Game On

Screenshot of the online game "Dreams of Your Life"
Screenshot of the online game "Dreams of Your Life"

Wherever technology leads us, one of our most fundamental impulses is to play – through advances of mobile devices and social networks, technology is shaping the brave new world where limits between work, free time, making profit and personal relationships are blurry. New rules apply. Surely you have noticed?

Jane McGonigal was one of the first researchers to explore the question of how games could change the way we think and act in everyday life. Her revolutionary talk on Games Developers Conference 2008 presented an argument of how reality is broken, and we need to start making games to fix it. Industry reacted with an explosion of “games for personal and social change”, “positive impact games”, “social reality games”, “serious games” and “leveraging the play of the planet”. What is this all about?

The idea is that we should not aim at making games that are better and more immersive alternatives to reality – but rather at making the world become a better and more immersive reality. Quest is to explicitly design games that improve quality of life, by providing opportunities to solve problems and intervene in social situations in surprising, inventive and effective ways. Now, that is what I call true entertainment.

This month, Jane and her team set out an example by releasing a game called SuperBetter. This platform helps one achieve his health and life goals – or recover from an illness or injury – by increasing personal resilience – staying curious, optimistic and motivated even in the face of the toughest challenges.

Another recent example is a subversive online experience Dreams Of Your Life, developed by London-based game company Hide&Seek. It supports Film4’s documentary film about 38-year old Joyce Vincent, whose skeleton was discovered in her bedsit three years after she had died. Game aims to engage player in reflection on subjects such as society, friendship, love and loneliness. Play is continued afterwards via email, by challenging player to undertake small, rewarding actions in his everyday life.

Here at the Centre, we are developing a reality fix of our own. The happiest man is the one who manages to unify work and play, do you agree? With my PhD research supported by MIRROR project – incorporating creativity, serious games and users’ professional needs – I would like to contribute to creating such working environments. Game on.

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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.

Picture the Music

Picture the Music - What can different types of music make you imagine?[tweetmeme]about a week ago we had a very interesting meeting with the creators of Picture the Music who gave us a demo. In their words: “Picture the Music Create is a multi sensory teaching tool that motivates and inspires creativity”. The method and supporting tool is currently used primarily with children and teachers in schools, and seeks to get children to be creative.

Having experienced a taster of what the method offers, it’s not hard to see why children would enjoy it and get inspired. Personally, I found it enlightening. I know music changes the mood of things, just think of the music in horror movies or any movie really, but sometimes it takes someone else to point out the obvious before you realise the power of it.

I was amazed by how different types of music created different stories in my head, even though the image I was looking at and the situation around me stayed the same.

While the method and tool is presently aimed at children, it may be useful in higher education and/or in business – with some adaptation. In fact, my colleague Clive and I was so inspired that we’re hoping to get them to run a workshop here at the university with academic staff.

How well it will be received remains to be seen. At the very least it should be a playful escape from the daily grind and a chance for staff to explore their imagination. And maybe we can see a use for it for our students. Who knows? I’m excited to find out – so watch this space.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge” – Albert Einstein.  – Could your colleagues do with exploring their creative side?

Author: Kristine Pitts