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Fiction Games Helicopter Marketing Time

Play, engagement and climate-changed futures

Ken Eklund

Yesterday I attended a talk by Ken Eklund, a writer and games designer based in California, at an event organised by The University of Brighton, and excellently hosted by Matt Locke of Storythings. Ken creates ‘cli-fi’ games that allow people to ‘immerse themselves without fear’ in challenging future environmental scenarios.

One game requires people to locate unusual plastic objects which have been scattered, apparently randomly, in several countries. The gamer who collects these objects finds they correspond to a voicemail from the future. These messages allude to future climate change events, such as suggesting that an airport is underwater.

Another game in 2007 saw people documenting a fictional oil crisis. People used various internet platforms to contribute to a crowdsourced fiction about life in an oil crisis. Ken said a pivotal moment was when one person suggested they stop posting doom scenarios and instead find a way of tackling the problem.

Ken creates a game playing environments that are ‘multi-sourced, open and emergent’, he also calls this ‘Authentic Fiction’.

As there was an opportunity for questions, I asked Ken to say more about how while advertising uses creativity to funnel people towards an outcome, such as buying a pizza, his fictional activity turns the funnel the other way to allow for a multiplicity of crowd sourced responses. Would the desired message be dissipated?

Ken said he wasn’t in advertising, but instead created a playful space for the issues to be raised. I liked this as Ken is the kind of storyteller who creates the frame rather than the picture.

While the idea of a messages from the future is an SF staple, it certainly doesn’t crop up much in advertising and marketing. The UK First Direct bank’s confident first effort back in 1989 (a message from the then future of 2010) was the first one that sprang to mind. In a game-playing context, however, those who are ‘playing hard’ are far more willing to suspend disbelief than someone passively watching their TV. In Ken’s scenario the messages from the future become valuable and sought after. Marketing, which naturally is seeking ways of making its messages more magnetic, definitely has something to learn from Ken’s work.

With my other hat on, as a writer, poet, etc. I found the scenarios a little predictable, but I think Ken’s focus was in unleashing the creativity of others, enabling what he called ‘the resurgence of my story’ to feed into a greater narrative arc. In that way richness and unpredictability is organically added.

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The robots are around the corner

His latest project in development is around how artificial intelligence may take over human activities. A project which coincides with Channel 4’s excellent new Humans series about AI being aired in the UK. One scene nails Eklund’s concern where Mattie, a teenage character resentful of the robots, questions what is the point of her continuing to become a doctor. “That’d take me seven years, but by then you’d be able to turn any old synth into a brain surgeon in seven seconds,” and goes on to asks if they are all supposed to become poets.

I found Eklund’s work fascinating and I will be keen to keep tabs on his future projects.

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Fiction Games Guernsey Literature Marketing

The Devil’s Goat on Guernsey

My friend, Kiwi board game inventor Amanda Milne’s new game is now at prototype stage and is being play tested. Its working title is The Devil’s Goat and is based on Guernsey. Turns out it was sparked off by a children’s short story I had written for the Guernsey Literary Festival. As this story was published as a very limited one-off, I have been contemplating reissuing it as an ebook but if Mandy’s game takes off I might have to pull my finger out.

Mandy writes:

Inspired by a short story called the ‘Defenders of Guernsey‘ written by my friend Peter Kenny, I have been researching The Channel Islands and specifically Guernsey’s rich history of witchcraft and evil goings on…

Witchcraft is said to abound in the island. Both black and white witches are said to practice in Guernsey. The black witches were said to practice ritual witchcraft. They held assemblies and covens to summon demons and devils. The black witches were said to be led by an unknown person, who often disguised himself as an animal. Although the leader changed, it was always known as the Devil. Reports say they usually disguised themselves as cats and goats.

A couple of iterations on from the first rough sketch and I have a working prototype that is about to start formal testing. The working name is The Devil’s Goat.

In the game, players take on one character who lives on the island. Each character has their own secret agenda.  Rumours abound, goat sightings and attacks occur; journalists pay money for stories true or otherwise.  Each player is trying to achieve their own goal before the Devil’s Goat runs amok and tries to kill them. At that point in the game it becomes a team effort to stay alive: the characters versus the Goat!

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For more on Mandy’s great idea, visit SchilMil here.