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Design adventures down under

Just got back from Melbourne, Australia, where I delivered the day 1 keynote lecture at the first annual Games for Change Australia New Zealand, sharing some lessons learned while creating and curating physical/sculptural games this summer for our show Joue le Jeu.

The Twelve ApostlesThen after a fantastic (if slightly carsick) weekend retreat down the Great Ocean Road, i returned to RMIT to lead a group of graduate students and local developers in a physical and embodied game design workshop, one result of which can be seen here: Audio Arc, a game of blindfolded hide-and-seek using only the built-in alarm sound effects on your mobile phone.

But the project I want to mention in more detail was my second G4CANZ session – I co-presented with Keita Takahashi in an active session that GEELab founder Dr. Steffen Walz coined the “Super Awesome Play Jam.”  My half of our session challenged the participants to explore the core gameplay of a new game concept I’ve been working on for the past few months.

Garrick BendI’ve always been interested in ropes and knotwork, and in nautical themes in general.  In response to a request in September from a large sci-fi conference, I started concepting a kind of “conference game” – a game which would be played over a short but multi-day timespan in a single large physical location like a symposium, conference, festival, etc.  In the meantime, the conference decided not to host original games this year, but the spark was struck and I’ve been further developing the concept since then.

Building a Garrick Bend knot at Super Awesome Play Jam G4C ANZ 2012Based in a fictional nautical scenario, the game puts the players in the role of collective storytellers, using physical props like short lengths of cord and sculptural objects like a wooden ship to determine the fates of two groups: a crew of sailors on a three-masted ship, and a group of mermaids living in a floating forest of seaweed.  Or at least that’s my hope.  My first question is: how and when is it fun to tie knots in ropes?  So that’s what we explored in my session at RMIT.  The participants warmed up their knot-tying skills with the “Bow-line,” then teamed up with another player to join cords in a “Garrick Bend.” We followed this exercise with a group discussion to tease out the possible ways this simple (although not ‘easy’) activity could form the core gameplay of a much larger experience.

I’m still not certain the concept will work – whether folks at a busy event would care, or be interested, to jointly effect a story through a symbolic physical action like this.  But I’m one step closer to finding out.

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