So – a bit of a break today. This isn’t a piece of fiction. Today is Ada Lovelace day.
Ada Lovelace was one of the world’s first computer programmers, and one of the first people to see computers as more than just a machine for doing sums. She wrote programmes for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, a general-purpose computing machine, despite the fact that it was never built. She also wrote the very first description of a computer and of software.
Today we celebrate her by blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised.
I design computer games as well as write this stuff and I want to write about 2 women that have changed the way I think about games, gaming and the gaming audience. One I know personally and the other I know through her work.
I first met Jennica Falk in a bar in Dublin. I was going to give a presentation on game development for mobile phone games, and she had just come back from England from a Live Action Role Playing session. LARPing was part of her research on ubiquitous gaming.
Over the next day we talked about SMS gaming – setting up ideas for an SMS MUD and even designing out interfaces for it. We intensely debated the differences between research (Is it possible) and production (how much does it cost, who does it cost, how can we get this out there) – a debate we continued to have over the years.
From that first meeting Jennica changed my views of gaming. Her researching spirit opened my eyes to the possibilities of what could be done.
Her work in location based gaming – and the debating that followed – has come to fruition with designs I’m making for location based story telling – some 8 years after her original work. But it was her focus on ubiquitous gaming that has had the most profound impact.
Her position was that these games should be played in centres where the interface was obvious – a staff is a staff. She told me about a staff she made. When slammed into a specifically made floor, the floor rippled.
I, in my boy way, would say “but why close that off – why not use a device we all use and have that as your interface.” And she’d smile and say, “But that’s not ubiquitous. That’s an interface.”
She, of course, was right. Interface is where it is at.
I always said that my children would be playing the games Jennica designed.
She’s not in games now, however. She works for Nokia doing something that…if I knew she’d have to kill me. The conversations we have now – while also about games – are also about interfaces, user experiences, the ubiquitous.
She still shapes and forms my ideas. I constantly try and tempt her back into gaming.
Though chances are that, in the future, if your Nokia experience is smoother, more natural, just…right, you’ll have met Jennica too.
The second woman who has influenced me probably wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for Jennica.
I’ve never met Jane McGonigal.
Jane makes games. The world is her playground and everything is her interface.
I first encountered her work though “I Love Bees,” an alternate reality game based around the computer game “Halo.”
“I Love Bees began when jars of honey were received in the mail by people who had previously participated in alternate reality games. The jars contained letters leading to the I Love Bees website and a countdown. At around the same time, theatrical trailers for Halo 2 concluded with the Xbox logo and a URL, xbox.com, that quickly flashed a link to ilovebees.com, ostensibly a hacked site related to beekeeping.
Both events, not connected publicly for several weeks, caused the curious to visit the website ilovebees.com. The site, which appeared to be dedicated to honey sales and beekeeping, was covered in confusing random characters and sentence fragments. Dana, the ostensible webmaster of the ilovebees site, created a weblog stating that something had gone wrong with her website, and the site itself had been hacked. Suspecting that this was a mystery that could be unraveled, Halo and ARG fans spread the link and began to work on figuring out what was going on.”
On 8/10/04, a list of GPS coordinates with times were added to the site’s Links page. With the exception of one leading to the Pacific Ocean, all of the coordinates lead to pay phones. On 8/24/04, the countdown ended as it reached the first set time. People who answered the pay phones (the “axons”) at the scheduled times spoke to a recording of the A.I. and were asked basic questions about the character. If answered correctly, an audio clip would be released and a number would be added to a counter on the website. The audio clips, when threaded together formed an audio drama about characters in the Halo universe. As the number reached 777, the AI, as played by a voice actor instead of a recording, began interacting with players through the pay phones.
Pay phones. People at pay phones. Playing a game.
Talking about the impact Jane has is hard. I have played games she has designed. I have played games that she’s talked about – my flat is now cleaner because of her pimping out Chore Wars.
She asked the question – “Reality is broken. Why aren’t game designers trying to fix it?”
Her games now are futurist – people play in an alternate reality and their game is used as research to allow for the fixing of reality.
While the games I now want to make aren’t as grand in vision as Jane’s, the reasons that I want to make them are.
If there wasn’t a Jane McGonigal, we’d have to invent her.
But, don’t take my word for it – listen to her talk about it.
On Ada Lovelace Day I’m proud to acknowledge two women who have utterly changed the way I work, think about work – hell, even think about the world I’m in.