Documentation – Ben Miller

Project 1 – Untitled

Shakti Mb & Ben Miller

Summary: This project was a conversational framework, wherein four people engage in a single conversation, each limited in some aspect of communication, and forced to compensate. The four people were split into two groups, two physically together, and the other 2 off in separate locations, but paired digitally in a chat interface with one of the physically present people. The goal was to apply constraints to how people communicate in order to explore how aspects of race, gender and personality are conveyed through non-verbal means such as body language, tone, pitch or word choice, and potentially more dynamic aspects such as the relationship of the speaker to what they’re saying (are they speaking as themselves, or as’ a third party). The ruleset for engaging with the interaction is as follows:

Project1Ruleset

Project 2 – Untitled

Karen Mercado Campos, Qianjing Liu, & Ben Miller

Summary: This project went through several distinct phases, all focusing on exploring different roles and how these shape how a community relates to one another.

The design started initially as a board game taking the bronx neighborhood of Hunts Point as inspiration. Players would take on different roles in the community, including average citizens, police, or a criminal. Along with these roles, players would receive guidelines for how they can act and move along the game board, with players having to infer and make choices based off these rules. This version did not advance far, and after feedback in class we scrapped the highly representational aspect (both in board game theming and directly showing Hunts Point) and shifted towards a more ‘pick up & play’ card game approach.

This card game version went through two iterations, with the second being a much closer revision than the first board game. The first go at the card game took some inspiration from Mafia, focusing on the way information was selectively hidden or shared between players, and how these relationships could change dynamically over play. The ruleset for this version is as follows:

See Card Variant 1

We playtested this version and had a few promising moments, but the pacing and start were still rough. The key issues we found early on were the initial catalyst of distrust or a hint to get players questioning and accusing one another. Effectively the connection between questioning and who was the killer was not strong enough to get the game going, which drove us to once again revise the initial design. The most significant revision was giving players ‘trait cards’ that pair with a series of ‘suspected traits’ that match the killer, to give some information for players to work off of in the start of the game. This information was also partially held back, so players also had a short-term goal to work toward of revealing more information. The ruleset remains largely the same as the above, but with the following addition:

See Card Variant 2

Players would receive a hand of these binary trait cards, which would be publicly visible. At the start of the game, the one running it selects a player as the killer, and builds a set of hidden trait cards based on those held by the killer. As the game progresses, these killer traits are revealed, stoking the fire of suspicion between players as the option narrows down. This version worked far better, and seemed like it was enjoyed during each of our play tests. The traits added a welcome push to the start of the game, and provided more for players to latch onto and build off during the game for humor, asides and other remarks that added a dynamic quality to how relationships in each play session developed.

Project 2 Ruleset

Project 2 Cards

Project 3 – Coffeehouse Cahoots

Alex Dinsmore & Ben Miller

Summary: This project in a way combines aspects of both of our previous projects, exploring the potential mechanics we both explored previously. This project also went through several iterations, shifting in focus between mechanics that alternatively emphasized contained systems that players can infer and act off of, or open-ended verbal prompts that more flexibly played off of the players’ own projections or stories. The final iteration, which was also the one that we were both most satisfied with, uses a set of highly structured rules (similar to Poker hands) that were themed in such a way for players to be able to project onto them. The shifting tactics and playstyles players might enact would then interact with one another, and would often require revising accordingly, rewarding players who can think from the other player’s perspective to better equip them to make their own combos or block their opponent.

Here the core mechanic shifted to some degree across iterations, but often in some form touched on people’s personalities and traits, and how they are both often essential for engaging with others, but also potentially misleading if you rely only on them. The final iteration explored this in how these traits tie into the play tactics that must be leveraged to anticipate how your opponent will use the gameplay system strategically.

Project 3 Ruleset

Project 3 Cards

Play Test at the Point – Ben & Alex

When we were at the point, Alex and I managed to test a couple different versions of the game over the course of 1 session. The rules we used during testing were:

Contents

  • Deck of Trait cards (40)
  • Guilty cards (6)
  • Deck of Alibi cards (20)

Starting the Game
Before beginning play, shuffle in a number of the guilty cards into the trait deck based on the number of players:

  • 3-4 players – 1 card
  • 5-6 players – 2 cards
  • 7+ players – 4 cards

Players are dealt 7 trait cards. Each player chooses 2 cards to reveal face up.

 

Playing the Game
To start a turn, a player may choose to draw a new trait card, or interrogate another player.
When interrogating a player, the interrogator draws 4 cards face up from the alibi deck, and then chooses which player to interrogate. The accused player must match one of the alibi cards with one of their own, using a face up card or revealing a hidden card. If no match is available, they fail the interrogation, and the interrogating player decides between either:

  • Forcing the interrogated to pick two cards to reveal.
  • Taking a hidden card from the interrogated player’s hand.

*When all alibi cards are used, reshuffle the alibi deck.

Afterwards, play continues clockwise

 

Ending the Game
Play continues until the guilty card is revealed, or all players reveal their hands. 

 

We started with the most basic ruleset we had come up with, and then adding or tweaking certain rules as play developed. The first reactions seemed to be intrigued, but that people felt it was slow, so our first variation was changing the number of accusations that could be made from 1 to 3. This sped up the pace of the game, which players seemed to enjoy. Though we didn’t manage to finish a full game during the session, we had several lessons we could take away.

First was that players enjoyed two aspects above the others, the trait theming and the second guessing of other players via the accusations. Meeting again after the point, Alex and I decided to start making revisions to the game based on this feedback, and to focus on speeding up the gameplay and highlighting the above two qualities.

 

VR Empathy – Ben

My feelings around the efficacy of VR depends a great deal on the project in which it is used, especially in regards to facilitating empathy. The implications of such a goal for the technology vary, whether a game, immersive narrative, photographic recreation or historical recreation. VR is a tool and medium, not an end in itself, and being mindful of the context of its use is important.

Art and design at its best invokes feelings and responses, emotionally and conceptually. And this is good, it pushes us outside of our own world. Yet the same potential for learning and growth can as easily be manipulative and deceitful. With all the immersive and empathetic potential of VR, this darker potential is one that I see lost in the hype. From what I can tell, VR got its first populist push with the Oculus Rift and gaming culture, hooking into existing worlds and scenarios and embedding the player deeper than they’d ever played the game.

Moving outside of gaming however, some of the “serious” uses of VR have more responsibility in how the tech is used. When leaving behind the fantasy of gaming and more of the real world is integrated into the experience, things get significantly more complicated. Some of the projects we’ve looked at before today’s class stand as prime examples of this, such as “Empathy at Scale” and “Ferguson Firsthand”. Here there is some promise of reflecting the real world, showing you “What actually happened”, yet the experience itself will always be a designed and curated one. I’m sure the creators did their utmost to research and vet and second-guess what they were doing, but there always be some of the subjective that slips in, hiding in the guise of objectivity. It is the blurring that worries me as we start discussing “serious” use of VR. This might be a problem of framing, of making sure audiences understand the fact vs fiction in a work, but it is a problem all the same, and one I think is worth more exploration.

Power of Play – Ben Miller

I had rather conflicted feelings while reading the article, and had a hard time taking many of its observations or assertions seriously. On the one hand, many of her points hold merit, but are often 

This starts with the whole focus on “urban / street” games, an already dubious category because of its name’s similarity to marketing buzzwords you see in music and movies. The closest the author ever gets to defining is on pg 144, where she says it cuts across genres. Besides this feature however, she never offers up a taxonomy to give the term meaning. Because of this, I got the impression she selected games that held the traits that she goes on to criticize, which turns any conclusions drawn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

She also often introduces or phrases the conversation in such a way as to highlight her intended point, even when it seems to run counter to reality. Such as the prevalence of these “street” games which exist only by her own categorization. Also the role of games as separate from the shortcomings of any other cultural work in continuing flaws of cultural representation.

That said, many things she noted, such as issues of racial or gender representation, are very much issues within games and the gaming subculture. But this article came across as an egregious oversimplification that misses the point.

Reading Response – Ben Miller

Articles/essays along these lines often make me wary, as I have encountered a fair share of such calls for greater reflection that suffer from their own self-awareness. This fear was sidestepped in the reading though, which I realized upon reading the 3 main goals of the initial Margins seminar, with its layered goal of questioning self-analysis. This framework, along with the realization apparent in the text that this was a process and not an endpoint, made for a much more interesting and engaging reading. Rather, instead of leaving me shaking my head as with the aforementioned previous texts I’ve encountered, it left me wishing for more to dig into and understand.

Prototype for the Point 1 – Ben Miller

For the prototype with the Point, a subject I would like to play with is the small divides in perception and experience that we take for granted. This has come up recently around the subject of gender, but is at play in most scenarios where multiple narratives might applied to a situation, like the American political process. A game that has played with elements of perception is the recently released “Fingered”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xha1c3K_afI

The game works like a digital version of guess who, with you picking suspects out of a lineup based on witness testimony. But the witness’s personality and prejudices begin to creep into the accounts, so you have to try and ascertain the truth while being aware of potential misinformation. I would like to potentially explore a similar space, looking at how our own bias’s and perceptions control us, knowingly or not.

Paper Prototype 1 Ideas – Ben Miller

I so far have two potential ideas for the first paper prototype.

The first idea for my paper prototype would be to play with the different role/function of surface vs intrinsic properties. This can be conveyed through music by creating a dynamic composition that follows a single “idea” in the melody and harmony (the structure of the music), but might be expressed in a variety of superficially different ways (changing instruments & arrangement). 

The second idea would like to play with is how scope changes how we perceive. For instance, the event of someone walking down the street can be described on a human level, a far smaller chemical and biological level, or a huge astrological and cosmic level. This kind of conversion often happens in the show Cosmos with the cosmic calendar:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShTxGumvbno

An approach I might take to convey this is taking several common scenarios and creating an interface to switch between these scopes to smoothly demonstrate the change.

Precedents – Ben Miller

I’m most familiar with examples from digital games, so that’s where I fell back to thinking of precedents.

Precedent 1: Immersive Narrative. 

One of my favorite precedents for an immersive narrative is found in the “Souls” video game franchise by FromSoftware, most notably Dark Souls. The game’s narrative is conveyed almost entirely through its mechanics, interactions and design, rather than as static exposition. The game starts with a short myth-like narration of the creation of the fantasy world the game takes place in. After this opening however, the narrative is diffused throughout the game: collected items contain texts that provide different (and at times contradictory) accounts of the world’s history; the placement of such items & enemies in the world are often used to hint at narrative implications; even standard mechanics like multiplayer and a player dying are contextualized in-game as part of the world’s evolving story. The result is a game in a fantastical setting, but that feels consistent and responsive to the player’s actions, with encouraging the forming of theories and conclusions rather than being explicitly told a single story.

Precedent 2: Changing Perceptions

The game Braid drastically plays with perception in two ways. The first is in the use of its main mechanic, which is the ability to manipulate time. The game contains several worlds, each providing a different way to control and direct the flow of time. The mechanic recontextualizes the dimension of time from a linear, unyielding progression, to a spatial and dynamic property that can be played with. 

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SPOILERS

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The second way that Braid plays with perception is its ending. Throughout the game, the narrative has played off tropes found in Mario games, of a hero trying to save a princess from a monster. The final moments of the game however turn this idea on its head. 

https://youtu.be/OiGU0GXQdKA?t=2m21s

During the climax, the player finally discovers the princess, seemingly escaping from some villain. You race in parallel with her in the level, flipping switches to help each other’s escape. Upon reaching the end of the sequence however, the twist is revealed as the entire sequence plays back in reverse, entirely changing what the meaning of the sequence. Each switch the princess flipped was actually an attempt to hinder your progress, as you chase her back to the start of the level. The man that was attempting to capture her was actually rescuing her from you. More context can be gleaned from the text at the start of the level, as well as the epilogue following it, but that simple reversal is one of the more powerful moments of reevaluating perceptions I’ve encountered in a game.

To me, both of these hold relevance to what we may explore in class because of how they leverage the fundamental nature of their medium (for games, mechanics and interaction) to convey narrative, and sometimes to undermine it.