Archive for May, 2008

Location gaming – nestling in everyday life

screen shot of gps tron gameSome of my favourite examples of location-based gaming are almost direct mappings of classic games on to real-world locations. GPS Tron for example, takes the the virtual lightbike race of the original game and allows people to play out the game on real roads. Similarly Pac Manhattan overlays the pac-manplayers in New York city board on the city grid of New York and challenges a costumed pac-man to avoid equally real Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde ghosts.

However, by linking in more closely with everyday life and social interaction, locative games can take on a much more addictive longevity. A great example of this is the Tokyo based game Mogi launched back in 2003. It challenges players to hunt for digital items from around the city. They are awarded points for each item they locate with their GPS mobile phones, and bonuses for collecting entire sets (of pixel flowers for example). The simple Mogi phone interface comes with a richer online environment where players can trade doubles of items, look at where other players are in the city and send them live tips.

Justin Hall’s article on the game includes a great quote from mobile social designer Amy Jo Kim which summarises for me what mobile games, and locative games in particular, should hope to be:

[Mogi] is a good example of a style of entertainment suited for mobile devices. It’s very casual, playable on your way somewhere. It nestles in your every day life, rather than requiring you to change your behavior.

For more info, Paul Baron has an early write-up of Mogi as well as a great overview of location-based gaming.

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Alternative city guides

Underground and subcultural city maps can be hard to get right. When they fail, it is often from a lack of any real content. Sites like the Wooster Collective however show that when done well, street culture can play a strong part in city identity and urban narrative.

part of Invader\'s Paris mapInvader is a street artist who has experimented with mapping his pixel mosaic works. His maps are quirky and stylish and act as great alternative guides to the cities he has ‘invaded’. He also plays with the idea of gaming. Not only is the majority of his art derived from early arcade pixel sprites but he also awards himself points for each work executed. And, looking at his maps, it’s tempting to join him in collecting points for spotting the graffiti pieces. For more info – Shepard Fairey (of Obey Giant fame) summaries Invader’s work well in his Swindle article.

Part of what Our Music, Our City hopes to be, is an alternative to the franchise StarMcMaps found in tourist information centres. A useful guide to the quirkier parts of town from people who know interesting things about their city.

Intimacy and energy in interviews

We’ve been playing with several ideas of what the small-screen, location-specific music video experience should be like. In our initial pitch, I described Our Music, Our City as “SpecialTen meets 20202 meets FixMyStreet. Oh, and Do Go See“.

© Specialten Publishing 2003–2008If you haven’t seen Special Ten before, it’s a DVD magazine with a strong feeling of energy and independence. It has a real sense of a curatorial art aesthetic and comes with limited edition prints and a large format printed booklet. The music videos, short films and interviews they seek out tend to have quite an underground feel. This is definitely an energy we’d like to capture in our band interviews.

Check out Special Ten’s interview of the Brazilian band Bonde Do Role for a good example of the style. Now imagine being back in that cafe to listen to what the band have to say – hopefully a real feeling of shared experience.

The 500 word overview

What I have tried to do with “Our Music, Our City” is pitch a project that will be valuable and rewarding to the participants, while also drawing in interest and engagement from a wider audience. The 12 musicians/bands involved gain a valuable opportunity to record and publicise a live performance of their music. The album would be produced over a short period of time, fostering a sense of excitement and event. Young, up-and-coming musicians mix a strong DIY entrepreneurial spirit with a sense of local community which it is hoped would add an excitement to the footage. They also tend to have a following of fans who are willing to trust the artists in new creative ventures and have often come to know the quirkier parts of their home cities. This makes them trend setters and unexpected city guides.

In addition to bringing existing fans to a new technology and way of experiencing the artists, it is hoped that new music will be a motivating factor in drawing interest from a wider city audience to the project. The bands choose a favourite city location, and are interviewed about the spot they have chosen before their performance. This acts as an introduction to unusual and interesting local information. The album as a whole forms an alternative guide to the city, drawing people from place to place – some traditional city sights, some more unusual.

Finally, there is a reward for visiting all 12 locations on the album map. It is only then that a unique web address is generated for the player to later download mp3s and ‘album art’ to keep. This ‘Pokemon’ style gaming quality borrows from ludic theory of motivation and playability. The map interface would similarly use ‘juicy’ game graphics and sound design to heighten a sense of play.

With this project I hope to make the technical side of GPS disappear into the background, letting young energetic voices express a sense of fun and discovery in the city. I also hope to explore the possibilities of mapping and live performance, and to create a media project that has enough appeal that people will seek it out to download and play. Location based media can sometimes feel like disposable elements that garner interest only in the context of a festival, research project or special event. Big city games for example bring a large level of interaction and value to those involved from the start, but it is difficult in practice to seek out ‘viral’ participation from those initially unconnected. There are also locative projects that are intended to be permanent – lasting many years and tied to a particular sense of place. Walks and guides often fall into this second category. These can, at times, lack a feeling of spectacle, and can find it difficult to build initial ground swell. “Our Music, Our City” hopes to straddle this spectrum, with both a strong sense of event, and a lasting artefact marking a time and place.