Monday, November 07, 2005

Invitation to Play: Graveyard Games ATLANTA

On Saturday November 12, 2005, Graveyard Games will be in Atlanta so you can meet the living and play with the dead.

You're invited rain or shine to historic Oakland Cemetery’s "most tangible link to the past" to get to know your local dearly departed, pay your respects, and learn Tombstone Hold 'Em — the secret poker game you can only play in a cemetery.

(See photos from previous games in San Francisco, Washington D.C., Kansas City, New York City, and more. And for a little backstory, visit Last Call Poker’s Atlanta page.)

Instructions

1. Arrive at the front gates of the Oakland Cemetery (directions and map for 248 Oakland Avenue, SE, Atlanta) between 2 PM and 2:30 PM local time.

2. Look for the tournament's host. She'll be holding a deck of cards and will have further instructions and supplies for you.

3. Bring a single flower to place on a grave to show some respect, and to signal that you're one of us.

4. Take a few minutes to explore your section of the cemetery. Look for any poker chips left on tombstones. You'll need these to play.

5. Be sure to look for the grave of someone you can prove died on your birthday. You can use that tombstone as a Joker during the game.

6. Tournament begins at 2:30 PM. Learn the rules before you come if you're serious about winning. We’ll have extra instructions on hands for any friends you bring along.

7. The winner is crowned at 3:30 PM. No fancy prizes, but lots of respect and maybe a special memento from Lucky's estate. And everyone can keep the chips they earn as a souvenir.

8. Afterwards, you’re invited to nearby Six Feet Under to raise a glass to the players you’re leaving underground at Oakland Cemetery.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

a full house for New York City graveyard games

Over 50 Tombstone Hold Em players gathered in Brooklyn's Cypress Hills Cemetery this weekend on the most gorgeous fall day I've seen in years. Some of the best Tombstone Hold 'Em players I've met anywhere in the country, too.

A 10-block walk across the Brooklyn-Queens border down Jamaica Ave took us to Mike's Pub for a post-tourney meetup. It will never make a top 10 city hotspot list, but Mike's Pub is a definitively Cypress Hills experience.

The estate photographer's photos of the New York City graveyard games are here!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Behold: My slides from the Austin Game Conference


mcgonigal_AGC_slides
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
Back from the Austin Game Conference, where I gave a design-track lecture called "Alternate Reality Gaming: Experimental Social Structures for MMOs." The unofficial title of the talk was "Too weird for GDC." Also, the culmination of the talk was a lively 100-person game of massively multiplayer thumb wrestling. The slides are now posted here.

If you are interested in experiencing firsthand any of these lovely experimental social structures, might I suggest you get your gamer self to one of the following upcoming experimental games? I will be there to play with you at the November 5 Graveyard Game in New York City, the November 12 Graveyard Game in Atlanta, or the November 19 Graveyard Game in Los Angeles...

Monday, October 31, 2005

Graveyard Games NEW YORK CITY

On Saturday November 5, 2005, Graveyard Games will be in New York City so you can meet the living and play with the dead.

You're invited rain or shine to Brooklyn’s own Cypress Hills Cemetery to get to know your local dearly departed, pay your respects, and learn Tombstone Hold 'Em — the secret poker game you can only play in a cemetery.

(See photos from previous games in San Francisco, Washington D.C., Kansas City, and more.

Instructions

1. Arrive at the Main Gate of the Cypress Hills Cemetery (833 Jamaica Ave), near where Jamaica Ave meets Cypress Hills Street, between 2 PM and 2:30 PM local time.

2. Look for the tournament's host. She'll be holding a deck of cards and will have further instructions and supplies for you.

3. Bring a single flower to place on a grave to show some respect, and to signal that you're one of us.

4. Take a few minutes to explore your section of the cemetery. Look for any poker chips left on tombstones. You'll need these to play.

5. Be sure to look for the grave of someone you can prove died on your birthday. You can use that tombstone as a Joker during the game.

6. Tournament begins at 2:30 PM. Learn the rules before you come if you're serious about winning. We’ll have extra instructions on hands for any friends you bring along.

7. The winner is crowned at 3:30 PM. No fancy prizes, but lots of respect and maybe a special memento from Lucky's estate. And everyone can keep the chips they earn as a souvenir.

8. Afterwards, you’re invited to nearby Mike’s Pub (7919 Jamaica Ave) to raise a glass to the players you’re leaving underground at Cypress Hills.

The Cypress tree, they say, is a symbol of sorrow. I won’t argue that. But let’s meet here, even in the cold of fall, and push back a little on the winter coming in.

One time in New York, I was out strolling with this girl. It was cold enough our breath was smoking in the air, you know, and every time I made her laugh I would cup my hands around the little puff of steam and say, “I caught a laugh!” and breathe it in, and she would laugh some more, and maybe punch me in the arm.

Of all the breaths I ever took, those are some of the ones I remember best. The damp cold, grey concrete, traffic going by and the smell of her laughter in my lungs, like fog and old leaves…

For more information on cemetery gaming: http://www.lastcallpoker.com/allin/rules.aspx

a cemetery is like a long-running poker game...

The Tombstone Hold 'Em tourney in Kansas City's Historic Elmwood Cemetery was a beautiful way to spend a Halloween weekend. You can see my photos from the KC game here.

In the morning, Kiyash and I ran the annual 5K Graveyard Run through the cemetery, and finished with respectable times for the very hilly course: just under 28 minutes. The cemetery was actually a pretty inspiring setting for a race. When I got frustrated with the hills, I'd just look around me and think, "Look, would you rather be running up this damn hill, or be dead?" Right. Morbid, but effective.

By the way, for those of you who haven't heard Lucky's thoughts about cemeteries and poker games yet, I thought I'd post 'em here. Also pretty inspiring stuff.

A cemetery is like a long-running poker game. Same fellas at the table, by and large; a new kid dropping in from time to time. As a rule the dead play tight, and they hate to lose. Tombstones have tells too, you know. Not just what’s carved into them, either. There’s a hundred little things: the plot they chose in life, and the way the grass grows around it; whether the visitors leave fake flowers or real ones. Whether there are visitors at all. Humor an old man, and get to know a few of the better cemeteries. Think about the people there. They cussed and dreamed and drank like you do now. To love and lose is what it means to be human. We haven’t all of us loved as much as we should. —Lucky Brown

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Graveyard Games KANSAS CITY

Won't you come play your respects this Halloween weekend?

On Saturday October 29, 2005, Graveyard Games will be in Kansas City, MO so you can meet the living and play with the dead.

You're invited to the Historic Elmwood Cemetery to get to know your local dearly departed, pay your respects, and learn Tombstone Hold 'Em — the secret poker game you can only play in a cemetery.

Instructions

1. Arrive at the main entrance to the Historic Elmwood cemetery at 4900 Truman Road between 1:30 PM and 2 PM Central time.

2. Look for the tournament's host near the main gate, off E Street. She'll be holding a deck of cards. She will have further instructions and supplies for you.

3. Bring a single flower to place on a grave to show some respect, and to signal that you're one of us.

4. Take a few minutes to explore your section of the cemetery. Look for any poker chips left on tombstones. You'll need these to play.

5. Be sure to look for the grave of someone you can prove died on your birthday. You can use that tombstone as a Joker during the game.

6. Tournament begins at 2 PM. Learn the rules before you come if you're serious about winning. We’ll have extra instructions on hands for any friends you bring along.

7. The winner is crowned at 3 PM. No fancy prizes, but lots of respect and maybe a special memento from Lucky's estate. And everyone can keep the chips they earn as a souvenir.

8. Stick around and join us after 3 PM at the Eastsiders Bar and Grill ( 7321 E Truman Rd) to raise a glass to the players you’re leaving underground.

See photos from San Francisco’s October 15 Graveyard Games and Washington D.C.’s October 22 Graveyard Games.

"The most alive dead place in town"

It was cold and rainy and extraordinarily wet, but that didn't stop 25 of Washington D.C.'s finest gamers from coming out to Historic Congressional Cemetery for a Tombstone Hold 'Em tourney last Saturday.

Linda Harper, the chairman of the board of the cemetery, was there, as well, to welcome our players and tell them a bit about the cemetery's history and mission. "We're the most alive dead place in town," she said, encouraging the players to have fun and enjoy the historic space. The cemetery's goal? To become, again, the kind of public social and recreation space that cemeteries in the U.S. used to be, before the 20th century. "Before there was Central Park, there was Mt. Auburn Cemetery," she said, reminding us that cemeteries were the original parks and recreation centers in the U.S. It was like being welcomed home again. Linda was so pleased with our game and players that she invited 'em back to come play Hold 'Em any time they want.

Rumor has it that, besides the six official Graveyard Games in honor of Lucky Brown, grassroots Tombstone Hold 'Em games are popping up in cities all over. I just rain into someone in the airport last night who was on his way to Seattle, where he suggested a THE game is on its way. Also this week, Austin and Oakland are having grassroots games... I'm not involved in organizing them, so all I can say is keep your eyes and ears open for more info...

See you in Kansas City next.

Flickr photos are here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Play with me: Graveyard Games, Washington D.C.

RAIN OR SHINE! Saturday afternoon October 22, 2005

You're never too dead to play.

On Saturday October 22, 2005, Graveyard Games will be in Washington, DC so you can meet the living and play with the dead. You're invited to the Historic Congressional Cemetery to get to know your local dearly departed, pay your respects, and learn Tombstone Hold 'Em — the secret poker game you can only play in a cemetery.

1. Arrive at the Historic Congressional Cemetery (1801 E Street Southeast) in D.C. between 2:00 PM and 2:30 PM.

2. Look for the tournament’s host near the main gate, off E Street. She’ll be holding a deck of cards. She will have further instructions and supplies for you.

3. Bring a single flower to place on a grave to show some respect, and to signal that you’re one of us.

4. Take a few minutes to explore your section of the cemetery. Look for any poker chips left on tombstones. You’ll need these to play.

5. Be sure to look for the grave of someone you can prove died on your birthday. You can use that tombstone as a Joker during the game.

6. Tournament begins at 2:30 PM. Learn the rules before you come if you’re serious about winning.

7. The winner is crowned at 3:30 PM. No fancy prizes, but lots of respect and maybe a special memento from Lucky's estate. And everyone can keep the chips they earn as a souvenir.

8. Stick around. You’re invited to Trusty’s Full Service just down the block (1420 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20003). Doors open at 4 PM, so raise a glass to the players you’re leaving underground at the Historic Congressional Cemetery.

See photos from San Francisco's Graveyard Games.

Monday, October 17, 2005

A full house at the Italian Cemetery

Over 100 playful folks showed up for the first Tombstone Hold 'Em tourney, here in San Francisco. Flickr photos abound, with the tags "graveyard games", "Tombstone Hold Em" and "Last Call Poker". Here's my set of favorites from the unforgettable afternoon, all taken by our "estate photographer", Kiyash. Lucky would be proud.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Play with me: Graveyard Games, October 15th


Playing Tombstone Hold 'Em
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
On Saturday October 15, 2005, Graveyard Games will be in Colma, San Francisco’s very own City of the Dead, so you can meet the living and play with the dead.

You’re invited to the Italian Cemetery to get to know your local dearly departed, pay your respects, and learn Tombstone Hold ‘Em—the secret poker game you can only play in a cemetery.

Instructions

1. Arrive at the Italian Cemetery (540 F Street, Colma, CA 94014, 2 blocks from Colma BART station) on Saturday October 15 between 1:30 PM and 2:00 PM.
2. Look for your host near the main entrance, under the white arch. She’ll be holding a deck of cards. She will have further instructions and supplies for you.
3. Bring a single flower to place on a grave to show some respect, and to signal that you’re one of us.
4. Take a few minutes to explore the cemetery. Look for any poker chips left on tombs. You’ll need these to play.
5. Be sure to look for the grave of someone you can prove died on your birthday. You can use that tombstone as a Joker during the game.
6. Tombstone Hold ‘Em Tournament begins at 2 PM. Here’s a tip: learn the rules before you come. We’ll have instructions on hand for any friends you bring along.
7. For non-poker players, there will be other creative, playful things to do. And expect a few surprises.
8. The winner is crowned at 3 PM. No fancy prizes, but lots of respect, and maybe a special memento from beyond the grave. Plus, everyone can keep the chips they earn as a souvenir.
9. After 3 PM, you’re invited to nearby Globe Tavern (7379 Mission St) to raise a glass to the players you’re leaving underground at the Italian Cemetery.

By the way, if anyone asks--you’re here for the last call.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The old man had a brilliant idea


cemeterypokertourneycrop
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

WWII veteran and genius poker player Lionel "Lucky" Brown died a rich man, with some very playful ideas about the legacy he wanted to leave behind.

I'm honored to be a part of how his final wishes are carried out.

Besides, you know me. Can't help but get really excited about a benevolent mob of gamers playing together in an unexpected, public space.

So graveyard games, it is.

When was the last time you played games in a cemetery? When is the first time you play games in a cemetery?

Come play your respects:

October 15 San Francisco/Colma
October 22 Washington, D.C.
October 29 Kansas City
November 5 New York City
November 12 Atlanta
November 29 Los Angeles

You’re never too dead to play.

Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

a very civil ceremony

We did it!

Here is ELOPE!, a Flickr photo set with some memorable moments and people we met that day.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

I do!


how_INTJ_people_elope
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

On Friday September 16, 2005, one day shy of the fifth anniversary of our first date, Kiyash and I are eloping to City Hall in San Francisco.

There will be a cupcake picnic in City Hall Plaza... a "first dance" made possible by portable speakers for my iPod... a champagne toast at the Ritz Carlton...

then, a series of daily 10 - 15 mile city hikes around San Francisco... and extreme culinary debauchery at our favorite restaurants (The Cosmopolitan Cafe, Le Colonial, and brunch at the Palace's Garden Court)...

there will be theater (The Overcoat at ATC)... and movies (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane at the Castro)... and music (a jazz set at Biscuit and Blues)...

Then we will hop into a Jaguar X-type and drive down the coast to a luxury camping lodge... for two nights on the beach, with more hiking, wine tasting, picnicking, sunrises and sunsets.

Our wedding bands are engraved with the GPS coordinates (to the sixth decimal place) of the Chow Bar in New York City, where we met on September 17, 2000. My ring has the latitude, and Kiyash's ring has the longitude.

I love you, Kiyash.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Bart laments his role in the Ministry of Reshelving.

I will not incite grassroots play and commentary anarchy in the fiction section of bookstores. I will not incite grassroots play and commentary anarchy in the fiction section of bookstores. I will not incite grassroots play and commentary anarchy in the fiction section of bookstores. I will not incite grassroots play and commentary anarchy in the fiction section of bookstores. I will not incite grassroots play and commentary anarchy in the fiction section of bookstores. I will not incite grassroots play and commentary anarchy in the fiction section of bookstores. I will not incite grassroots play and commentary anarchy in the fiction section of bookstores. I will not incite grassroots play and commentary anarchy in the fiction section of bookstores. I will not incite grassroots play and commentary anarchy in the fiction section of bookstores. I will not incite grassroots play and commentary anarchy in the fiction section of bookstores.

I'm not a werewolf


It's you! It's SO you!
Originally uploaded by PavelCurtis.

"I'm a villager! I swear! " (No, Zach was a totally a werewolf. Meanwhile, I was lynched by an angry mob, the entire circle pounding the tables and chanting "Kill! Kill! Kill!" Sigh.) Saturday night, we played Werewolf 'til 4:30 AM. So basically, there is a proposition on the table to officially rename FOOcamp 2006 WEREWOLFcamp 2006.

Also on the FOOcamp Gameplay scene: earlier in the evening I organized a Zen Scavenger Hunt. danah boyd conspired with me to create a FOO-cific scavenger hunt list worth of the genius minds gathered up here at O'Reilly's for the weekend. For those of you who haven't experienced the experience of my ZSH project, here's how it works: You collect your objects and THEN we give you the list. You have to creatively hack and mod your objects and design clever demo's and performances to persuade the judges that the objects you already have is a perfect match for our list. Here are the rules and the list from last night... How would you have done?

Social Play & SuperGaming!
The Zen Scavenger Hunt / FOOcamp 2005

Please find the following objects:

A problem (2 points)
A non-scalable solution to object #1 (3 points)
A scalable solution to object #1 (6 points)
A new mobile Web 2.0 platform (demo, please) (3 points)
An experiment in nanotech bioengineering gone bad (3 points)
A self-replicating machine (demo, please) (7 points)
A passenger amenity from the first commercial space flight shuttle (2 points)
A working tele-operated object (demo, please) (7 points)
A tool for collaboration (3 points)
A relic from the battle between the monkeys and the robots. (P.S. Who won?) (3 points
Edible computing (demo, please) (6 points)
FOObarred TM Anti-Surveillance Device (4 points)

Rules:
You have 45 minutes to find these objects.
You can only use the objects your team already has—no trading, no substitutions.
You can hack and mod your objects any way you want.
Your success in finding these objects will be judged by other teams, based on your live demonstrations and explanations.
In the case of any judging disputes, puppetmasters have the final vote.
In the case of a tie, teams will play a 60-second death-defying, single-object tiebreaker round.

(In this case, we did have a tiebreaker: "a thing of exquisite beauty.")

Coming soon: A flickr set from the ZSH...

Saturday, August 20, 2005

no sleep til sebastopol


Jane
Originally uploaded by jeffreymcmanus.

FOOcamp rules.

Highlights so far include Segway rides, non-scalable introduction ceremonies, brainstorming sessions and improvised talks on biomimetic design, open source biology, "You are the platfom-- functional body modification", gaming as ecologically sustainable decadence (that was me, of course), meeting and hanging with my favorite Technorati and Flickr and boingboing masterminds, Are You a Werewolf? games until 5 AM, my first night sleeping outdoors in a tent (not that much sleep though--see aforementioned Werewolf games!), learning more about what O'Reilly Media does and wants to do more of(love it), and making smores with many more wicked smart folks. Still to come: danah boyd and I lead the first (annual?) FooCamp Zen Scavenger hunt...

Thursday, August 18, 2005

a minor statement on avant gaming


PlaceStorming continues...
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

I believe:

Games are the dominant art form of the 21st century. Not just videogames (but those too). All games.

We should make benevolent games for all spaces and all technologies.

There should be more benevolent gameplay in public spaces.

Many people find public gameplay threatening. This is not a reason not to play games. It is a reason to play more. It is also a reason to make gameplay transparent, so others will not be confused or alarmed by what you are doing.

Games are serious. Some people dismiss them as “pointless,” but they are blind to the power of pointlessness. The power of games is in their intrinsic pleasure. The nature of games is not to point. The nature of games it to experience. And experiences can be extraordinarily powerful things.

Games are a persuasive platform. Games are a self-expressive platform.

Collective gameplay helps us gather the collective wisdom of crowds.

Collective gameplay can mobilize and harness the benevolent power of the public.

There should be more bottom-up decision-making in public spaces. Massively multiplayer collaborative gameplay may help achieve this.

There should be more folksonomy in public spaces. Massively multiplayer collaborative gameplay may help achieve this, as well.

We should define public spaces as the spaces where you can find the public. Rarely will you find the public in public plazas.

We should treat privatized spaces that open their doors to the public, make money off the public, and serve for better or for worse as the primary public and social spheres of our society, more like public spaces.

When powerful and benevolent phenomena emerge online, we should conduct experiments to see if they can be translated into a real-world power, as well.

Just in case anyone was wondering.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

the ministry of reshelving


Our uniform
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

This week, we launched the Ministry of Reshelving project. My partners in crime as founding members of the ministry: George, Kiyash, and Monica.

This weekend we relocated 19 copies of George Orwell's 1984 in four different bookstores in Palo Alto, San Francisco, and Berkeley. It was high stealth adventure.

You are invited to join our efforts.

How to Serve the Ministry of Reshelving

1. Select a local bookstore to carry out your reshelving activities.

2. Download and print "This book has been relocated by the Ministry of Reshelving" bookmarks and "All copies of 1984 have been relocated" notecards to take with you to the bookstore. Or make your own. We recommend bringing a notecard and 5-10 bookmarks to each store.

3. Go to the bookstore and locate its copies of George Orwell's 1984. Unless the Ministry of Reshelving has already visited this bookstore, it is probably currently incorrectly classified as "Fiction" or "Literature."

4. Discreetly move all copies of 1984 to a more suitable section, such as "Current Events", "Politics", "History", "True Crime", or "New Non-Fiction."

5. Insert a Ministry of Reshelving bookmark into each copy of any book you have moved. Leave a notecard in the empty space the books once occupied.

6. If you spot other incorrectly classified books, feel free to relocate them.

7. Please report all reshelving efforts to the Ministry. Email your store name, location, # of 1984 copies reshelved, and any other reshelving activities conducted, to reshelving @ avantgame.com. Photos of your mission can be uploaded to Flickr, tagged as "reshelving", and submitted to the Ministry of Reshelving group.

Our goal is to relocate one thousand nine hundred and eighty-four copies, and to complete successful reshelving of 1984 in all 50 United States. Global contributions are welcome.

Note: this project is not a critique of bookstore culture, the state of the shelving industry, or even of pervasive government surveillance. It is merely an observation that 2 + 2 = 5, and 5 is no longer fiction.

UPDATE:

Many thanks to everyone for their feedback on this project.

We at the Ministry of Reshelving support all efforts to properly classify fiction and nonfiction texts. So here are some alternative (or complementary) tactics.

*Ask to speak to a bookstore manager, perhaps a time when the bookstore is not busy. Introduce yourself as a representative of the Ministry and simply suggest the relocation. Do not relocate any books. Simply have a friendly conversation. Perhaps have a card referring the manager to the Ministry of Reshelving Flickr group.

*Mod the current Ministry bookmarks to SUGGEST relocation of the books. Insert these in all copies. Do not actually relocate the books.

*Stage a photo of the relocation, and then return the books to their original location. This might not be revolution, but it is a rehearsal for the revolution.

*Create a notecard to leave at the bookstore in the section you think 1984 should be properly shelved. The notecard could say "Sorry! There are no more copies of George Orwell's 1984 in the __________ section. Additional copies are located in the fiction and literature section."

*Before you conduct your 1984 reshelving, look around the store for a few books left out by other customers and put them back where they belong. Do a bit of 'traditional' reshelving on behalf of the employees. Then do your 1984 reshelving.

These mods are designed to address people's concerns with the impact of the project on customers and bookstore employees and owners. I'm 100% committed to making these kinds of experiments as sociable as possible, while still confronting the issues of: Where is it appropriate for the public to play, to intervene, to suggest alternatives, to tag, to reclassify, to be expressive? It is clear to me that many people do not feel that bookstores are a proper location for such play and intervention. I very much disagree, but I am learning much from their comments and reactions.

If you would like to understand the motivations of this project better, why not read a minor statement on avant gaming?

Final update: Comments have been suspended on this blog in accordance with Godwin's law. The Ministry of Reshelving, however, continues its work.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

the puppet master problem


the_puppet_master_problem
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

Earlier this summer, I stumbled upon an elegant, and wisely captioned, drawing in the August issue of the San Francisco Bay Area Puppeteer's Guild newsletter. It is the perfect expression of the tricky, collaborative relationship between puppet masters and players of a puppet mastered game.

I'm currently working on an essay called "The Puppet Master Problem: Design for Mission-Based, Real-World Gaming." It has much revising and editing ahead before it (hopefully) is published in a new MIT Press collection this spring. So ignore the sometimes clunky prose. But I wanted to post an excerpt here, to get some of these thoughts into the collective consciousness of my fellow gamers.

*

(...)

I made my debut as a puppet master (PM) on January 19, 2002 as the lead writer and mission designer for an 80-player Go Game in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco—a year and a half before I started organizing flash mobs and two and a half years before I took my place behind the curtain of I Love Bees. That day, on the winter-green lawn of a public city park, I experienced a spontaneous rupture in what I had imagined would be a smooth and uncomplicated PM-player dynamic: We tell the players what to do, and they do it. Since that day, the same little Go Game kink has emerged again and again in many different genres and contexts. It is a pattern I now recognize as the highly complex, and consistinently collaborative, texture of a puppet mastered game.

A bit of background: The Go Game is an afternoon-long urban adventure in which competing teams receive clues over their cell phones to specific locations around their city. When players arrive at each location, they download a superhero-themed performance mission: assemble undercover disguises using whatever you can find at a nearby thrift store; make a secret agent waiting for you on the #30 bus laugh by any means necessary (not that you have any idea which of the dozens of people on the bus the secret agent is); conduct a séance on the floor of a crowded café to improve the psychic atmosphere; figure out how to get onto a luxury hotel rooftop and attract as much attention as you can; get a whole barful of strangers singing and dancing along with you to any song you want to play on the jukebox.

That day, we were putting up only the second Go Game ever—Wink Back, Inc. has produced hundreds of games for over 20,000 players across the U.S. since—so as puppet masters, we were still experimenting and making last-minute tweaks to our scripts. Just before the game started, another Go Game writer decided to revise the opening text message I had prepared. My text was a bit dry: “Welcome, superheroes! Press GO when you’re ready to start the game.” We both agreed it would be better to set a more playful mood, so she added a colorful interjection to the welcome message: “Howdy superheroes—hold onto your hats, it’s time to drop your pants and dance! Press GO when you’re ready to start the game.”

I had already forgotten about this minor text change when the teams assembled in Washington Square Park to receive their first set of instructions. I hid in a group of park-goers and watched as the players huddled in small groups, switched on their phones, and downloaded our welcome message. I was waiting for the teams to scatter and hit the streets—once they pressed “GO,” the first round of clues would send each team off in a different direction. But that didn't happen.

Instead, half a dozen players began unbuckling their belts, unzipping their jeans, and showing off their underwear while waving their arms in the air. This caught the attention of other players, who quickly realized—A ha! ‘Drop your pants and dance’—this is our first mission! So they, too, dropped their pants and started dancing. Before long, most of the players were dancing merrily in their underwear. And they were busy taking photos of each other to ‘prove’ their success in completing the mission.

Of course, the opening message “drop your pants and dance” wasn’t a mission at all. But by the time the park was full of pantless performers, my fellow puppet masters and I were already behind our curtain. There was nothing we could do to intervene. We just watched from a distance, with our mouths hanging open.

The first time I told this story at a lecture, an audience member challenged me: “You puppet masters must really get a kick out of manipulating these players to do whatever you want. That must be such a power trip.” But in fact, the opposite was true. We didn’t get a rush of power when the players misinterpreted our simple welcome message. We actually felt completely out of control. We had worked so carefully to craft just the right text for our mission scripts, and yet from the very first moment of gameplay, our actual, effective authority was stripped away. Yes, we could give the players a set of instructions—but clearly we could not predict or dictate how they would read and embody those instructions. We were absolutely not in control of our players’ creative instincts.

In Washington Square Park that day, as the players danced in their underwear, I turned to another puppet master and said, “It’s their game now.” He nodded, and that’s when I realized: No matter what it looked like to outsiders, we were not pulling these players’ strings. Yes, the players were following our commands, but their interpretation of the commands left them fully in charge of their own experience. The scripts had been delivered; the actors were putting on the show. In that moment I realized that the players in a puppet mastered game are not performing objects; they are performing subjects. And that performing subjectivity is never ceded, even in submission to a puppet master’s orders.

The willful subjectivity of a performer is in its own way a kind of self-determination, a co-authorship with the writers. Media critic Thomas De Zengotita acknowledges this when he discusses the flash mob phenomenon as a kind of middle ground between reality and optionality. In the middle of "so many flash mobs… you were being the phenomenon as you were seeing it represented, in real time, unfolding before you. You could see the impact of your role on the national stage in essentially the same way you can see the impact of your button-pressing in a videogame. You were the agent, you were the star" (152). As De Zengotita points out, performing in the public eye gives players an expressive visibility and an audience that provides the same quality of feedback a digital game offers. The audience reaction becomes the new metric, equally capable of giving players a sense of responsibility for a given outcome.

(...)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Place Stormers, UNITE!


PS_magazine_1
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

This is a call to gaming action.

We are collecting and investigating superhero manifestos, and we need your help.

Our focus is on a very unusual kind of superhero, a group of highly advanced thinkers and researchers who are leaving behind cryptic documents that explain their strange missions, superpowers and supertools. We're not sure what these manifestos mean, and we need your help figuring it out.

You are invited to create geocaches for these superhero manifesto in public locations, so that others can find the manifestos and learn more about the superheroes.

You are also invited to choose your favorite manifesto and take on the superhero mission it describes. You can take photographs and show us your superhero interventions.

Of course, if YOU happen to be one of these strange superheroes and you want to share your manifesto with us, you can create one here.

*

The Place Storming database is now live. You are invited to visit the site and download a superhero manifesto.

There are two things you can do with a manifesto:

1) Print it and geocache it in a public location, with the prop of your choosing. (And choose wisely! This prop will become the supertool for superheroes who attempt to accomplish the mission you are geocaching.)

2) Print the manifesto and take it to a public location of your choosing, where you will perform the mission described in the superhero manifesto. Don't forget to bring a prop for your supertool, and

Of course, you also can do both-- perform, and then geocache!

*

No GPS devices? No worries. We have free tools on the Place Stormer site to help you out. You don't need any special technology to join us.

You can play any time, anywhere in the world.

Go Place Storm!

Monday, August 01, 2005

Undead Jane


Undead Jane
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

On Saturday, after photo mobbing One Bush Street, I decided there really ought to be more mobbing. So I showed up ready to be bloodied and shredded as part of a lovely humanitarian effort to Zombify downtown San Francisco.

It was an "under-engineered, self-generating Zombie mob" organized by the brilliant minds of Eat Brains.

Four minutes of hysterical, I mean horrifying San Francisco Zombie footage can be watched through your fingers here... if you dare! Thanks, Kiyash, for the amazing footage.

P.S. You can see also more of the Zombie mob in the upcoming Night of the Living Dead public domain-inspired music video for the ridicul ously amazing Subliminal Twinkeez, featuring hip hop front man Ramiz (Kiyash's bro). Stay tuned...

Saturday, July 30, 2005

revoking your right to pass


SF Photo Flash Mob 041
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

Today I met up with 20 other photographers at One Bush Street, the site of much blogger controversy this week, for a small photomobbing adventure. We were there to exercise our rights to photograph interesting buildings from public spaces -- for example, from the sidewalk or the street.

As we non-confrontationally took photos of each other and the local architecture, we were asked many times to leave certain areas of seemingly "public plazas." Tiny little plaques in the ground confirmed that our right to pass could be revoked by the private landowner of the so-called public space.

We each carried a print-out of "Your Rights and Remedies When Stopped or Confronted for Photography", an excellent guide prepared by a civil rights attorney. We had some... challenging conversations with security guards along the way about this document.

CBS News saw fit to cover our photomobbing, and I met some very cool folks. Better still, I discovered a few new interesting corners and crevices in an area of San Francisco I've always loved most for supergaming. My favorite: a tiny abandoned back ally, with rights to pass fully revokable, with an old-school security camera, and seemingly nothing to surveil and no space to be revoked out of.

UPDATE: My Flickr set from the One Bush Street photo-mob was Boing Boing'd! Now, more than 20,000 people have viewed my photostream. Thanks, Cory, for the shout-out! Also, yay: 6 of my One Bush Street photos made the top 100 most interesting photos on Flickr for August 30. I'm a big fan of Flickr's new "interestingness" metric. Always fun to coin new words to describe emergent social network hive mind massively parallel interest!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

"Jane -- KEEP AWAY!"


dsc00464
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
When I arrived at Sandia National Laboratories Wednesday morning, the day after an eventful cookie rolling session at Albuquerque International Airport, I discovered a special message waiting for me at the continental breakfast station.

Several members of the Advanced Concepts Group (where I've been participating in a really intense and productive workshop on the public's role in security practices, and the relationship between face-to-face community and security) had set me up!

The note on the plate of scones, oh so round and with perfect rolling affordance, read; "Jane-- Keep Away. These are for EATING only." Taped above the plate, a printout of a color photo they had grabbed of me installing my cookies at the airport.

I swear, this is the closest I've ever come to fraternity hazing. Love it.

roll bizcochitos roll!


img_4319
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
I cookie rolled somewhere I never thought I would get away with it: an international airport.

At Albuquerque Sunport, I installed the word "up." Directly, and helpfully I thought, in front of the up elevators. On your way to ticketing and check-in, please help yourself to a bizcochito, the official state cookie (yes, really) of New Mexico.

More stories and links later tonight from Oakland.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

imagine Sisyphus happy

In the immortal words of Helium... For you! The first 10 words. And the new home of the cookie rolling project.

Speaking of which: this week, I'll be rolling cookies in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Philadelphia, PA; and Moorestown, New Jersey.

Mo'town, as we called it in high school, is my childhood hometown, and much to my twin sister's horror ("GAG ME!!!" was how she put it in her email, I believe), it was recently named The Best Place to Live in America. Well, some people might like the, um, "tree-lined oasis, dotted with gingerbread homes and million-dollar mansions," but urban it ain't. No regrets about the first 17 years, but these days... I'll take Manhattan. Or Berkeley.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

My cellphone trebuchet


My cellphone trebuchet
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

Today I experienced the experience of catapulting my cell phone down the historic mint alley in SOMA. It was part of a pervasive play experience designed by the prankish Austrian art collective monochrom. I was thrilled to hear they were going to be conducting local mischief here in San Francisco. I have loved monochrom ever since they invented massively multiplayer thumb wrestling. I am probably the most hard-core MMTW gamer in the world, since I frequently require students and audiences to play it. Yes, no doubt soon my Node Runner world championship status will be superceded by my MMTW global domination.

Alas, my phone did not survive the trip, which consisted of a rather dramatic arc 30 feet in the air and a fatal crash landing 60 feet down the pavement. The damage inflicted: a smashed LCD screen with leaking crystal, a detached battery, a broken hinge, and exposed innards.

If I don't return your calls for a few days, you know why.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

I am wearing a secret message.


I am wearing a secret message.
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
You are reading the secret message.

Is it for you?

Speculate now.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

ice cold playtest

Met at Cesar's for ice tea and playtesting today. The waitress seemed annoyed that we were too busy playing our first flash mockup to order food. Just couldn't take our attention away from Greg's laptop long enough to explain what we were up to. We probably seemed like a bunch of Cal techies not suitably socialized for midday bar outings. Maybe Cesar needs a tool to wake up Wi-Fi zombies like us. (Sean, you reading this?)

What I couldn't tell the waitress at Cesar's, I can tell you. We're bringing together four members from the design teams for Organum and Demonstrate to collaborate on a new Alpha Lab project... a kind of social software gaming system for, shall we say, an unexpected population. (No, it's nothing like Dogster.) We're calling the system Generation.

No more public statements for now, but feel free to ping me if you'd like to help playtest. Long distance playtesting is a-ok. All you need is access to a phone of any kind.

Today's playtest generated the following poem as one of its outcomes:

Woman, skipped, skipped, rip things up!
Guinea pig, I repeat myself. Tomatoes.
Pinatas, make oatmeal, to do list.

Your interpretation invited.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

salty burning numb (yum!)

I went hiking in Claremont Canyon yesterday to clear my head. Three hours, six miles, and 1000 ft elevation change later, I was sweaty, sunburnt and still fixated on the bug and its countdown. While up there, didn't pay enough attention to the trail... scratched my palms slipping on loose gravel, more than once. Now it hurts to type. (July 20 2004)
I went hiking in Claremont Canyon yesterday. It was just me and Kiyash. He was on the Claremont hike last year, too, but I didn't mention him back then because damsels in distress need to be single. I didn't scratch up my palms this time, because we did the loop backwards. We've done that trail maybe a dozen times since we moved to Berkeley in Summer 2001, and every time we've gone up one way and down the other. This time, we reversed it. Amazing what a difference that made. Both the ascent and descent were markedly more difficult, but felt exactly right. The ascent should be up the narrow, scrambly hillside path, the path I scratched my hands up on last year. And the descent should be down the shaded woodsy widecut swath. Sort of like we were hiking in reverse all these years, but of course those hikes were good, too, and memorable--two New Year's Day hikes, for instance.

Today we went to stomp around the salt ponds by the Dumbarton Bridge. That bridge is a lovely firmament which until today I had experienced only peripherally, furiously powerpointing across it in the passenger seat on my way to the PARC forum last spring. Getting to know the Dumbarton Bridge a little better, we did a mash-up of the Tidelands Trail and the Newark Slough Loop Trail. Salt flies everywhere. Chaotic flocking behavior of bird overhead. Funny... last night we watched the Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter. Mick Jagger kept imploring the violent Altamont crowd to "get it together, can't we all just get it together?" The birds overhead for awhile really seemed like they were just not going to get it together. Not going to do that emergent self-organizing bottom-up woo-ha everybody writes about these days. Watching Gimme Shelter was research, although I didn't know it when we started the DVD. (At first, it was just an attempt to clear out a Netflix that has been lingering around the apartment while we plowed our way through all five discs of Season 3 of Six Feet Under.) But those of us who ask people to assemble in large groups in public for festive and playful occasions have a responsibility to understand why it occasionally goes wrong. Also, I'm interested these days in how non-festive crowds might get it together. Spontaneous community in public spaces. Working on it. More. Soon.

We also experienced the salty burning numbness of a barely sweet Cucumber Chile popsicle today.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

presidential backchannel

I wish there were a backchannel for the presidential address tonight.

Probaby there was, and I didn't get the memo in time.

I wish those of in such a backchannel could trade and transmit Flickr photos to the screen behind Mr. President's head in direct, real-time refutation of his patently untrue comments.

We did that at Supernova last week.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

bronchitis pwned me


bronchitis_pwned_me
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

This weekend I was forced to consume a gallon of slow-churned vanilla ice cream, two boxes of bubble gum popscicles, a Neal Stephenson novel, the latest Steven Johnson treatise, Thomas de Zengotita's mindblowing, existential, millennial (in the Kushner sense) shattering work of genius, and an entire Season 1 marathon of America's Next Top Model on VH1... all while flat on my back and hopped up on pseudophedrine.

Yes, that's right-- this weekend, bronchitis pwned me.

I've heard that too much flying compromises your immune system... so it's a good thing I don't have 3 more flights this week, two of 'em international, and 4 talks to give in 3 cities.

Um, wait. I do.

Maybe the robot ludologists from the future will have to give my presentations for me, after all.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

diary of a Cross-Atlantic flight


0407051909
Originally uploaded by Avant Game
The following are notes from my flight home from London yesterday. It is a rather incomplete record of the flight, but after a certain number of British candy bars were consumed at 34,000 feet I became incapable of formulating any thoughts other than "mmmm...."

10:17 AM. I try to get rid of all leftover British change before boarding the plane by making six consecutive vending machine purchases. I buy a Cadbury Flake bar, a bag of Maynard Wine Gums (never mind that I already have 3 much bigger bags of Maynard Wine Gums in my checked luggage and felt slightly ill after having a makeshift dinner of Wine Gums and white chocolate Flake bar last night in my hotel room), a Cadbury Dream bar, a Cadbury Double Decker bar (which is a mistake, I was really trying to buy the Cadbury Brunch bar but entered 52 instead of 62 by mistake and figure I will just give the Double Decker bar to Kiyash) and a Diet Coke.

10:39 AM. I board the plane and take my aisle seat, G, in row 43. It’s over the wing, in the center section, and on the aisle so I can run around the plane as much as I like. Perfect. I was supposed to be in the same exact seat on the trip over to London two weeks ago, but they stuck me in a middle seat in a side section, which I accepted without complaint because I arrived 59 minutes before the flight was schedule to leave, 1 minute after the check-in counter closed, and had to cry hysterically for 3 people of escalating authority before they decided I could even get on the plane. Perhaps you will not be surprised that I arrived at the airport more than 2 and a half hours early for today’s flight.

10:43 AM. My immediate neighbor for the flight arrives and at first glance appears quite promising company. He is about my age and wearing a bright red vintage Atari tshirt, and I think perhaps we will chat happily about games for a bit. However when I say “nice shirt” as he eases past me to take his seat, he looks at me like I’ve just licked his elbow. I think perhaps he is just not the chatty type, but I am forced to relinquish this self-preserving explanation is when he commences a rather lively conversation with the two other people in our row, two males who are sightseeing to San Francisco. Mr. Atari, a.k.a 43F, is British but has lived in San Francisco for 6 years and is therefore full of travel advice. I try to interject a couple of suggestions but all 3 others in row 43 project a unified disinterest in acknowledging my presence. If this were Airplane Survivor, I’d be the first thrown out the nearest Emergency Exit.

11:01 AM. We are still sitting at the gate. We were supposed to take off at 11, but two people were denied boarding due to “improper documentation”. Their luggage apparently made it on board, however, and so we have to wait for them to find it and fish out it. I pull out the book on British biscuits and tea that fellow puppetmaster Michael gave to me last Friday as a show of support for my cookie rolling project.when we met up in the Clapham section of London for our annual sushi-and-barhopping extravaganza. The books, it turns out, is full of useful information that I make mental notes to including in my cookie rolling blogging, if I ever get around to it. (I am now officially 7 installations behind on my blog!)

11:13 AM. I reset my Ironman watch to local San Francisco time, my takeoff ritual. I suppose I could say something about it helpfully orienting me and easing me into the time of wherever I’ll land, but really it’s just useful to me to have something manual and productive to do right before takeoff so I don’t accidentally get nervous like I used to.

3:14 AM. Through the magic of make-believe time zone change, it is now roughly 3 in the morning instead of nearly noon. Kiyash is sleeping.

3:21 AM I notice the young woman behind me, who coincidentally also has light hair in braids like me, is slumped over holding her head in one hand. with the airsickness bag open and clutched in the other. I am slightly concerned for her.

3:34 AM. Several flight attendants begin to hover around the sick woman behind me. At first they attempt to persuade her to disembark when she complains of severe abdominal pain. They notice she is bone cold to the touch. One attendant runs to tell the captain not to take off—we are next in line—in case the passenger needs to get off the plan and see a doctor. So our flight is further delayed.

3:36 AM. After much discussion, the passenger says weakly that she just wants to go home — and San Francisco is home. They bump her up to first class so she can lie down. I think I overhear them promising her some wicked strong painkillers, but that could have been my imagination.

3:38 AM. We should be taking off any minute. I look through the inflight shopping guide to see if there is anything I can spend my final forty pounds on before we land. I hate converting currency because of the percentage you lose to the exchange agent. I want to buy J.Lo’s Miami Glo perfume — I love how it smells — but honestly, there’s just no way I can buy anything affiliated with Jennifer Lopez. Sigh.

3:47 AM. Take off! Finally! — just 47 minutes behind schedule. We should still arrive on time, which is good because Kiyash is going to meet me at arrivals so we can take the BART home together. I love how for most flights, the flight time listed is longer than the actual flight time. This always comes as a happy surprise when the captain announces the shorter schedule. It’s like setting your alarm clock fast just so you can remind yourself when it goes off that it’s fast, and you have time to snooze a couple of rounds. Same odd psychological disavowal, allowing for a happy “surprise” that doesn’t really catch you off guard at all.

3:52 AM. I put on my pinkish-purplish arm warmers.

3:54 AM. The flight attendants start making announcements, so I pull out my iPod to play over their explanation of the… well, whatever they’re explaining. I don’t actually know because I’ve got my iPod on.

3:55 AM. Like pretty much all other 13 flights I’ve taken this month, I start by listening to Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” and imagine it’s Constantine from American Idol. Seriously, I have no idea who Nickelback is or what he/it/they look(s) like. So it’s all Constantine in my mind.

3:56 AM. I notice that I can see my reflection in the backseat video screen…which means I can watch myself rock out with my iPod. Fun!

3:59 AM. I listen to K-os’ “Crabbuckitt”.

4:03 AM. I listen to M.I.A.’s “Galang”.

4:07 AM. I listen to Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Wanna Be” and imagine it’s Bo from American Idol. I don’t know what Gavin looks like either. I spend a minute thinking about how Carrie Underwood winning A.I. demonstrates exactly how Bush managed to win the presidential re-election in 2004. Seriously.

4:12 AM. I listen to LL Cool J’s “Headsprung.”

4:13 AM. I decide to keep an in-flight diary.

4:14 AM. I accept Virgin headphones and their long-haul amenities kit. I decide not to open it yet… I’ll save it as a present for when I’m bored.

4:16 AM. I start creating backentries for what I did prior to 4:13 AM, when I decided to keep this diary. I think this particular entry right here represents the twist in the mobius loop of first-person reflection.

[…missing time, I made notes for this time period but never typed them up…]

4:53 AM. Laptop is open. I begin typing up my diary notes.

4:57 AM. I notice I am developing my sparse notes into actual prose. This may take a long time. Maybe I will never catch up to my actual experience. There is a mathematical metaphor here somewhere. I am having a hyperbolic experience of flying. I have airplane asymptopia. Wouldn’t it be awful if when planes landed, instead of making contact with the runway, they forever grew exponentially marginally closer to it, never intersecting. I hope Mrs. Mosser, my 9th grade geometry and 12th grade calculus teacher, appreciates my adult use of the asymptope.

5:34 AM. Eat vegetarian lunch while watching Mean Creek — not because I particularly want to watch Mean Creek, but rather because entertainment aimed at the teen demographic seems to be the perfect fit for my mental state while fly. (Witness the 14 episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation I burned through on the way over, and the many Radio Free Roscoe shows I watched while traveling between Swedish and Dutch cities.) Mean Creek is distinctly not horrible.

7:13AM. Resume typing up notes while staring at Sky Map—we are over Greenland. In parentheses below Greenland, the Sky Map reads “Denmark.” I am highly confused. Is Denmark really Greenland? Are those just two different names for the same country? I try to recall where Denmark is. What goes with Sweden and Finland? Damn! I am really hopeless when it comes to Scandinavian countries. Norway! Norway?? (I didn’t figure that out, the sky map showed me.) Oh my God. Are Denmark and Greenland the same place?

7:39 AM. According to the SkyMap we are now leaving the air space over the country that may or may to be Denmark, but which is certainly at the very least Greenland.

7:40 AM. I need to take a break from typing up my now lamentably verbose diary notes. I take out wine gums to eat while watching the season finale of The O.C., an episode I downloaded via Bittorrent from my London hotel room. A battery check reveals I have 5 hours and 38 minutes left on this one — awesome. Extended life battery for my laptop was such a smart move! Go Jane!

8:34 AM. A quick walk around the cabin to stretch my legs, and I reread a few emails.

8:37 AM. I overhear a flight attendant mention ice cream to someone. What! Ice cream! Yay! Here comes the snack cart… drinks only, or secret goodies? Ah yes, I see secret goodies…

8:40 AM. Time to finish out the Radio Free Roscoe archive on my laptop. I could SO be Canadian. In Utrecht last week, someone asked if I was from Canada… he “Recognized” my accent. I said, “I’m not from Canada, but I have watched a lot of Canadian TV.” From You Can’t Do That On Television and Degrassi to Fifteen and Kids in the Hall… yah, I’m all about the Canada, eh?

8:41 AM. I am eating strawberry yogurt ice cream bar something. Yum.

8:46 AM. I cuddle Wowie Zowie the wombat, who has been on 3 continents… and to Utrecht, the Netherlands TWICE! That is more than most people, let alone wombats.

8:49 AM. Speaking of Canada… we are now over it! Officially across the Atlantic. 5:13 to go ‘til San Francisco!

9:11 AM. Whoops. I’m eating the Double Decker candy bar I was going to give to Kiyash. Sigh. That always seems to happen!

9:13 AM. I give up keeping a diary and watch 6 episodes of the O.C., season 1.

1:50 PM. I land.


Sneakily, I am posting this photo from an earlier flight written about on this blog, rather than a photo from my Virgin flight described in this post. I will give a British candy bar to whoever posts the correct flight reference in the comments first! And yes, I still owe Sean his prize from the Andre the Giant has a Posse comments contest. Thanks for the reminder.

Friday, May 27, 2005

the Cookie Rolling world tour


Okay, it's not a world tour... yet. But it has been quite a whirlwind cookie rolling adventure the past 10 days days, with stops in L.A., Amsterdam, Utrecht (the Netherlands), Umea (Sweden), Stockholm, and London. Spelling "Sisyphus" in stroopwaffels in Utrecht was a landmark moment in the project. Here, I am putting the finishing touches on our "graffeati", which is superimposed over some local Dutch graffiti. Full reports on all 6 edible installations coming soon (and I'll add some videos to my Avant Game site). In the meantime, you can check out FlickR photo streams of each city's cookie installation using the links above. I have a couple days in Berkeley before the travels recommence... with words number 9 and number 10 in New York City and Vancouver, respectively.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

"investigating new possibilities with friends. now is the time!"

The cookie rolling (project description) has begun (Flickr slideshow from installation #1).

Installion #1. City: San Francisco. Cookies: Fortune cookies. Freshly baked at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Word: "The." # of cookies consumed on-site: 7.

Design note: My San Francisco cookie choice was inspired by a local 1983 mock court case, in which California's Historical Court of Review declared that fortune cookies were invented in San Francisco.

*

I decide to buy my inaugural cookies at a tiny factory tucked inside the brightly muralled Ross Alley in Chinatown.

I find the factory easily -- I was there more than 3 years ago in January 2002, location scouting for the North Beach/Chinatown Go Game that I was designing at the time. Today, the Go Game still runs variations of that North Beach game almost every month, but all of the Chinatown missions have been scrapped. Chinatown, as it turns out, is a tough neighborhood for pervasive play. Maybe that's why I am drawn back there for my first cookie rolling experiment.

Inside the factory. While I am picking out my cookies, I remember with some surprise that I know some conversational Mandarin Chinese. So I say xie xie, thank you, to the woman who gives me an unfolded cookie right off the hot press. Xie xie again to the gentleman who hands me my two bags of cookies -- one for the installation and another to take home to share with friends at the next the cookie is still rolling progress update party. I am lucky that xie xie is the most apt thing I could possibly say in these circumstances. It just so happens to be my best Mandarin phrase. One of the very few I pronounce with the correct tone.

("Thank you", I realize an hour later when I am traveling back home on the BART, is the only phrase I always am sure to learn to pronounce correctly when I travel to foreign countries. There is something very liberating about being able to communicate only the sentiment of gratitude for weeks at a time. I find that I like the person I am when the only thing I can communicate in the local language is "thank you." Garrison Keillor wrote a poem about this phenomenon, a poem I read once with great pleasure and have been unable to track down since.)

After xie xie-ing my heart out, I go back into the alley to consume my mandatory cookie. This is my fortune: "Investigating new possibilities with friends. Now is the time!" I rather like the imperative nature of the latter half of the fortune. It has... momentum. But I want to tell the cookie that I probably will be conducting most of my investigations alone, not with friends. Cookie rolling, I think to myself, is a solitary task. After all, I initially designed the project as a way to give me something concrete and goal-oriented to do on my many travels alone to strange places. (Otherwise, I am inclined to hide out in my hotel room.) But perhaps there will be cookie rolling with friends. I decide I like the idea of cookie rolling allies... even if Sisyphus did not have anyone helping him push the rock.

I find an incline for rolling: one of San Francisco's patently steep residential streets. I open up a bag and select the cookie that I will roll. The physical affordances of a fortune cookie do not suggest a particularly smooth rolling action. And in fact, the rolling itself is rather clunky, especially uphill. When it is time to allow the cookie to roll down the incline, though, it rolls a little better than I expect. To be fair, I do give it a pretty good push. I wonder briefly if Sisyphus was actually pushing the rock down himself all those years.

It is time, finally, to spell out the word. I choose a spot near the corner of the sidewalk by a decorative Chinese post. There are two pedestrian crosswalks nearby, which makes me happy. I love pedestrians (I don't have a driver's license), and I love playing in crosswalks. The TransAmerica Building is in view, which also makes me happy. It is one of my favorite San Francisco landmarks, and Kiyash and I can see it on the San Francisco skyline from our apartment building.

As I am arranging dozens of fortune cookies to form the word "the", I notice that on all of the fortune slips sticking out of the cookies, there is an image of a bee. I love bees. This is not the sort of thing I would have noticed before the summer of 2004. I also notice that one slip in particular seems especially motivated to sneak out before the cookie is officially cracked. This is what I can make out on that sneaky slip: "-tic places. [...]place." I am tempted to pull the slip out to see what it has to say about (fantastic?) places and the meaning of place. the cookie is still rolling, after all, is a project all about place. However, I decide to leave the actual fortune a mystery. Perhaps it is the purpose of this project to fill in those missing words. Perhaps over time, after dozens of other site-specific cookie installations, I will come to learn what there is to know about -tic places and place.

I eat six more cookies during the rolling and spelling process. I am hungry. Not only have I just given a talk for the Word-of-Mouth Marketing panel at AD:TECH 2005, but also rolling cookies up San Francisco streets is hard work. As I work my way through the additional cookies, I decide that each subsequent fortune I receive is exponentially less predictive for me. (Perhaps I should chart a decay curve illustrating this imagined effect.) Because really, one can only encounter fortune cookie destiny once in any given meal. So the only other fortune I pay much attention to is this one: "Your uniqueness is more than an outward appearance." I am stumped by this fortune, because I am an identical twin. My uniqueness is not, in fact, to be found in my outward appearance at all. Not even in my DNA.

I finish installing "the" in fortune cookies at the base of the decorative Chinese post. While I am documenting the installation with my digital camera, a late middle-aged Chinese woman walking by stops in her tracks and begings stomping on the cookies. "These are for the children!" (or is it "the chickens?") ::stomp stomp:: "That's why they crush them!" ::stomp stomp:: I manage to capture a quick video of the stomping before she wanders off. I have no idea what has prompted this stranger's intervention. However, I am inspired by her decisive action. Looking down at the remains of the installation, I realize that a pile of fragile fortune cookies on the ground absolutely, positively demands to be stomped on. What an obvious affordance! What a pleasurable and natural response!

My first cookie word survived a mere 30 seconds in the wild. I take this to be a most auspicious beginning to an experiment in edible existentialism.

*

Future cities to be cookie rolled this week: Seattle and Los Angeles. Upcoming words: "gods" and "had".