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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.

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The second Best Scene in Town workshop in Waag’s Theatrum Anatomicum attracted staff from museums and advertising companies. Culture and commerce seem to be perfect ingredients to light up a spark. A clash of ideas was not so much noticeable however between individuals from these backgrounds. One did occur in the groups that were formed with mixed compositions.

Some group members wanted to develop a route along the budget addresses of the city, while others favoured a trip to Amsterdam’s gay-scene. In another group, someone wanted to create a route that enabled people to enact the criminal life of Willem Holleeder, while his group members were advocating a route for a couple in love celebrating their relationship.

Solutions were found when the groups moved on to other aspects of their route, such as interaction mechanics and location. Participants found out that their opinions on exiting interaction possibilities matched or that they agreed on the terrain where the route should be put down.

Best Scene in Town logo.

Introductory presentations were given by Juha van ‘t Zelfde (Visible Cities and VURB) and Sander Ejlenberg (MUSE).

The longer Dutch version of this article can be read here: http://blog.waag.org/?p=2865

This Cultural Sunday, themed “free play” (vrij spel), I played two of the urban games made by HKU students. They were presented after an explanatory lecture by Marinka Copier which featured amongst others the example of the urban screen project “Hand from above” (by Chris O’Shea) that I had seen earlier. See the video below (one of my colleagues at Waag Society was right to remark that the footage sadly does not show the symbioses of screen and people – i.e. both in one shot – what the project is in fact all about):

The first game I played after the lecture, Snatch Ball, started right in front of the Drift university building. A risky place with the canal on one side, because the game included a ball that had to be thrown around. We played the game with two teams of three players. Each had to move to the other end of the street with the ball. The game would be won by the team holding the ball while standing passed the drawn chalk line.

Challenge: you are not allowed to throw the ball directly to your team mates, but only via a non-playing bystander. And nobody was allowed to move with the ball in hand. This resulted in a lobby with whoever was close if they would help us, disturbed by the other team who tried to convince the willing victim to give the ball back to them.

The result was a very social game which was very dependent on outside factors: the location (this time a narrow street next to a canal), time of day and weather, passersby (pedestrians, cyclists, car drivers forcing us to pause to let them drive through), their mood and our convinction talents. Me and my team weren’t skilled enough to win, but of course we blamed this on the traffic going mainly in the other teams direction.

See the video of the game here.

The other game I tried out was Loons, which was set at the Oudegracht near the Winkel van Sinkel. Again two teams, red and blue, of about seven players with one team captain. The team captain was the one blowing up the balloons and tying them to a rope. The other players, like me (me closing balloons would not be a good idea), had to run along the canal with a balloon at a time. Team balloons had to be tied to yellow balloons that were placed in the area. A majority of balloons at the spot after twelve minutes was good for one point. Winner was the team that won most places. Nice details: one mobile balloon attached to a girl walking around, and hidden balloons in alleys (advantageous when the other team had not found them).

According to this review on Kennislink (in Dutch), the expected shake-up of the rule system of the game (the city in this urban game) did not really take place. Marinka Copier had indicated in her lecture that playing games involves the engaging and reordering of its systemic rules. In an urban game, the city can be seen as providing quite static rules with its unmovable architecture, but can nevertheless be interacted with.

I cannot really agree with the conclusion that the city elements were not engaged with in this game. While in Snatch Ball, interaction with passersby could be clearly seen, Loons’ bystanders were mainly positioned at the sunny terraces and occasionally noticing people with balloons running passed like maniacs on such a hot day. Nevertheless, I did experience an input of this public myself as it influenced the places where I would look for balloons. I hesitated to descend the stairs to the wharf feeling slightly discomfited to nose about tables looking for the odd yellow balloon.

Video of Loons played in winter when the HKU students originally designed their urban games.

Best Scene in Town is a contest organised by Waag Society’s 7Scenes platform which allows users to create mobile routes. In three workshops, professionals are invited to cooperate with craftsmen in other fields in the creation of novel concepts for routes through Amsterdam. Winning submissions can be played at the Nuit Blanche Festival of 19 June.

Architects and game designers were the first to create GPS routes. Remarkable was that despite their professional experience in designing with the help of computer programmes, all participants grabbed paper and colour pens to elaborate their ideas. Maps were drawn in, post-its with notes were shifted to construct storylines and even 3D paper doodles were folded and decorated to enrich the brainstorm process.

The resulting collection of concepts included lively ideas to make chill zones out of grim nightlife areas, to spread stories by placing them in virtual bottles, and to show the multicultural aspects of the city by visiting its inhabitants. The spatial flower and insect structures out of paper sheets that were mentioned above, gave inspiration for a mysterious game in which red buttons and sound and light effects would be hidden throughout the city. Creating suspense over which city tumults would be daily business as usual and which would be part of the game.

How 7Scenes places route points in the landscape.

This workshop was kicked off with introductions by Martijn de Waal (The Mobile City) and Kars Alfrink (Hubbub)

Assisting at this workshop resulted in a blog article at blog.waag.org (in Dutch).

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