We caught up to talk about her work using games as a tool to stimulate and develop the thinking of policymakers, including the innovation board game Innovate!, which was released in 2018.
M: You’re fond of quoting Bernard Suits in The Grasshopper: games are “the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”, what he calls “the lusory attitude.” Have you always enjoyed overcoming unnecessary obstacles?
F: It’s a really cool quote, isn’t it? I’ve always been into all kinds of games; growing up with two brothers who are close in age, and parents who weren’t great fans of television or pop culture, I spent a lot of time “off screen”. As I grew older, I graduated from games like Uno to those which my parents might have labelled as “brain games” – more intense and elaborate stuff like Pandemic or Risk, where you might end up banging your head against the board!
M: Games serve so many purposes: entering an imagined world, competition, intellectual challenge, social connection — for you, was there one particular aspect which appealed above all?
I think one of the hard things about trying something new is figuring out how to work with people’s expectations. When you click that link, do you want to be told a good story? Do you want to be given a good puzzle, with the satisfaction of finding the “right” solution? How much effort should you be expected to put in? How much uncertainty should you experience?
This interactive training activity helps participants to explore strategy, innovation, and the messy business of working with communities. We’ve spent the last two years perfecting Library Island with university staff, health workers, museum professionals, students, and, yes, librarians.
In 2017, I spent six months developing special community engagement projects for the University of Southern Queensland (USQ).
I had a wide remit to find new ways to connect with the local community, pilot external partnerships, and encourage innovation in line with a new service model being rolled out across the university’s Scholarly and Information Services division (SILS).
This week saw the announcement of another project coming to fruition: a partnership between staff on the university’s Toowoomba campus and Cobb+Co Museum, the local site of the Queensland Museum Network.
Cobb+Co’s Learning Officer Tony Coonan worked with SILS’ Zoe Lynch and Shane Gadsby to develop a browser-based version of Burguu Matya, a traditional game attributed to the Wiradjuri people.
The game had been available to play in physical form at Cobb+Co’s Binangar Gallery, dedicated to Aborginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Zoe and her team of media designers, invited to explore external partnerships, proposed developing an online version which could be played on devices both within the museum and statewide.
The successful small-scale pilot tested the SILS in-house media design team’s capacity for work with external clients, strengthened relationships between the university and its local community, and explored the opportunities for USQ to enrich the cultural and learning offer for both the people of Toowoomba and users of the wider Queensland Museum Network. The future relationship between the university and the museum will be structured and enhanced by a memo of understanding.
Next month, I’ll be joining European library luminaries like Spain’s Ana Ordás, the Netherlands’ Jeroen de Boer, and representatives of Denmark’s Dokk1, to help reimagine the future of Portugal’s public libraries.
The municipalities of Albergaria-a-Velha and Ilhavo are hosting an international event focussed on games & makerspaces in the public library, with a range of workshops, presentations, round tables, and lectures to stimulate curiosity and help librarians to start building the public library service of the future.
Murder. Mayhem. Family strife. Gateways to other worlds. Stories that the audience shapes, and that might run for months or even years.
In a corner of Michigan, one library worker and her colleagues are bringing all these things to life.
I first met Audrey Huggett in 2017, while working with Ann Arbor District Library on the Wondrous Strange event. Library technician Audrey has led a series of projects where members of the public participate in live-action storytelling, ranging from murder mystery to an epic fantasy with cosmic stakes.
Audrey joined me to talk about her work in interactive storytelling in January 2019, just as she was completing preparations for the upcoming “In Between: Quest for the Keystone”.Read more →
Over at The Cultural Gutter, there’s a thoughtful piece about Netflix’s recent interactive film, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.
The choose-your-own adventure film allowed viewers to shape the story of a young programmer trying to develop a computer game in 1984. Presented with either-or choices to make via their TV’s remote control, someone watching Bandersnatch can influence the outcome of the narrative – but as the story develops, the choices are increasingly unpalatable and the question of who is controlling whom becomes increasingly prominent.
The Cultural Gutter’s Alex Macfadyen writes:
What watching Bandersnatch felt like to me was entrapment. A choice between two terrible things is still a choice, but I often didn’t agree with any of the available options. There also seemed to be no way to avoid making some of the choices because you just got brought back to them after the other options resulted in a dead end. The writers clearly had a very specific moral direction they wanted the story to go, and the viewer is ultimately corralled into creating the narrative they want.
Part of that narrative was the construction of me, the viewer, as the person forcing the character to make bad choices and lose his mind, but the viewer also only has access to the paths that the writers dictated for them so it’s more an illusion of choice. There is no path that leads to a good outcome, but you have to follow them all to find that out. In the end, I think the only choice you could make that would resolve the ethical conflict they’ve posed would be to refuse to participate and stop watching altogether.
Playing Bandersnatch, and reading Macfadyen afterwards, reminded me of a British Library Labs event I attended a couple of years back.
Jon Ingold, who has made several great choose-your-own adventure games including the subtle and troubling World War 2 drama The Intercept, spoke about the relationship between players and authors of such adventures.
Rejecting the language of “empowering players” or “co-creating game narratives together”, Ingold described adventure games as puzzles where the author attempts to lure the player into a trap of their own choosing – a trap to which the player must then find a brilliant escape. The player is never in control of the story, any more than the rat who turns left or right at a given corner is in control of the maze.
These problems of choice and control lie at the heart of the workshops I’ve been running over the past couple of years. To what extent can we allow participants in an event to surprise us?
The challenge for me has always been – how can you let people surprise you?
Choose-your-own adventures, from Bandersnatch to Ingold’s more sophisticated offerings, are ultimately more like mazes which one can only choose to run or not run. (The promo art for Bandersnatch helps to make this clear).
In activities like Library Island, I’ve been trying to devise opportunities for people to tell their own stories and genuinely shape the outcome of a collective narrative – the benchmark for this being whether the players were able to do something the author didn’t see coming.
Library Island players have brought fraud, civil unrest, and workers’ rights issues to sessions – helping us to address the most serious challenges to a community within the safer space of a playful, fictional setting. In the very first pilot for the game, a character stole a plane which they had illegally bought using government funds – something I definitely hadn’t accounted for – and an event which led on to serious discussion of scrutiny, oversight, and accountability for the use of public money.
Since then, players have only made the problem worse — delightfully worse.
A fictional scenario (library island) lets us talk about tough situations in a freer, less scary way; and helps unleash creativity and imagination about the future. @DrMattFinch#alamw18
Games which genuinely let people contribute to the outcome of a story also have the potential to change the way we look at the future.
Too often, when planning for the months and years to come, we see our options as constrained, like the forking but pre-written paths of Bandersnatch and its kin, railroading us towards a limited number of possible futures.
This can sap our ability to imagine a better world than the one we expect, but it can also make us vulnerable to harmful futures we didn’t see coming; financial crises, political upsets, and environmental disasters, for example.
In a turbulent era, finding ways to allow many voices to offer their story and participate in constructing plausible future scenarios help us to prepare for the world which is to come – a world which has not been pre-written by a game designer, and which therefore denies us both the safety and constraint of someone else’s narrative.
I love TV, and I don’t think I watch enough of it.
I’d watch more but it’s so slow*. You can spend weeks of your life trying to hammer through season after season of just one show. In Douglas Coupland’s 1993 novel Microserfs, characters “blitz” movies by watching videos on fast-forward with subtitles switched on.** My friend Katie, equally impatient, listens to audiobooks on chipmunk speed, but I don’t think I could sustain either approach for a full season of TV.
The teams I work with are pretty explicit about this link between TV and the events we run. The working title for Ann Arbor’s Wondrous Strange event was ‘Weirder Things’.
Stranger Things is a difficult one for me because I’m not super into it, and that makes me feel bad. It’s so popular, I feel like I’m missing something. Like I’m out of touch. It’s doubly bad because I grew up immersed in – and totally in love with – the late 80s/early 90s world of Stephen King novels and pirate horror movies on VHS.
A special guest joins us on the blog today. Chantel Theunissen, Children and Teens Librarian, Koraunui Stokes Valley Community Hub, and editor of New Zealand’s Library Life, tells us how she orchestrated havoc, chaos, and sheer delight to commemorate the closure of a temporary library in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Photo supplied by Chantel Theunissen. Used with permission.
Photo supplied by Chantel Theunissen. Used with permission.
Let me start off by saying all of my favourite things I’ve done at work (and in life really) haven’t been planned.Read more →