Archives for September 2010

Meaningful Play 2010 panel session

Meaningful Play Conference October 21-23 2010

Interdisciplinary Designers, Designing Interactions

Beth Bonsignore, iSchool, University of Maryland
Rachel Donahue, iSchool, University of Maryland
Georgina Goodlander, Luce Foundation Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Kari Kraus, iSchool and Department of English, University of Maryland
Marc Ruppel, Department of English, University of Maryland

This panel will examine Alternate Reality Games as multi-disciplinary design spaces that support creative, choreographed exchanges among diverse design practitioners. Panelists will survey design principles across four disciplines and sectors, with the ultimate goal of abstracting away from the details to see what is most relevant to games, specifically ARGs, and how these principles might coordinate with one another. The design approaches surveyed include Human Computer Interaction (HCI) design; Narrative Design; Graphic Design; and Outreach, Marketing, and Strategic Design. A secondary objective is to position educational and cultural institutions (universities, museums, libraries) as Designer-Players beyond industry and entertainment. Because universities are frequently incubators for the design methods under consideration (which are then transferred to memory institutions via what Marcia Bates terms “disciplines of the cultural record“), they function as zones of experimentation and methodological cross-pollination. Adopting a case set approach, the panel will anchor specific design concepts in concrete examples drawn from the cultural, academic, and commercial sectors, including Ghosts of a Chance, the first ARG played out in a museum environment.

The design approaches surveyed are as follows:

Human Computer Interaction (HCI) design: Because they are designed across multiple media, and require players to collaborate across multiple media as they make sense of the story, ARGs offer possibilities for HCI designers to develop methods and tools to encourage collaboration and facilitate players’ creative expression during game play. Further, ARGs as a platform may offer HCI designers the opportunity to test emergent collaborative technologies with players who are highly invested in their use. The HCI design portion of the roundtable will address the ways in which ARGs pose considerations for the design of collaborative sensemaking tools, as well as the ways in which the collaborative activities of the players themselves can become a means for enhancing collaborative sensemaking and extending participatory design methods.

Narrative design: In order for an ARG to function successfully, it must have a malleable narrative that allows not only for the creation of a consistent (non)fictional world, but also as a structure that supports the various collaborative and problem solving components. In the case of Personal Effects, for example, the book’s main strategy is not only to provide the audience with the ARG’s primary narrative thrust, but also to instruct them,through various methods such as scaffolding and prompting, in the means with which to understand and navigate the ARG itself. This portion of the panel will discuss the narrative design principles that allow for successful ARG implementation, arguing that fictional worlds created in ARGs act as a fundamental interface for the other elements of design.

Graphic design: The panel will focus on forms of visual communication that are frequently used to reinforce core themes and participatory mechanisms in transmedia storytelling. The visual puns interspersed throughout Cathy’s Key, for example, amplify the central role of double meanings within the Cathy’s Book franchise and draw attention to their significance within ARG culture more broadly—a culture that relies extensively on multimodal representations that denote two or more things simultaneously (e.g., puns, doppelgangers, and encrypted messages). The panel will cross-reference these visual devices with relevant concepts drawn from HCI, such as the design of hidden and false affordances.

Outreach, Marketing, and Strategic Design: This component of the presentation will describe traditional outreach and public programming at memory institutions, shifting into a discussion of how the Smithsonian has begun to design games that fit into these existing strategies. For example, a primary goal with outreach is to build communities around/within the museum. The Smithsonian wants to create programs that make people feel a part of the museum by providing opportunities to interact with “real life” staff members and to contribute something of value. In Ghosts of a Chance, players were tasked to create artifacts for a museum exhibition, an activity that gave players a real sense of ownership and belonging. They responded to the fact that “the Smithsonian” valued their work, thereby initiating an ongoing collaborative relationship founded on museum/visitor trust.

Works Cited

Ghosts of a Chance, Smithsonian American Art Museum and City Mystery (2008) http://ghostsofachance.com/
● Hutchins, J.C. and Jordan Weisman, Personal Effects: Dark Art, Har/Pap. (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2009).
● Stewart, Sean and Jordan Weisman, Cathy’s Key: If Found 650-266-8202 (RunningPress Kids, 2008).

Stanislas Dehaene’s Reading in the Brain

In spring 2010, I assigned Stanislas Dehaene’s Reading in the Brain in my undergraduate Honors seminar on the History of the Book and the Future of Reading.  Here are two short writing prompts I developed in conjunction with that assignment:

Topic #1: Write a paper about a poem of your choosing that integrates knowledge about the brain’s reading circuits into your analysis of the literary text.  The idea is to enrich traditional close reading techniques by incorporating information about written word recognition.  You might, for example, discuss Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem “Jabberwocky” not only within the context of well-known literary devices (e.g. alliteration, rhyme, and meter), but also from the point of view of the cognitive science of reading: how is Carroll manipulating phonological and lexical processing of words through his use of neologisms?  How might we better understand his poetic experiments through recourse to what Dehaene calls “priming effects” and the organization of the mental lexicon?  In short, how can the discipline of neuroscience help us unlock the “meaning” of the poem or reveal its compositional patterns and devices?

Topic #2: Select a traditional or concrete poem and discuss how its visual appearance on the page contributes to its meaning and comprehension (think about how metered poetry is organized into sequential lines and stanzas, for example, or how shaped verse, such as George Herbert’s “Easter Wings,” adopts a form that mimics its content).  Now imagine what would happen if that same poem were delivered to the reader using RSVP (Rapid Sequential Visual Presentation): the eyes would no longer need to move from left to right, text would no longer be organized in linear fashion, and words would be recognized and processed by the brain at a vastly accelerated rate (Dehaene 17-18).  What are the implications for experiencing and interpreting the poem under such conditions?  How are the affordances of reading changed?  What is at stake in such a conversion process? (Tip: you might want to experiment with Spreeder, the “speed reading trainer,” posted to the blog to help you think through these ideas).