My Playful experience

I went along to Playful last Friday, organised by Pixel-Lab. I’m not a big conference-goer, but the line-up and event ethos seemed to suggest something a little more relaxed and less tech heavy than others that perhaps try to address the same issues. Lots of people had also recommended it.

So here are some pretty unstructured thoughts to add to the pot post event on the talks that I thought had something to offer. One thing I hadn’t realised is that the venue, Conway Hall, is also home to the Ethical Society. Its list of events looked equally interesting. A workshop on ‘Monsters from the Deep’ anyone?

Roo Reynolds
It’s quite nice when you are sitting in a room full of people you don’t know and someone you do know gets quoted in a presentation. Dan had his name up in large font as Roo Reynolds told us that all film versions of computer games were crap, perhaps apart from Max Payne, where Dan’s Film4 quote came in.

But the figures can’t deny that they are actually very popular, so do they just cash in on something that is familiar, therefore has inherant success?

He then showed this spoof trailer of mindsweeper as if it was a film. Genius. Now it SHOULD be a film.

Daniel Soltis (
Dan talked about the relationship to objects, removing the fear factor from ‘objects’ breaking if you take them apart.

In his experience of getting people to interact you need to push people to perform and to be playful. In trying to do stuff without screens and keyboards there is often a much quicker route to performative aspect.

In his opinion things like Foursquare pushes people to be more social but ultimately pushes people back to the screen which removes the tactile experience.

He then showd a GPS puzzle box, that only opens when you are in the right place – genius. Physically solving a problem but described through digital technology.

iphonehangtime – danger! idiosyncratic, transformative. Again, a great example of not being afraid or precious of the technology.

Lucy Wurstlin from 4ip
Lucy explained how 4ip is looking for projects that use play to encourage active participation and active citizens. She bigged-up one forthcoming project from Somethin’ Else – working on ‘bin-audio’ [?] immersive experience game called Papa Sangra, described as one of the most scaring things she’s seen/heard.

Robin Birchall and Matt Locke
Matt interviewed Robin about Alice and Kev – two homeless characters he created in Sims 3.

Were his intentions to subvert the game or just give it more realism? It came out of just trying to push the limits. It’s popular because it’s a human story, a real story that doesn’t try and be ‘unrealistic’ in its approach.

What’s fascinating is that other people can use these characters then in their own world and contacted Robin about how the character is doing in their alternative version. Interesting that he felt to call his ‘official’ as he created the character, but I’m not sure what I think about that.

James Bridle
James Bridle went off, got lost, came back again, then blew us away. He made me want to go away and read Thomas Pynchon Gravity’s Rainbow and get Zach Smith’s illustrated verion of it.

Basically started talking about ‘Awsome’ness and what that means, and how that relates to game play, using a matchbox noughts and crosses experiment and that might then apply to the Chinese game Go! just to show how the numbers added up, which are massive and unbelievable and ultimately awesome.

Tassos Stevens
Tassos talked about cricket and it’s relationship to gamplay and theatre, which was interesting but I’m not sure if much of the audience wanted to hear about cricket.

Russell Davies
Russell came along and gave a reality check to a lot of what had been said. ‘World building’ ultimately fails because something will break the spell.

He’s more intrested in collection, negotiation, pretending, innattention – games but less so.

Collecting – sometimes the game itself is too complex, and it’s the other games that happen because of collecting the parts.

Pretending – Showed clips from Billy Liar, one of my favourite films, and explained the reason we like Jason Bourne is because he’s always commuting. Products/film/advertising all tap into our desire to pretend.

Games suffer becuase of the attention issues and lack of accessibility. He thinks we need to have the subtlety that can give longevity to ideas.

Rex Crowle
Rex gave an OHP presntation, brilliant if you can pull it off, allows more inventive drawing method. There should be more OHP presentations.

Tim Wright
Explained his book/performance/journey ‘Kidmapped’ based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Kidnapped. A lo-fi approach to interaction with users, taking a thing and creating new context. Like a performance/literature mash-up but with the technological API.

Chris O’Shea
I’d come across Chris’ work just before the conference and didn’t realise he was going to be there. His work is great, inventive and fantastically playful with colloborative interactive experiences.

Overall Playful was great, lots of intresting speakers and a lovely atmosphere. There’s some argument that it should be more physically playful, getting us all to do rather than sit and listen, but as with the telly sometimes it’s nice just to sit back and be entertained.