Play It Again, Sam

Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam (1972) is one of my favourite films. Have you seen it? Only recently I realized its story features an insightful creativity technique application that relates to my current PhD research at the Centre.

By day, he is Woody Allen. But when night falls and the moon rises, Humphrey Bogart strikes again. Bogart’s Casablanca persona is appropriated as the fantasy mentor for Allen’s troubled character in the film, named Allan; throughout the plot, Allan is encouraged to take advice extracted from a familiar, but distant parallel world to solve his issues with dames in real life. Looking from the semiotics point of view, as Umberto Eco notes: Thus Casablanca is not just one film. It is many films, an anthology. […] When all the archetypes burst in shamelessly, we reach Homeric depths. Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us. For we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion.

I will be relying on that power of stereotypes to evoke emotions in order to create a good game. My PhD work, supported by MIRROR project and supervised by Prof Neil Maiden (School of Informatics) and Prof Julienne Meyer (School for Health Sciences), aims to inform relationships between creativity and games, with application in dementia care domain.

Last month, thanks to Registered Nursing Home Association (RNHA), I took part in an induction for carers in Ipswich. During the role-play exercises, I noticed that carer should at some point act as a sort of detective, understanding residents’ actions and emotions, in the context of its causes and implications. Namely, reasoning in such a deductive way aims to help carer predict and resolve challenging behaviours occurring daily in a care home for people with dementia, which is a fast-paced, flexible and non-deterministic environment due to the nature of the residents’ condition. This approach empowers person-centred care, which is a priority for good carer practice. Furthermore, reconstructing events requires managing information from both personal and other people’s reflections, and therefore supports reflective learning, which has been the main topic of the MIRROR project. Parallel world is being chosen to correspond with its mechanisms to the original challenge.

Ideas found their shape during my last week’s visit to Imaginary, a game development company from Milan, another partner of ours in the MIRROR project. Using direct analogy as implicit creativity support, we are about to create a parallel-world game environment to support carers in discovering their inner detective skills. To spice up things in addition with some tricks of the trade, there will be explicit creativity support injected as well. These are just the initial clues I am giving you – keep in touch to find out more.

After you try my game, I hope you’d wish to play it again. Until, as time goes by

Bogart: That was great. You’ve, uh, you’ve really developed yourself a little style.
Allan: Yeah, I do have a certain amount of style, don’t I?
Bogart: Well, I guess you won’t be needing me any more. There’s nothing I can tell you now that you don’t already know.
Allan: I guess that’s so. I guess the secret’s not being you, it’s being me. True, you’re – you’re not too tall and kind of ugly, but – what the hell, I’m short enough and ugly enough to succeed on my own.
Bogart: Hmmph. Here’s looking at you, kid.

Creative meetings using web conferencing?

[tweetmeme]Web conferencing has been “the next big thing” for a while now, and with everyone worrying about their carbon footprint, it should be more relevant than ever, right? Then why do I regularly find myself on the road, train, or plane, heading for a meeting with stakeholders which could in theory have been done using tools like Skype, or even just a conference call?  Well, it works in theory, but I’ve yet to find a web conferencing tool that can do it in practice. Why is that?

This week’s seminar speaker, Mick Angel, gave me some food for thought with his presentation on Web Conferencing and Creativity. One of his case studies for his research was Google, who have virtual meetings as a default between their widely spread offices.  So if Google can make web conferencing work, why can’t everyone make it work? What is it that Google does, that makes them good at web conferencing? It can’t just be the technology – HP spent millions on high-tech conference suites (HP Halo) at $500 000 a pop with dedicated communication lines, HD screens, HD video feed and document sharing (so HD in fact that recording it would create data files of terabyte sizes) etc, etc. But even HP admits that it’s not ideal, and it’s not just because of the price-tag. The setup is too businessy and does not allow participants to collaborate easily on artifacts. So if having the flashiest, most expensive technology available doesn’t solve the problems, what does?

Maybe the problem is a cultural one. At Google, the organizational culture actively promotes and expects web conferencing to work. There are unspoken, but seemingly well understood “rules of engagement”. They also have a shared internal language that helps simplify the collaboration on documents, IM and in web conferencing. And as Mick pointed out: “if the only time your boss can assess you is when you speak up in conference calls, then those who want to succeed will seek to actively participate” – thus alleviating one of my big issues with web conferencing – the passive, quiet person who listens, but doesn’t contribute.

Would web conferencing work for us, if we had a shared language, expectations and agreed “rules of engagement” with the people we work with? Could we ever agree on it? It’s possible within a single company, but across organizations? Maybe the development of multi-user online collaboration tools (rather than single user tools – like Word – adapted to support editing by multiple users) will make it easier? Or maybe Google should start running training courses? One thing is for sure, until I figure out how to have a successful creative meeting over the web, I will probably stick with face-to-face for creative meetings. Call me old-fashioned, but I know it works, and I know how it works.

What do you think? Does web conferencing work for you? I’d be interested in hearing when it does and when it doesn’t. What’s the plusses and the negatives?

Author: Kristine Pitts