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.

img_0170-opt-for-web

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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

Fun Palaces Countdown: Role-playing games with Andy Horton

As the 2015 Fun Palaces launch on Saturday 3rd October approaches, Lambeth Libraries are gearing up for their borough-wide, simultaneous 11-venue celebration of arts and sciences.

In the countdown to Fun Palaces, I’m showcasing some of the special guests who are partnering with Lambeth Libraries this weekend.

Last year, at Australia’s first Fun Palace in Parkes, we created a tabletop role-playing game derived from the work of Cory Doctorow.

Tabletop Superheroes was quick to learn and difficult to master, an all-ages Dungeons and Dragons-style game which tied in with the School for Supervillains theme we’d taken from guest author Louie Stowell. You can download it now from Parkes Shire Library.

This year in South London, roleplaying game expert Andy Horton – a librarian at Regent’s University – will be hosting a special Fun Palaces game event at Upper Norwood Library.

Andy and friends will be giving Fun Palaceers the chance to try their hand at a range of role-playing and board games, and there also be a specially-written Dungeons and Dragons scenario for people brave enough to take on a Fun-Palatial quest.

Like Stephann Makri and the #Citylis zinemakers, Andy’s another academic who is partnering with public libraries this October in the name of play, learning, and outreach. Fun Palaces salute you, Dungeon Master!

Upper Norwood Library is a special case among those taking part in Lambeth’s Fun Palaces this year. Jointly funded by Croydon and Lambeth for 100 years, it’s a public library which provides a model for local government co-operation in providing cultural and information services to a local community.

Find out more at the Upper Norwood Library Campaign website. You can also find out more about Fun Palaces at Upper Norwood Library.

Download Tabletop Superheroes from Parkes Shire Library.

Read Cory Doctorow’s latest Fun Palaces article over at BoingBoing.

Dulwich Picture Gallery at Bermondsey Street Festival 2015

This Saturday saw teens from volunteer scheme NCS The Challenge join me and staff from Dulwich Picture Gallery at the Bermondsey Street Festival.

We spent four hours on the streets of South London, playing Comic Book Dice, getting people to dress up as figures from historic paintings, and sharing strange facts about art from the Dulwich collection – like The Takeaway Rembrandt, the second most stolen painting in the world…

The NCS teen volunteers will be running their own, completely self-directed art event, PROJECT SCREAM, in Ruskin Park on Saturday 26th September.

I’ll be back at Dulwich in December for my event Your Mind Is The Scene of the Crime, an activity which invites you to explore what lies in others’ hearts, delve into the dark side of the gallery, take secrets and lies and make them into art.

Your Mind Is The Scene of the Crime is part of Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Escher season. More news soon!