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People cannot stop examining rules. Even of a game that everyone has played an endless number of times. Maybe the possibility to try to cheat without breaking the rules is what keeps it fun to start a game of Monopoly.

Mr. Monopoly.

This article presents the shortest possible game of Monopoly, resulting in a string of comments about the incorrectness of the applied rules and suggestions for better solutions. Recording the play session that can be seen in the video underneath, proved that this combination of turns would result in a twenty-two seconds session.

Another engaging version of Monopoly played in Utrecht a few years ago, but one addressing issues outside the game:

Statement of political party SP: Utrecht is on sale, played with empty wine bottles.

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In 2011 the Performance Studies international conference #17 will take place in Utrecht from 25-29 May. A preview was given during Festival aan de Werf. Title of the upcoming conference will be Camillo 2.0: Technology, Memory, Experience.

Instead of Camillo’s theatre of memory as a wooden construction that makes all existing knowledge accessible, architect Laurent Liefooghe presented his Woonmachine (living machine) installation, glass boxes that made visible miniature households. He explained how after his architecture study, he came into contact with post-structuralism, which lead to an eagerness to play with architecture’s rigid tendency to structure the actions of people inside and outside buildings.

Here are two publications from his hand dealing with Deleuze’s nomad, and with the architectural grid.

Woonmachine will be shown in Huis aan de Werf in Utrecht in October 2010

Other presentations at this preview were:

  • “PSi #15 ‘Shifts’: From Stage to DVD Page.” Presentation by Marin Blazevic (Academy of Drama Arts, University of Zagreb)
  • “Performative Time Travel: The Present Past of Historical Re-enactment.” Lecture performance by Frederik LeRoy (Ghent University)

Logo of Camillo 2.0 - Performance Studies international conference #17.

The part of the fourth Utrecht New Media Night (UNMA#4) at Setup that made the biggest impression was the extra entertainment by Marten Schuurman who came to plug his Socialijs (social ice cream). The first twittering ice cream guy is stationed in Utrecht!

Besides being a regular refreshment salesman, complete with traditional bell, Marten can be found on Twitter, Foursquare and Hyves, allowing you to influence his path through the city to your benefit. And if you do find him and answer his questions correctly, you might end up getting an ice cream for free.

Socialijs company logo.

Socialijs company logo.

This was a great first-hand example of how augmented reality can be shaped. Other speakers at this Setup/Impakt event were:

“On a beach, 8000 kilometres away from here, there is an Internet café…” Sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale, but is much more than that. Besides a story from someone living far away, Life Streaming by Dries Verhoeven lets you experience the distance or closeness between you and the person you are chatting with.

Strange how near and far constantly push and pull and mix with each other:

  • Showing your house from above – protecting your privacy online
  • Talking about your favourite dish – discussing local food customs
  • Text chatting with a stranger far away – talking about personal subjects

  • Seeing your contact in a room – experiencing elements of the interior
  • Pre-recorded footage – live chat

  • Private chat between two people – shared experience with other chatters
  • Secluded internet café seating – sharing your experience with audience

As if they cannot exist without the other.

Impression of Life Streaming. Photo by Zhang Huan.

During the Cultural Sunday on Whit Monday, one of the things I visited was the Dance Centre Utrecht. Modern ballet dancers performed an improvisation of which the rules were something as follows (accumulating as time passes):

  • walk forward and backward and lie down on the floor
  • crouch
  • turn around
  • change lanes by shifting sideways
  • introduce another movement
  • turn 90 degrees, allowing movement along the other axis (left, right)
  • move freely, allowing bends and curves

Each new rule would be added when one of the dancers would execute its action (crouching meant that everyone could crouch). The performers were stimulated to copy movements of their neighbours.

The rules lead to a very entertaining whole of movement in ascending complexity. A 3D Mondriaan painting that came to life. The copycat behaviour and later the changing of lanes brought about encounters between the performers, adding a clear game-character to the improvisation exercise. Also, personalities became apparent (or seemed to do so) when dominant dancers forced others to humbly step aside.

A good example of how simple rules, a number of “players” and an outlined space (ball room) lead to interesting game play.

Two modern dancers meet

Utrecht University hosted the one-day (New) Media and the United States conference that was organised by studentNASA (Netherlands American Studies Association).

I attended the workshop on the Future of Television, in which speakers William Urichhio, Jaap Kooijman and Britta Wielaard not only looked ahead but also turned their heads towards the past of television. Combining this knowledge with the developments of radio, telephone, film and internet, they predicted a future in which television would take over characteristics of other media in its development. This would mean incorporating the possibilities for own contributions, on-demand technology and niche markets.

At the closing session, which was a panel discussion between the main speakers, I was introduced to the wonders of Twitter for a large audience for the first time. Twitter messages with the hashtag #NMEDIAUS were displayed on a whiteboard next to the screen used for the presentations. It seems to me that this meta communication is mainly somewhat of a distraction. The screen presented an ongoing stream of wishes to close the door and comments on the looks and statements of moderator Marius Verhage.

The status of Twitter as jamming transmitter was tuned up by the fact that I could not read the tweets due to the distance between the screen at the far end of the room and myself. The audience’s attention was focussed on the tweets whenever people laughed or pointed out renewals to their neighbours. The delay that was already involved in this process was enlarged by the constant need to refresh the page on the phone of the person sitting next to me (I was lucky she was as near sighted as me).

Conclusion from this event: twitter walls are more of a background murmuring than a useful contribution to the discussion.

StudentNASA presents (New) Media and the United States.

I’ve been reading Bernard Suits’ “The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia” and will share some of the highlights.

On rules, Suits writes the following:

“Rules in games thus seem to be in some sense inseparable from ends, for to break a game rule is to render impossible the attainment of an end.” (p. 24). And: “I obey the rules just because such obedience is a necessary condition for my engaging in the activity such obedience makes possible.” (p. 31)

Thus, you need to adhere to the rules to be able to play and complete the game. Something that relates to the “lusory attitude” (p. 38) a player has when playing. There are always rules in games, even if they are hidden in agreements over starting times, place and opponent (p. 67). What then, I thought, if the game is as such that you can only win it once you start breaking its rules? I think the definition still holds, because that would imply another rule which states the breaking of the other rules. Indeed, Suits argues that

“it is not these manoeuvres [efforts to mislead in order to gain an advantage] that make the activities in which they occur games; it is the constitutive rules of those games which make these kinds of misdirection the useful manoeuvres that they are.” (p. 152).

Which also says something about the creative interaction that can take place with rules. This is possible because “[g]ame rules are not ultimately binding” (p. 26) and “other rules can always supersede the game rules” (p. 27) or one rule can be placed higher than the other.

A note about the assumption of roles in games is that they should always stay assumed. When the role is adopted as a serious business, the game seizes to be a game (p. 112). A reference to the fact that games are described as being outside everyday life, which Suits touches upon with his term ‘lusory attitude’. A possible outcome of assuming game roles in everyday life could be that the audience is forced to change their behaviour in acting along with the player to not disturb the illusion (p. 124).

This is something that should be remembered when designing urban games that involve the public. An example was the game Snatch Ball that I played at the Cultural Sunday, in which the designers explained a game instance in which one man decided to help the players for a longer period of time, ruining the game premise of persuading by passers in helping you.

The last Best Scene in Town workshop was introduced by interaction specialist Renato Valdes Olmos (Postmachina and My Name is E). He explained to the film and theatre professionals and interaction designers that were present that they should focus on context in their project. Not context in the sense of space and time necessarily (referring to the Nuit Blanche Festival on June 19th in Amsterdam in this case), but to the interaction with the material of the mobile phone.

Our portable telecommunication devices have been more and more fitted with sensors to register what their user is doing. Whether you move your phone into a certain direction, hold it to your ear or in your hand, it knows. Usefulness of these sensors becomes clear from the example of the screens that adjust brightness to the ambient light. However, phones are still unable to anticipate what you will do next.

The advice to think about this challenge was taken to heart by the participants. They worked with this insight by asking: Where would the visitors of the Nuit Blanche want to start the tour? What would they visit next? Where could they recharge their phones once these run out of batteries due to heavy sensor use? Thus mapping the expectations of the people present at the night of the Amsterdam festival, foregrounding logistics over entertainment in their design.

Consulting the phone to proceed the 7Scenes tour.

Link to the Dutch article at the weblog of Waag Society.

Visiting fort Vijfhuizen, I took a look through the immense periscope that is positioned just in front of a dike that lies along the defensive structure. Not having seen the fort yet, but knowing that I would be able to see it looking in that direction over the natural wall, and knowing what a fort looked like, I was still quite startled.

Periscope looking over the grassy dike at fort Vijfhuizen.

I couldn’t interpret what I was seeing: grass, a bit of a wall with small chimney pipes… the abrupt cut in the green landscape by the vertical wall made me think for a second that the top of the dike was the normal height of the land with the brickwork marking a sudden deep hole, hidden in the grass plain. I pulled my head away quickly, deciding that I saw the top of the fort that I was so close to. But the real outlay of the building only made sense to me when I climbed up and observed it in totality.

Amazing game that I just finished which gives a great feeling of freedom from running on roof tops and jumping from building to building. So is there liberty to do whatever you want in the game world as a player or are you constrained by the architecture? Yes, the buildings enforce the rules of the game in dialogue with the level design prescribing a path through the world of corporate skyscrapers.

Rare image of Mirror's Edge, showing heroine Faith's reflection.

Or does the programmed code that dictates player actions also give room for experimentation and consequently subversive routes? You would think so, looking at this speed run video made by one player:

These guys can do magic! Question is: are all these shortcuts designed by the designers or are some unforeseen? To me, at least the coil jumping while running to reach top speed that is performed here gives the impression of being an accidental circumstance (i.e. not planned to be a faster running method by the developers).

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