it.

Although Recon2 all but killed off our pre-game, in the end I think we did quite well, comparatively.


Is this just because we had an elite team of superusers, or down to working within the motivational framework of a game?


Other phrases from the post and posters I could go into in more detail – but I won’t right now – are:

  • “Engage people in public space”
  • “Player ownership”
  • “Entertainment” (- important because people are giving up their free time)
  • “Children and ARGs” (- more on that in the Lost Sport post I’ll write next)
  • “giving feedback and showcasing excellent play/work.”
  • “have an actual IP people care about” (- can you use a game to make people care about something?)
  • “but it’s ART” (- we had real problems with the art community not seeing Emergent Game as art – mostly it was the educationalists and the social media types who really got excited about it)
  • “I don’t want the core experience to be conversation, I want to it to be action and post-action storytelling.”

Probably I’ll be coming back to most of these later (in posts with rather more photos and videos, I promise!).

Come out and play

We’re holding the first of our public workshop sessions related to Emergent Game tonight at Rooty’s in the Custard Factory. [map]

Although it’ll be a good chance to find out more about The Game we’re intending that it should also stand alone and be of value to anyone who’s interested in the Big Game approach to collaborative creativity and exploring what’s around you.


So, armed with a pocket-full of technology and a soft-toy avatar, we invite you to join us in seeking out some interesting parts of Digbeth. Tonight, drop in from 4.30pm until at least about 7pm. It’s free – just bring yourself, your mobile phone/digital camera and a sense of humour.

rooty's zone

Free Internet Access?

The players in Emergent Game are currently working on a challenge where they’ve been asked to map any free internet access they can find.

Judging by the Google map for the mission they’re finding it hard going. So far they’ve logged a few libraries and a couple of free WiFi connections.

the recon2 map

The issue of free WiFi in Birmingham (or the lack thereof) has come up a bit recently, and the idea of mapping free WiFi nodes is not new – although it’s often hard to distinguish between genuinely free resources and those you have to pay to use.

We’re appealing here for anyone who knows of a free WiFi connection or, (even better for the purposes of Emergent Game) anywhere members of the public can use an internet-connected computer for free, to let us know in the comments on this page. Then we can hunt it down, add it to the map and use it later as part of The Game. Of course, you could even add it yourself, if you felt so inclined…

The recon2 map is here and it’s public access for anyone to view. Like the resources it maps, it’s free. Use it.

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