[-empyre-] Ken, Claudia and Paolo

Claudia Pederson ccp9 at cornell.edu
Mon Mar 25 02:03:51 EST 2013

Thank you for the detailed account Ken. For the record, perhaps you could
add a few games that you think are similar to WWO?

On Fri, Mar 22, 2013 at 1:01 AM, Ken Eklund <writerguy at writerguy.com> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> From: Claudia
> > C: Thanks Ken! you previously mentioned that you are interested in
> bringing these simulations to educational settings. Was WWO used in this
> way?
> >
> /Ken: Yes, but not by us at the time. World Without Oil's funder, ITVS, is
> a public media nonprofit, so we the makers didn't have any educational
> agenda; as public media ITVS is all about getting people's stories heard,
> especially those people who aren't heard or seen on mainstream media, so
> that was our goal for the game. The players used WWO to educate each other
> about community, resilience and petroleum dependency. And then after WWO
> was over I developed a series of lesson plans which PBS liked and they
> posted them in the Educator's Resources section of PBS.org. So middle and
> high school teachers have been running their own mini-WWOs in their
> classrooms for about 5 years now. I stumble across new WWO videos now and
> again on YouTube.
> From: paolo - molleindustria
> > P: I followed World Without Oil closely when it came out. It's a really
> fascinating experiment in roleplaying and Alternate Reality Games. I always
> wondered why, despite the significant media attention, there are so few
> examples of this kind. Since Ken is with us, I'll take the liberty to go
> into more specific designy issues.
> >
> > P: We are obviously talking about a different level of engagement and a
> different kind of model player here. These games typically ask a lot from
> the participants and require a certain predisposition and sustained
> commitment. From the designer/developer side, it seems to me that a project
> like WWO needs a serious promotional effort to gather a critical mass of
> participants (relying on established network and organizations), and there
> is a degree of user self-selection in the process. Since the "content" is
> either collectively created or revealed gradually, I assume most people
> joining an ARG have a vague idea of what an ARG is beforehand. Similar
> projects like Jane McGonigal's Evoke have built-in viral campaigns. They
> essentially reward players for bringing in other players, but that's a bit
> of a turn off for me. I'd rather experience something first and then, if
> it's compelling, tell the world about it. I wonder what are your thoughts
> about it.
> >
> /Ken: We should differentiate right away between what I do and what
> typical Alternate Reality Games are. The short version follows; the long
> version is at the end of this post: text cut and pasted below from a Q&A I
> wrote earlier today for a journalist.
> My games do have a different player model: I design them to include as
> many people as I can. I try to make the "on-ramp" as gentle as possible. As
> a result, I find non-gamers, elderly people, people at the lowest level of
> computer literacy, etc. in the player pool.
> My games ask for a willingness to believe and immerse in their fiction.
> That's all they require to play.
> My games typically do not have a promotional budget.
> Because they are about something, they do self-select for people who are
> concerned with that thing. But if the thing in question is "energy" or
> "education" the net is still pretty wide!
> Most of the people playing my games have no idea what an ARG is and if
> told, probably don't think of my game as being one.
> I worked for Jane on EVOKE: that was a very different style of game. Jane
> is an outspoken thought leader on games and gamers and as such, she creates
> virality wherever she goes. The people who evangelized EVOKE didn't do it
> for any sort of in-game reward (I can't really remember if one was even
> offered), they did it because of its social component, the game got better
> as more people played. It has to do with synchronous vs. asynchronous play,
> Paolo. In synchronous play, you can't afford to wait, or else your friends
> miss out.
> > P: Another aspect that I always tried to wrap my mind around is: how do
> you manage agency in a distributed and collaborative
> storytelling/brainstorming effort? Formalized games, digital or not,
> provide a tight feedback loop that make the player feel like their action
> actually matter within the game system. Even in roleplaying games or
> free-form storygames players are constantly negotiating, affecting and
> limiting each other. My understanding of WWO or Evoke is that
> puppetmasters/organizers come up with a series of challenges along the line
> of "let's all think about how to save Africa" or "let's imagine how your
> daily life would be during an oil crisis" and then ask the players to
> produce social media content (blog posts etc) in response. I know sometimes
> there are external rewards for participating (like scores or prizes) but I
> didn't find examples of players engaging with each other and coming up with
> something unexpected, something that is more that a short essay. I'm sure
> you analyzed behaviors and user-generated content and maybe you can give us
> some insights.
> >
> /Ken: Paolo, I feel that you're missing the element of narrative
> immersion. People like to feel they are in a story, or to put it more
> accurately perhaps, they feel they are in a story and they would like their
> life events to follow the script. For many people, attaining an arbitrary
> reward in someone else's closed feedback loop is a complete waste of time.
> It has no relation to the story they feel they're in.
> Whereas attaining a reward that does relate to their story does matter to
> them, even if the feedback loop of it is so sloppy as to be practically
> non-existent.
> EVOKE had a powerful framing story: in the future, it is the young people
> from less-advantaged countries who know how to fix things when crises
> happen, because they are used to making things work with social skills. The
> young people who played (and there were a lot of them, from all over the
> world) were willing to fulfill missions as part of that story, even if
> those missions might seem very similar to schoolwork at times. (They
> complained about that often -- as they completed the missions.)
> WORLD WITHOUT OIL also had a powerful framing story: now that the oil
> crisis has started, how is your life changing? No matter who you are, that
> question has relevance. And unlike EVOKE, there are no missions, no dicta,
> no "official" guidance at all. Nothing is written! Until a player writes
> something, and we post it, and another player makes a video, and we post
> it, and a third, fourth and so on.
> And then what? The story continues. The player who told us about their
> life in the first week of the crisis learns it's now the second week. Now
> what's happening? The player surveys the other players' experiences,
> incorporating what they like and discounting what they feel is inauthentic,
> and they post again. And so on.
> And then what? The story continues. A tapestry is being woven. Themes
> emerge. Impactful and insightful expressions rise to the top and become
> models of play. A community self-assembles.
> So the good news is: you don't need to manage the agency, it manages
> itself. Which is good, because you have no power to manage it and never
> did. You do have some small influence -- the horse can feel the pressure of
> your knees, let's say -- but you've completely thrown over the reins. Thus
> the importance of creating a good story and frame.
> Way back in the beginning, Paolo asked, "Why are there so few examples of
> this kind of game?" I honestly don't know.
> Ken Eklund answering a journalist's questions on Alternate Reality Games:
> ------------------------------------------------
> > What defines an ARG?
> An alternate reality ("something different about the world") and a space
> to play in it.
> > What do you think makes ARGs popular?
> ARGs can open up extremely rich play experiences – games you can
> physically be inside, for example, or game narratives that you
> authentically write yourself. Gamemasters can design ARGs that treat their
> players like people – i.e., complete with emotions, ideas, empathy,
> desires, and will. Even a faltering taste of that caliber of experience can
> create a dedicated fan.
> > Can you please tell us a little about World Without Oil? What did
> players do?
> The alternate reality of World Without Oil (WWO) is that a global oil
> crisis started (on April 30, 2007). The game site at worldwithoutoil.orgcreated a wide open space to play with this "what if?" idea. It posed as a
> citizen nerve center for the crisis; it asked people to report on what was
> happening to them, in their city. It believed everything, but valued the
> citizen reports that had authenticity, the ones that got at the hidden
> truths of our civic and economic structures and our society. WWO had a
> metaframe, in that players knew they were collaboratively creating a map of
> strengths and weaknesses of the way we live now. They knew they were
> creating something relevant to the other players and to society.
> > What set it apart from other ARGs?
> As other ARGs do, World Without Oil created an immersive website, run by
> characters with backstories, etc. But from that point on, everything gets
> different. The game is not scripted, meaning the characters (and
> gamemasters) don't know anything more than the players do. This
> transparency means players aren't trying to guess what the gamemasters are
> up to, which has always struck me as using a steamhammer to crack a nut.
> They are instead trying to discern what a global resource crisis would
> actually be like, which is a challenge much more in line with their
> capabilities. It also means that WWO encouraged players to immerse
> themselves in the WWO story and never come out – because the more deeply
> immersed a player became, the better their play. This is perhaps the most
> significant aspect of WWO's unique design.
> > What real world impact did World Without Oil have, or was it intended to
> have?
> >
> World Without Oil was never intended to have a real-world impact beyond as
> an "engine of expression." I designed the game to focus on the mission of
> ITVS, the public media non-profit that funded it, and the ITVS mission is
> "let's hear the voices of people who otherwise never are heard" in the
> media. In one month of play WWO gathered about 1500 stories from people all
> over the globe, and these stories were remarkably rich in expressions about
> people's hopes and fears.
> That said, World Without Oil did have impacts beyond what we intended. The
> game was a Webby finalist ("Best Internet Game") and won awards and
> recognition for activism, art and environmentalism. What these awards mean,
> I feel, is: people saw they could come together in a creative online space
> and discuss real-world issues. People saw a game can include the whole
> person in its play. People saw that one way "to shape your future is to
> play with it first." People saw that for some questions, crowdsourcing gets
> you to a better answer than expert opinion. People saw a game can be not
> only relevant, but insightful.
> And of course World Without Oil did have personal real-world impacts.
> Immersion in the game revealed to players where their actual lives were not
> as resilient as they would like, and created a persuasive context for
> taking action about it. Players wrote to tell us the game changed their
> lives. It's six years later – six! – and I am talking to you about it. It's
> a game-changer.
> ------------------------------------------------
> /Ken/
> _______________________________________________
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> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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