Wonderlab

The idea

Thanks to support from the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, Hide&Seek and LIFT brought together some of the smartest creatives from the digital, gaming, theatre and performance fields, to spend three days exploring where digital tools and the ethos of play will take us next.

The rationale

The Hide&Seek Weekender took place as part of LIFT this year – just before the Wonderlab. This year’s Weekender was Hide&Seek’s 4th annual festival of social games and playful experiences, hosted by the National Theatre. The Weekender is the culmination of a year’s worth of Sandpits – evenings where creative people can experiment with game design to make new kinds of art. It’s intended as an open, uncritical, discursive space – one where people are supported to play, and artists are supported to experiment, and fail. It’s a space where all are welcome, where artists and players are encouraged to contribute freely and openly without fear of censure. It’s a place where anyone can submit an idea for a game, irrespective of their background, and Hide&Seek will do their best to enable its creation. Many people have benefited from the Sandpit process in the last 4 years; but it started to feel as if there was an upper limit on the kinds of thinking we could do via this kind of event, and that there was a need for a different kind of environment.

The Wonderlab was intended as a different kind of space; one where a diverse, established list of thinkers and makers could come together to think critically about this kind of work, and thinking beyond the physical limitations of the kinds of work that could be realised at the Weekender. A place where the participants could think widely, and think grandly. A place where the limitations of the Sandpit and the Weekender could be examined and exceeded.

The event

The talks

Everyone who attended the lab – speakers and visitors and participants – was asked to speak for five minutes on something which blew their mind; something which amazed or delighted them. Some spoke about personal experiences, some about their work. Many of them exceeded their five minutes a little, but we all forgave them, as I’m confident will you. All those talks are available over at WonderLab’s YouTube channel, and can’t be recommended highly enough.

If you’re a game designer you might want to start with Tassos Steven’s talk (or there’s a transcript here – http://www.hideandseek.net/wonderlab-make-believe/). If you’re a musician, you might be interested in hearing from Momus or Pat Kane. If you’re a sound or graphic designer, perhaps with Nick Ryan. If you’re at all interesting in creativity (or indeed copyright), you might want to hit Mark Earls first (in a good way). If you’re smart enough to be interested in people you haven’t heard of yet (and trust me, I mean yet), try Jason Anthony. If you want to think about how fragile and beautiful interaction can be, start with Melanie Wilson, or perhaps choose to examine the value of anticipation with Aleks Krotoski. If you want a big fat perspective check – in all kinds of ways – then maybe with Kati London, Jo Twist or Malcolm Sutherland. If you want to think about why playing with pain is interesting, with Paul Bennun. Or, if you want to instantly go and drop £30 on Amazon, with Tom Armitage. Then you might want to hear about performing games from Richard Lemarchand, or help Maurice Suckling explore the infinite.

The talks were a constant source of illumination and inspiration over the course of the Wonderlab; bringing a breadth to the discourse and helping to inform the primary creative output – the game.

The game

The WonderLab was a three day exploration of what happens when performance meets play. As befits a lab, we did a lot of theorising, experimenting and inventing, and decided to use the medium of a card game to express the conclusions we’d drawn about the big issues facing designing these experiences. We didn’t want to produce just another document of vague polemic or unresolved theory, but rather make something concrete and specific, which we hoped would enable other people to respond in concrete and specific ways. Using a game in such a way was a very untested idea, which felt just like what a lab should be doing. It was conceived and produced in a single afternoon, and was launched on the public after only one very brief playtest. There’s lots that’s wrong with it – some things deliberately, some not – but I think we were all heartened by how well it performed. The game is titled Couple Up.

Couple Up

The best place to begin to experience Couple Up is with the video document above. There’s more information on how Couple Up is played here and there is a digest of the ways in which the game embodied the thinking of the Lab here.
The rules are available here.

The write-ups

We were very gratified that two of our participants, Pat Kane and Tom Armitage, blogged the event in some detail. Their posts are worth reading in their entirety as they provide a much-needed external perspective on the Lab; exactly the inspired, critical, engaged thinking that the Lab was intended to engender.
http://www.theplayethic.com/2010/07/wonderlab1.html
http://www.theplayethic.com/2010/07/buckets-of-sound-and-sabbath-games-pk-wonderlab-day-2-morning.html
http://www.theplayethic.com/2010/07/wonderlab2pm.html
http://www.theplayethic.com/2010/07/wonderland4final.html
http://berglondon.com/blog/2010/08/03/wonderlab/

Other outcomes

Hide&Seek and LIFT are continuing to develop their collaboration. Hide&Seek director Alex Fleetwood is travelling to India in January to research a telephone theatre game project which is proposed for LIFT 2012, and further Labs are under discussion. Hide&Seek has agreed to carry the Wonderlab brand forward (with due credit to LIFT for the partnership in the origination of the format); exploring the potential for Wonderlabs to be held with scientists, researchers, philosophers…

The other tangible outcome for Hide&Seek is the formulation of an ethics policy. This policy is currently in draft, but reflects the thinking that went in to exploring the question of the ethics of game design over the course of the Wonderlab.

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