kevin slavin and big games
The longer I am in the world, the smaller it seems to get.
My friend Cary works at frog design, on the other side of South Park from the Adaptive Path office. A friend of his had come into town for the Where 2.0 conference this week; Cary had asked him to speak to his colleagues about his work on Big Games, and was kind enough to invite me along to participate as well. Turns out the friend is none other than Kevin Slavin, a friend of Adam's, and someone whose work and ideas I find both interesting and inspiring.
Some background: Kevin started up area/code with Frank Lantz last year to pursue the development of Big Games, which they define as "large-scale, real-world games." With examples like PacManhattan and CONQWEST in their portfolio, they are evolving that meaning and demonstrating what this type of play can mean in pretty amazing ways.
Kevin's manner of presentation is friendly, open and unassuming – you can be lured into a comfortable rhythm by the way he speaks, and not realize the things he's saying are truly stunning. The work area/code is pioneering hinges on concepts that forge interfaces between datascapes and physical environments; they're working out means for incorporating these into single experiences, entirely oriented around play. And they're succeeding in novel and compelling ways.
In the matter of an hour, Kevin was able to weave all the following together: what semacodes are good for [and what they are decidedly not], "read/write urbanism", sign code conspiracies, public secrets, a reference to They Live, advice on how to prototype something that takes place on 20 city blocks square, and recontextualizing what we're "supposed to do" with the devices we work with every day.
That would have been more than enough, but he also gave us a sneak peak into a game still in development, and where area/code looks for game concepts. The thing I already love about Kevin and Frank's brains is that they find a certain wacked-out inspiration in the same things I do: Jazz funerals' "second line", Mardi Gras krewe histories, even the Vodun loa Baron Samedi. area/code have set their sights very high, tapping rich veins of material, and building engaging and novel experiences out of them.
After the presentation, I was delighted we got a chance to talk a little bit more over a couple rounds of bourbon at Nova. I asked what role ubiquitous computing elements might eventually play in Big Games, and Kevin wound up making probably the most salient point I've heard about ubi comp since SXSW: when the time comes to familiarize people to (and make them comfortable with) the ubiquitous technology embedded in their physical environments, games will prove invaluable. Why? Because it stands to reason that if adoption of these systems is to be widespread and without unnecessary friction, the means of their introduction might need to be voluntary and oriented around play.
Kevin will be addressing the Where2.0 conference on Thursday at 1:30pm. If you're there, be sure to check out what he's got to say – I gaurantee you he'll leave you with quite a bit to think about.