This Spartan Life at IPZ

I’m headed to the IPZ Conference in Istanbul, Turkey to give a keynote talk on Extending Outreach through Games and Virtual Worlds. For my presentation, I’ll be joined by my esteemed colleague and friend, Chris Burke, the creator of This Spartan Life, coming in through the video game Halo, live from New York. Using Halo as a meeting point, Chris and I will discuss the extension of game culture and virtual world space towards education and creative collaboration, while dodging plasma rifle-wielding aliens “under fire” in the game Halo.

Chris & I have been thinking about creative collaboration and civic engagement through games and virtual world space for awhile, even before he did an episode on Net Neutrality and I launched Kidz Connect to connect students internationally through theatrical performance inside virtual worlds. As we rehearsed this week, we bounced around Halo and talked about the importance of building community, and how this is enabled by giving people agency, ownership and a sense of identity.

1. Give your users agency by giving them the ability to make their own creations in your platform.
Your game or virtual world will be enhanced by what your users contribute. For instance, people usually play games to completion, and when they’re done, they don’t usually re-visit the game. However, give them agency to create and the game gets more interesting — it’s enhanced by their unique contribution.

2. Agency relates to ownership.
Once someone creates something, they’re more invested not only in their creation(s) but the feedback around it. They’ll go back again and again because they become invested in their creations and the community it creates around them.

3. Identity.
People want to feel a part of something, yet still stand out as individuals. Being able to customize your environment and avatar gives one a sense of self. This is part and parcel to creating community.

These facets and so much more are all a part of exploring games and virtual world spaces towards creating a sense of community for education, creative collaboration and many other objectives. We’ll be posting documentation of our IPZ presentation soon, and for those in Istanbul, please join us at IPZ!

This Spartan Life, which has been lauded for its brilliant combination of traditional filmmaking with the interactive possibilities of videogame technology, amassed over 1 million viewers in the first two years and attracted the attention of mainstream media outlets such as Wired and BoingBoing. Microsoft is currently commissioning episodes of This Spartan Life for Halo Waypoint on Xbox Live. Check out this recent episode in which the hit band OK Go is interviewed:

Best.Conference.Idea.EVER: hammock-like beds overlooking the lounge area, for quick disco naps in btwn events. WIN.

There’s a dutch word that defies English translation: gezellig – which implies something like a homey, friendly, comfortable vibe – ‘cool’ in a warm way. That’s what PICNIC has been; in addition to being just downright awesome and inspiring, it’s gezellig.
I write this as I sit under the TwitterTree, kicked back on green pillows and real grass in the middle of the conference common area.


I’ve described PICNIC before as “akin to the TED conference, but funkier and in Amsterdam” – and I think the thing that sticks with me is this playful vibe, as if the city’s culture is infused within the persona of a festival focused on innovation, curiosity and creativity. Fun, it’s FUN.

Our This Spartan Life @ PICNIC show this morning went really well. Some unexpected quirks occurred, like when our guest, Dr. Gerri Sinclair, fell off the back of a cliff and was lost in space while host Damian Lacedaemion (nee Chris Burke) and in-world cameraman RealMyOp searched for her amidst the alien hills, all the while continuing the conversation about literacy in virtual worlds and video games. But that’s the beauty of a live event – foibles make it more interesting. Add a dash of mixed reality and those layers of you and your virtual self juxtaposed against the terrain of game space and “real” space – makes for a fascinating metaphor. Damian and RealMyOp eventually found Gerri, where she was hanging out on an overlook with Peter Molyneux who we introduced in Halo before he walked onstage to start his talk. The audience seemed to be having fun as well, so, all in all, a great This Spartan Life show. Here are some pics (and yes, we’ll be editing the video into an episode soon). For more pics, check out our PICNIC ‘09 Flickr set:
By the way, the Best.Conference.Idea.EVER is here: hammock-like hanging beds overlooking the lounge area, for quick disco naps in between events. WIN.
I just woke up from a 3-hour disco nap, attended the rest of the afternoon events and am ready to dance now. Bring it.



prepping for This Spartan Life – LIVE @ #PICNIC09

We’re here at PICNIC, a 3-day festival for movers and shakers in the creative and innovation fields (it’s akin to the TED conference, but funkier and in Amsterdam) – full of ideas, fun and sensory stimulation in media, technology, entertainment, art and science.

We’ve been invited to do a live version of This Spartan Life, a talk show that happens inside the videogame Halo, as part of the festival. We’ll be interviewing video game expert Dr. Gerri Sinclair, with an appearance by Peter Molyneux, creative director of Microsoft Game Studios Europe. It’s a mixed reality experience, so the audience will be seeing the show live within the Halo game, as well as in the physical space at PICNIC. The interview happens while the game is being played, so the talk show host and guests are “under fire” – dodging virtual bullets and plasma rifle-wielding aliens, while chatting about talk show topics and being projected on the screen before the audience. Described by Wired Magazine as “a mash-up of The Charlie Rose Show and Doom,” This Spartan Life combines high-brow interviews with non-stop fragging, hilarious asides and slapstick comedy.
We go on today at 9:15am in the Conference Hall in Westergasfabriek, Amsterdam, right before Peter Molyneux takes the stage. We’ve been setting up and rehearsing these last couple of days, and things have been going really well so we’re excited to bring it!

Following are some shots of prepping This Spartan Life – LIVE @ PICNIC, the festival surroundings and the Augmented City Lab which we participated in yesterday.
The Augmented City Lab focused on near-future scenarios for mobile location-aware services – great workshop hosted by Ronald Lenz. Our particular task was to figure out an “Augmented City” application that used laser tagging technology. We came up with the idea of “Augmented Branding” – adding your voice to advertisements.
Here’s how it would work:

A laser tagging station is set up in one city in front of a specific billboard. Users at the station are encouraged to tag on top of the billboard, sharing their comments on the brand, product or implications of the ad. The users’s graphic overlays are saved to an online database. This is done with a number of other billboard ads.

Other participants with cell phones download an augmented reality app. Using the app they find billboards that have been added to the database and which also exist in their city. They go to the billboard and point their cell phone camera at it. The software tracks the ad image and displays a selection of user-created overlays to view. This way users can share their thoughts on a range of advertising images in their environment.

For more workshop info, check out
…and here’s a cool augmented reality app by Lemonade, who facilitated our group during the workshop
…and when you want to chillax, you can put your feet up & tweet underneath the “TwitterTree”

Susan fr TechSoup (SL: Glitteractica Cookie) & Jeska fr Linden Lab (SL: Jeska Linden) during the mixed reality health panel #npsl #n2y4

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