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Games Design, power and success: When the things go wrong…

Aggiornato il: 9 mag 2019

The importance to fail as a way to improve the quality of the design process

Written by Tiago Lobo dos Santos, Hind El Fadli Rzigui, Hania Zila

Success is always something relative. It’s a sentiment and a fact at the same time: a component of objectivity and subjectivity fullfills the concept. It is also intensely connected with the engagement with a process that can have divergent types and a variety of natures. In the case of urban social games design it is entrenched in a creative emotional agency processual chain. In other words, a process for giving birth and life to somekind of group or personal “play-jukebox for changement” to which the group or person is attached. Designing games is about creating the conditions for the “jukebox” to work: and it just works if the emotions, feelings, rythms, energies, times and place are synchronized between each other. The game works if we create the fine tuning between “poly-intentions”, “poly-chronies”, “poly-personalities”, “poly-languages”, “poly-feelings” and “poly-spaces” that cross together in the same situation and become interconnected. Otherwise, the jukebox of fun will be forever disconnected. How to put it working?

Strategic planning: knowing the habits created in the vectors of space and time through observation and interaction in the public space. Meanwhile, if you want the perfect interactive “jukebox”, first, you have to perfectly define your target-group for the play. The jukebox is not universal nor abstract: it is only constructed in the condition that just a specified group of persons (we are not only talking about age groups) have the final “key” to produce the “synchronization effect” needed in order to the games produce fun, and for fun to produce persuasion, and for persuasion to produce attitudinal or behavioral change, … and so on.

It is worth reminding that sometimes you don’t choose where to put your “jukebox” (your game) and it location in public space and time will be determined by external forces to the team of design/games creation. Now, we are talking about games and constraints: a game is born among constraints; another thing is saying that — for sure — it’s testing and application would run under serious constraints. Again, issues of power arise and you should be aware of it when designing games for social change: The head of your project shares the power with you?; The decisions are taken together?; If you have an official event and you need an official stand, you can put it anywhere in the city or you have limitations imposed by the municipalitie?; You have a margin for negotiating with the coordination of the event/project the distances between the location of the games and the location of the official stand?; In the time available for designing the games you have time to considerate the aspects of strategic choice of the place?; What kinds of interests are present for the games event (economical, marketing, social, etc? — of which kinds: group, personal, municipal power, etc?) and how can you predict their shock during the event?; Who defines the indicators of sucess for the game? (the creation team, the founders, the players, the event promotor?); What kinds of indicators of sucess are you using? (quantitative or qualitative? / process or impact evaluation?); Are you using indicators of sucess at all? The focus is on the content and persuasion aspects of the urban social game (attitudinal and behavioral change) or on the visibility and communication/marketing aspects of it? You want games for changing people or people for changing the games that are supposed to change? You want a team that create games for changing people or a team of constrainted and changed people to create games? What kinds of bureucratic processes are putted into the process of design interfering with the timetables and deadlines already existent?

In awsering to this questions we construct the process of design of the design of the game; and…in the design of the game we find the game of decisions itself. Truth or dare? Games are born in a milieu that is a game by itself: the game of interests, the game in which the (micro-)political fight sets up the conditions to speak about something. Design is speaking; design is just the language of a process, but in a dissected and decomposed form. Afterall, design is just like every other ordinary thing in our society: nothing new, for sure. And, as D. Huizinga defended, the game is first, the culture is second. And if you want to design games you should be aware about the games of interests, pleasure and words that make them possible. We might want to say: for us, games are first, the design of games, is second. We created 3 games: for some of them the “jukebox” was calibrated with the conditions for it to work; for others, the synchronization failed. But this were prototypes: and the good about prototypes is that they are prototypes.

Let’s have time to reflect and dare to define all the constraints putted upon our “jukebox”: and remember, when you create a game, you give birth to a creature that will live in an environment that you don’t control (for many reasons). What can happen? Risk? The “jukebox” doesn’t work. No fun, no game.

In this sense, we are condemned to see Sucess as a relative incident. It could be dramatically relativized: so much, that talking about Sucess can become non-sense and useless. So we would prefer of talking about Failure. Yes, Failure! We are used, in our society, to uncover or recover “ends”, “outputs” and “finales” with romantic flowers and epic features. The happy ending is there even when it is not there. Our first testing, in general, was a failure: mostly, because of external and internal factors that we — as a team — couldn’t control. Lack of strategic planning and logistics produced by a lack of power in decisions about the event that simply weren’t in our hands. A gap between the process of creation and the output event. The “jukebox” didn’t played the beautiful music of games; sometimes, we heard a shy “note” in between the “high noise”: intercultural perception, intercultural empathy, otherness awareness, etc. To Fail is important. But is more important to recognize Failure: from now on we will synchronize our “jukebox” with the next locations for our urban games trying to achieve more power in the logistic aspects of the planning. So Let’s fail! But let us please clearly indicate what were the reasons for failure! Let’s Fail! But Let’s Fail Better! That’s what define gamers! We won’t quit…and we will work under constraints but for the diminishing of constraints! In the end, who doesn’t love a good “for-free jukebox”? We strive for public jukeboxes, for public games for peace. Failure could be the annoucement of Sucess…or not, who knows?! M. Serres stated that rules are born in the heart of hazard and that organization lies in the heart of chaos; but he also said that the musical note would derive from the noise. So it’s possible for our jukeboxes to play the common language and sonority of games. The dilemmatic question is: should a team fight against the power constraints and try to modify them or work under the constraints and run the risk of permanent gaps between the “jukebox” (game) and it’s milieu for optimal “synchronization” (space-time markers of involvement and interaction of the target group)? There could lie the difference between apparent Sucess, Failure and Sucess.

So, let’s remember what we learned with Karolina Pisz: a bit of frustration is a necessary element for the production of the game and on the recipe of the game itself. Sometimes, we should do something bad in order to do something good.

See you in Valencia at the end of May for more Urban Games with the Aşîtî Team.

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