Best #FyreFestival Ever: From Melbourne to Library Island

1. #FyreFestival

So you may have been watching accounts of the Fyre Festival’s collapse on social media.

The much-hyped “luxury music retreat”, taking place on the Bahamas’ Exuma Islands, charged thousands of dollars for tickets. On arrival, festivalgoers found themselves stranded in emergency-relief tents, their luggage confiscated and dumped in a shipping container. By the end of the first day, the organisers had cancelled the event and attendees were struggling to leave the island.

One of the event producers gleefully noted that she hadn’t been made to sign a nondisclosure agreement and gave an account of what she saw as the festival’s inevitable downfall to New York magazine.

Festival organiser Billy McFarland told Rolling Stone:

The Exumas didn’t have a really great infrastructure – there wasn’t a great way to get guests in here – we were a little bit ambitious. There wasn’t water or sewage. It was almost like we tried building a city out of nothing and it took almost all of our personal resources to make this happen, and everything we had, to make this festival go on.

All of which reminds me of a wet weekend in Melbourne.

2. Chance, skill, and disaster

Over the past fifteen months, I’ve been working with health practitioners, librarians, and other professionals on ways to incorporate play and storytelling in their training and development.

As research for this, I took part in a game of Best Festival Ever at Arts House Melbourne in July last year.

Best Festival Ever, subtitled How To Manage A Disaster, is a participatory theatre presentation devised by Boho Interactive. Attendees take on the role of event producers faced with bringing a festival together at the last possible minute, dealing with sponsors, talent, merch booths, caterers, and bathrooms – as well as a party-hungry horde of festivalgoers.

By playing a series of simple games of chance or skill, the players collaboratively contribute to the success or failure of the festival as a whole – firstly as it’s being organised, and then in the latter stages of the game, improvising a response to catastrophic events.

Boho’s team originally created the game to explore environmental science through interactive theatre. The result is a lively event which examines whether our decision-making processes are well-equipped to deal with natural and man-made systems. Playing the game and attempting to run the “Best Festival Ever” forces us to confront the way we approach complex systems with more serious real-world consequences – such as the environment we live in.

If you get a chance to play this one day, you really should.

3. The Road to Library Island

It’s not hard to see how a game of Best Festival Ever – which only takes a couple of hours to play – might have sharpened the thinking of Fyre Festival’s organisers. Playing a frantic game against the clock to see if a festival’s Portaloos get cleaned is a marvellous way of focussing your attention on infrastructure. And a little time playing in the sandbox gives you the chance to prepare for the future – not just for what you hope or expect to happen, but also the catastrophic collapse of the systems you have in place.

library island

Libraries have proved resilient in these kinds of catastrophic scenarios, perhaps because of their strong connections to the community they serve. Whether it’s Scott Bonner’s team keeping their library open during the 2014 Ferguson riots, or Christchurch Libraries’ work during the earthquakes which struck their city in Aotearoa/New Zealand, libraries have some pretty great success stories to share from times of disaster.

So we spent last year working on a professional development session called Library Island. Our game uses this kind of play-based scenario to explore national strategies for public libraries, the problems of day-to-day library operations, and the challenges that arise when unexpected pressures are placed on the system.

Already Library Island has led to new communications and strategic approaches at the State Library of Queensland, and we’ll be taking the game to both the NLS8 and LIANZA conferences later this year. You can read more about Library Island, and this approach to professional development, in the current issue of Library Life.

In the meanwhile, why not pass some time with the Schadenfreude-heavy story of #FyreFestival on social media?

Perpetual Stage: The Value of Pretend Play

I just binge-watched a TV show; rare for me, these days. I love TV but it’s so time-consuming. Your evenings and weekends just seep away in front of the screen.

But I felt I had to watch FX’s Legion, the show about a troubled young man who may be mentally ill and may have psychic powers. It’s a gorgeously shot and well acted eight-part show from Noah Hawley, who was also responsible for Fargo.

I saw people online complain about the show being too whimsical and indulgent; I’ve seen it called pretentious and precious.

I’m not convinced. Yes, a lot of goofy stuff happens in the series – but I found it easy to forgive, because it felt like the adult version of kids playing with action figures.

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Did you do that as a kid? I couldn’t get enough of it. Transformers. Action Force. Manta Force, even. I played Star Wars, too – I didn’t even like Star Wars films much, but I loved the toys. When I went to hospital when I was about 10 years old, I found He-Man figures in the children’s ward. I’d never played He-Man before, but it didn’t stop me.

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Losing control in digital space: Liberact 2016

Last month I spoke at the Liberact conference of digital interactive experiences.

My paper was ‘Play, Chance, and Comics: Losing Control In Digital Space’.

Annotated whiteboard at a Brisbane gym

We explored comics, creativity…and what digital designers could learn from the noticeboard at a gym.

You can see an annotated PDF download of my presentation here.

The Kinder Way To Enjoy Hacking

This morning I gave the opening address at the annual conference of ALIA Queensland. The theme this year was “Library Hacks”.

Hacking’s such a funny term, still threatening and techy and futuristic, and yet also so familiar; the stuff of cheesy mid-90s techno-thrillers as much as today’s headlines about Wikileaks and massive DNS attacks.

The New Yorker tells us that the word originates in the house slang of MIT, way back in the 1950s:

The minutes of an April, 1955, meeting of the Tech Model Railroad Club state that “Mr. Eccles requests that anyone working or hacking on the electrical system turn the power off to avoid fuse blowing.”

Taking “hack” to mean tinkering with machines and procedures, not following the manual, I wanted to both hack the keynote and offer attendees an opportunity that wouldn’t exist at M.I.T.

So, we gave them craft materials, tinfoil and paperclips, food decorating kits, a basic electronics set…

…and Kinder Surprise Eggs.

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International Harvester: The Ozofarm Game

Today sees the official release of the Ozofarm game and game development competition for Queensland’s public libraries.

As I discovered on my visit out to the cotton fields of the Darling Downs, digital technology is changing the way we farm. Cows are milked in robotic dairies. Drones are herding and surveying cattle from the skies. Self-driving machines are steering across Queensland’s fields, tending crops and baling cotton.

I worked with Eva Ruggiero and Tammy Morley of the State Library’s Regional and Public Libraries Team to devise a game which explored robotics in agriculture.

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Queensland Fun Palaces 1-2 October

The long-awaited Fun Palaces weekend has arrived.

Fun Palaces illustration

After months of planning and preparation, communities across Queensland are gearing up to celebrate the arts and sciences in all their forms, partnered with a range of libraries and other institutions.

From the islands of the Torres Strait to the cotton fields of the Darling Downs, plus every library in the city of Brisbane, and of course our own State Library on the city’s South Bank, the first weekend in October will see a swathe of venues open their doors for community-led events celebrating the Fun Palace motto “everyone an artist, everyone a scientist.”

We’ve come along way since Parkes Library hosted Australia’s first ever Fun Palace back in 2014.

I’ll be with the State Library team on Saturday, supporting events including our Scrub Turkey Sessions devised with urban ecologist Professor Darryl Jones of Griffith University.

Wherever you are in the world, check the Fun Palaces website for your nearest event, or join in online with the Comic Maker built for Fun Palaces by the State Library. (We’ve also put the code behind the site online, if you feel like a bit of digital tinkering).

Sunday Read: Beyond Secret Cinema

My belated Sunday morning read is this piece from the Guardian on London’s Secret Cinema, which blends movie screenings with theatrical experiences and themed activities:

I’m a big fan of participatory live-action storytelling and I’m fascinated by opportunities to blur the line between fiction and “real” experience, creating events where attendees shape the outcome of a story.

I went to a Secret Cinema event a few years back and was pretty disappointed – the set design and costumes were fancy, but the opportunities to get involved in the storytelling were minimal. I’d gone to see Casablanca and while it was cool to sing La Marseillaise at a bunch of actors in Nazi uniform, the rest of the “immersive experience” consisted of overpriced snacks and a “casino” barely worthy of a student union’s James Bond night. The Guardian piece captures the extent to which Secret Cinema events are now more about taking your money than letting you step into the world of a story.

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Lemon Knight: International Games Day at the British Library

It’s been an eventful weekend, and I’m five days out from running a day-long experimental project here in the UK – more on that further down the line – but I wanted to share some of the excitement from yesterday’s International Games Day at the British Library (BL) in central London.

Gary Green of Surrey Libraries invited me to join the team of volunteers who were running events under the leadership of BL Digital Curator Stella Wisdom.

Stella is co-founder of the BL’s Off the Map video game competition, and Off the Map winners Fancy Crab were there with their offbeat riff on Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories. The event was also tied in to this year’s 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland, and Ludi Price was in full cosplay mode as Alice herself.

There were video games, board games, and some that were just a little off the wall, including the bizarre German box-stacking game Ordnungswissenschaft:

We were able to play this by repurposing the boxes from the infamous Comic Book Dice, which had also made a visit to the BL.

I got introduced to the German game by gaming aficionado Ross Fowkes. Ross also showed me a digital jousting game which used motion sensors and the music of Bach in multi-player battles.

Johann Sebastian Joust” was inspired by a party game played with lemons and spoons. One quick trip to the supermarket later and we had unleashed the Lemon Knights in the heart of the library.

Both the BL’s child-friendly daytime sessions and the later evening event were great successes, with lots of visitors trying their hand at games old and new. Stella and her team did an incredible job playing host to a wide range of people and offering some truly bizarre activities. (Libraries are sometimes cautious about wild play, so I was delighted that Stella gave us permission for a full-on lemon battle in the shadow of the venerable stacks).

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Fun Palaces Comic Maker at Electricomics

I’m presenting today at the University of Hertfordshire’s Electricomics Symposium, “The Comic Electric.”

I’ll be talking about digital comics projects including the Fun Palaces Comic Maker and a new version of Comic Book Dice from Manila’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, plus my game for The Lifted Brow, “A Tear in Flatland“.

You can read an interview about the philosophy & design of the Comic Maker here (PDF download).

You can read an annotated PDF based on my slides for the conference presentation here.

An example of a Fun Palaces comic