Continue Highlights #3

Day One, Part Three

Followers of this blog may already know a little about Leila Johnston and Holly Gramazio, but the Continue conference allowed us to find out more about their respective projects.

Having worked collaboratively on Hack Circus since 2013, Leila took some of her work solo in 2015, creating immersive challenges in gallery environments. Leila described her approach as aiming towards an ‘empowering uselessness,’ which put me in mind of Simone Giertz and her intentionally terrible robots. During her residency at Rambert, Leila found her main challenge was how to develop a relationship between traditional and digital art. Leila did this through various techniques including thermal imaging, which paradoxically allowed easy identification of the dancers, while also anonymising them. LED screens were employed to introduce the idea of the Raspberry Pi to the dancers. Leila then used a Kinect to 3D scan the dancers, made silicon moulds and used these to produce ice sculptures.

Leila observed that the dancers had anxiety around technology (and the possibility of it failing) but also showed great enthusiasm regarding utilising tech as an expression of their art form. Kinect’s virtual rotational effect was particularly exciting for the dancers, as they felt they could see themselves moving from all angles.

To develop similarly meaningful collaborations, Leila suggested, digital should follow rather than lead — taking suggestions from the traditional art form, rather than dictating which tech should be used and how. Tech could be the subject which inspires the traditional art form, but most importantly, digital and traditional art forms should find common motivations and forget titles and labels in order to move forward.

Holly Gramazio

Holly Gramazio’s talk approached collaboration from a different angle — encouraging players to collaborate with the designer through the game or artwork itself. Holly began with some examples of games which do this well, such as State of Play’s Inks, a pinball painting game; Nico Disseldorp’s Castles Made of Castles, an architectural building game which is pretty much exactly as it sounds; Toca Boca’s Toca Hair Salon 2, a hairstyling game where there’s no such thing as a bad hairstyle; and Media Molecule’s Dreams a virtual toolbox for creating games, films, sculptures and animations.

Why might designers want people to create things as part of their games? Holly suggested one benefit is that people care more about things they’ve made themselves. This in turn encourages people to share and provides a change in tone to the core mechanics of the game, which may otherwise feel repetitive.

So, what stops people from creating? The difficulty of creation is a key barrier, Holly advised. Players lack of ability, or lack of confidence in their ability, results in a lack of motivation to create. Singstar is fun even for those who lack ability because there is a focus other than singing — acquisition of points becomes a driver rather than singing the song perfectly. Explicit instructions can relieve players of responsibilities, but scoring systems can be offputting and deny opportunities for creativity. A combination of specific tasks and a blank canvas can be a good compromise. Structured creativity or prompts are beneficial to those unsure how to begin.

Another approach is for the game to respond in a way which encourages certain player behaviour. Holly emphasised that difficulty can add investment and amusement, and that it’s important to remember that the game doesn’t have to result in a ‘good’ end product — the act of creation itself is a perfectly valid goal. Pitting players against one another can add another layer of interest and take pressure off individuals, although this can result in a lack of a sense of ownership over the completed task. Competition provides a useful and easy motivator — the desire to win often overrides any questioning of why the player is undertaking the activity.

Matheson Marcault’s drawing games (their Art Deck in particular) offer prompts and constraints to get people interacting and creating without thinking about it too deeply. Adding frames to the created artwork helps people feel better about what they’ve created, as it provides focus and eliminates underused or misused parts of the canvas. Many of the constraints offered actually help prevent mistakes rather than truly constraining creativity. Ultimately, Holly says, any skills taught by these creative games should be transferrable, thereby hopefully empowering players to create outside of the game too.

Want to tell us about your creations? We’d love to see them via the comments below or on Twitter @the_nvf.