Presenting at Meaningful Play 2008

I presented a paper at Meaningful Play 2008 conference in East Lansing, MI, USA concerning the game-based idea generation tools that we have developed in GameSpace project and especially the experiences designers had with the idea games in our pilot study. The presentation slot was quite short (15 min. for the presentation, 5 min. for discussion) and I had to rush my 20+ slides, leaving so many interesting things out. But what I tried to concentrate at was introducing our games and discus why they were so popular, despite their flaws. The presentation and the paper are not identical, as I added some new thoughts that I am working on into the slide-show. Papers will be available online later on, here are the slides:

The presentation background is taken (and modified) from the GameSpace Tool that we have been working on the last weeks of GameSpace project. The tool will popularize the whole range of research findings from our project. We are going to announce the tool later this year, as soon as it is ready!

Breaking the Magic Circle Seminar

One of the reasons I have been rather blog-quite after GDC is that our GameSpace team has been responsible for organising our Game Research Lab annual spring seminar. This year’s topic was “Breaking the Magic Circle”; we received large amount abstracts, welcomed over 50 participants and enjoyed loads of discussion in the actual event ending today.

Interesting palette of 17 working papers were presented during the two-day event including different theoretical approaches towards the very concept of “magic circle” originated from Johan Huizingas Homo Ludens as well as more practical applications revolving around this notion. There was talk about fictionality, social play, evolution, serious games, apophenia, pervasive games, law, society, monkies, flickr games and even applying game design principles for designing organizational experiences just to name a few.  Even more interesting discussions were done during the breaks, lunch, yesterdays evening venue at our lab and hopefully tonight as well after the sauna.

Our own paper was discussing the design process of our idea generation games and the usefulness of magic circle that games can provide for fostering the idea generation. Hopefully we get this paper published as soon as possible. There is still some work to do.

Frans Mäyrä, as being the chair, already managed to start the picture stream at Flickr. The first picture of the stream, which is also presented at Frans’ blog entry includes me too in my blueness. I am not sleeping… I was chatting at #breakingmagiccircle with my phone since my mac refused to continue without power.

Here are the slides of our presentation:


Game Specificity

I gave a presentation for Nokia Play New team last Friday at Espoo about the use of creativity techniques in game design (based on the GameSpace workshop III presentation). The topic is certainly proceeding towards more refined views in my head as the modification of the title may suggest.

The scope of creativity techniques in general is rather wide, as creativity techniques can hold variety of different approaches towards enhancing creative processes. Sometimes it even feels that everything outside deductive or logical thinking is dumped into “creativity” even though these different thinking processes may not have anything in common. I feel the pressure of narrowing the topic even further down.

Anyhow, the emphasising “game specificity” is something that has been one important upgrade from the last presentation. The techniques that we have developed in GameSpace are especially designed for generating game ideas. This means that they are supposed to help in keeping the focus on certain idea generation restrictions: they help producing game ideas. Traditionally restrictions in idea generation sessions may be only in the head of the participants, but we have designed the stimuli sets and the structures of the techniques to support producing game ideas. Partly this is taken even further: restrictions or special features of casual, mobile or multiplayer games are supported. As I have not yet reached any clean theoretical support for this perspective, we do know that it works.

The needs of further development and research of our methods are leading to two currently relevant questions: “What is a game idea (anyway)?” and “How to evaluate the impact of the techniques?”

The question of the game idea is not asked because of the mere needs of being “interestingly philosophical”, but from the practical perspective. With specified idea generation methods the characteristics of the idea becomes central issue. And I do not believe that all ideas are alike (e.g. ideas for political revolution vs. ideas of a more ecological car engines).When we are trying to enhance the process of generating certain types of ideas, we are becoming pressured to uncover the general structure or arousing mechanisms of this particular ideating process.

“Game idea” may mean different things to different people. Views may vary even in the level of function: for some a game idea may mean the essence of the potential game or just the initial point of game design process. In the presentation I call these two as the inspirational and fundamental approaches to ideas. I would keep these two separate regarding to theoretical aspects even though I would assume that they are not separated in practice (nor they should be). Game specific idea generation technique could be targeting to guide ideating process towards certain form or then it could be designed to support the generation of ideas that inspire participants due to different reasons. Both approaches can have their strengths and ideas produced with the techniques may then be evaluated on different basis.

The impact value of the idea generation technique however is not only in the immediate results (the ideas generated during the sessions). I have developed an early model for evaluation of idea generation techniques that takes the wider perspective on the techniques impact. The model is based on the assumption of three different functions of the technique sessions: immediate results, the triggering factors and educative aspects. Traditionally idea generation techniques are evaluated according to their immediate results as their impact may be most wanted on “creativity on demand” situations. As creative processes most likely are not always working towards this demand, the techniques may still hold two very important functions for enhancing creative work. The regular idea sessions may work as a trigger or stimulation of natural idea generation processes or they can train the participators on creative thinking skills. As general idea generation techniques would fit best to the latter, the game specific techniques could fit better to the first. Important notice is however, that the enhancement of creative work should not be left on techniques that are evaluated as being most effective on immediate results.

I am working on an article that presents the model and the distinctions in more depth. The model will work as a guideline to the analysis of the user data of  GameSpace idea generation techniques that we will gather during this autumn.

Here are the slides from the presentation for Nokia Play New:

Creativity Techniques in Game Design

During this first year of GameSpace project we have been, among other things, developing idea generation techniques for games to utilise at our research workshops. In these workshops we have discussed the limits and possibilities of casual, multiplayer and mobile games and expanding the game space with new game ideas produced with game specific idea generation techniques. From these workshops we have gathered the data of the use experiences and developed techniques based on the analysis of that data and ideas recorded. 

On the last workshop (Workshop III on mobile games) I was giving a presentation on some theoretical issues lying behind the idea generation techniques and underlying som points that rises from our analysis. I also introduced new techniques that our team had been working on. Some of the techniques are based on brainstorming, some of them were more game-alike or computer aided techniques.

At the moment we are putting finishing touches to our techniques to conduct an extended study in real workplace situations. So far our findings have only concerned the first time uses of the techniques in a mixed company groups and workshop surroundings, which could be seen problematic. We are interested how they would be perceived as a normal part of the daily work in real game designing situations on a longer period of time. I am also working on a paper that would conclude some theoretical assumptions lying behind the creativity techniques to gain better understanding on the possible modification issues when it comes to the game specific ideation techniques.  Comprehensive view on our findings on workshop uses of game specific idea generation techniques and the theoretical background I am also presenting at the Mobile Games Seminar in Los Angeles this September.

Here are the slides of my presentation on Creativity Techniques in Game Design held in GameSpace Workshop III in Helsinki this May:

Nordic Game 2007, Malmö: Talking Casual

I gave a presentation entitled “Talking Casual” today at the Nordic Game conference at Malmö, Sweden. In this talk I tried to expand the views we presented at the Gamers in Society seminar few weeks ago about casual games discussion.

Main addition to the previous presentation is the preview of Expanded Game Experience (EGE) model, that tries to bring together inner processes and outer effects that are affecting the game experience in wider sense: outer game experiences such as social context and other media environments have relevancies to game experiences of different levels. The model provides theoretical framework to analyze and design games that are not heavily gameplay-centric in a more holistic way without being too broad, such as concept of “culture” can be. Naturally this brings some limitations to the applicability of the model, but suits well at least on getting further with mapping out “casual in games phenomenon”.

Games and Storytelling workshop-week with Emma Westecott

My last week was filled with interesting discussions, since I was attending Games and Storytelling workshop here in Tampere. Emma Westecott did her job beautifully by pushing our workshop experience towards more discussive than the previous Eric Zimmermans “fast and dirty” equivalent (which was also great strategy). Together these two weeks of game design workshops gave us participants lots to continue with.

Here are my slides from one short exercise that we had last week:

Talking about casual games in Gamers in Society seminar

We presented a working paper at the Gamers in Society -seminar (18th of April) about casual games discussion. The main point of the paper is that the discussion over casual games industry is confusing and lots of stuff is included in to the definitions of that “genre” and everything going around it.

For the sake of the clarity needed in academic studies, we introduced in our paper several different meanings to “casual IN games”: casual games, casual game player, casual gamer, casual playing and casual gaming. This is a tentative terminology to start with when trying to understand the casual “phenomena” and designing in a wider sense than “small, easy and simple games”.

The feedback to the paper was mainly positive. Among other participants of the seminar, Daniel Pargman and T.L.Taylor, that were invited to comment all the papers in seminar, gave some interesting viewpoints to the editing our paper. Daniel Pargman was seeking for more conclusive view on casual (maybe our own definition), not only presenting the terminology and the problematic discussion whilst T.L Taylor seemed to be more interested on editing the paper closer to discursive analysis of the “talks” on casual. Some other participants, like Alex Thayer from Microsoft liked the effort that we had made on clarifying the discussion and seeking synthesis. Also Ulrich Tausend from Ludwig Maximilian University (Munich) pointed that there is no need for yet another “casual games are this and this and this” analysis and thanked our paper for taking the notion further. Still it seems that the paper needs the revision of clarity in the points made and methods used.

Same kind of message came from Eric Zimmerman, who kindly read and commented our paper (outside the seminar context). More clarification it is then…

At the moment we are editing the paper (shortening and firming up the argument) and hopefully it will be available for public soon.