I have been fascinated with the incredible popularity of Pokemon Go. Some people are seeing it as an “annoying” new game, but I see it as an amazingly powerful tool to trick people into exercising and getting outside, and as author Mark Wilson observes, discovering your city.
In our collective hunt for silly cartoon monsters, Pokémon Go players are discovering history and architecture left and right. Users described their discoveries over the weekend, from Korean pagodas, to a Donner Party memorial in California, to the urban landscape of Perth at night, all documented on Twitter.
And now, the residents of Melbourne have found a way to express it.
The city of Melbourne assigned trees email addresses so citizens could report problems. Instead, people wrote thousands of love letters to their favorite trees.
“My dearest Ulmus,” the message began.
“As I was leaving St. Mary’s College today I was struck, not by a branch, but by your radiant beauty. You must get these messages all the time. You’re such an attractive tree.”
This is an excerpt of a letter someone wrote to a green-leaf elm, one of thousands of messages in an ongoing correspondence between the people of Melbourne, Australia, and the city’s trees.
Officials assigned the trees ID numbers and email addresses in 2013 as part of a program designed to make it easier for citizens to report problems like dangerous branches. The “unintended but positive consequence,” as the chair of Melbourne’s Environment Portfolio, Councillor Arron Wood, put it to me in an email, was that people did more than just report issues. They also wrote directly to the trees, which have received thousands of messages—everything from banal greetings and questions about current events to love letters and existential dilemmas.
“The email interactions reveal the love Melburnians have for our trees,” Wood said. City officials shared several of the tree emails with me, but redacted the names of senders to respect their privacy.
I took a couple of weeks off, but I am now getting back in to taking little toys out into the world and taking pictures of them in unique environments, creating little vignettes in the wild.
I’ve upped my game a bit and am going to start leaving them out for people to find. The tricky thing, and that adds to the fun, is there’s no way to control how long these toys will stay put before people notice and decide they want to play with them themselves. This one was placed somewhere near Pioneer Square.
A million times yes! This article focuses on one of my biggest pet peeves and challenges as a play advocate; play not being taken seriously.
The author, Hilary O’Shaughnessy, and also the producer of the Playable City Award, discusses her play competition and the usual rub of people asking whether this is really all “worth it.” I’m quoting over half of her article, but she very eloquently covers an entire blog post I was planning on writing (I will still write it, I promise):
Amongst the usual squeals of anticipation [around the competition], there are questions about the value of these ideas to the “real” world. Fun is all well and good – but surely fun is the stuff we get to when the grown up work of building hospitals and roads is done with? When we’ve fixed the economy, let’s play. Cities are full of problems, why are we not fixing them first?
Herein lies the real issue. When we see play simply as fun, a whimsy for those of us lucky enough to have the time to engage in it, we underestimate the transformative power of play and it’s role in our lives.
Fixing problems, making our living and working spaces more livable and resilient, designing better cities, starts at every level with the people that Iive in those cities. Increasingly we are realising that our cities are designed for exclusivity, so it makes sense that we don’t feel part of shaping the future. This is revealed in the language we use to describe our relationships to the services and organisations that our cites are made of. We want them to fix it, they don’t want us to have a say, they give money to them to exclude us: the language is divisive and separating, and that’s the problem. Even the descriptions of the projects fail to deliver what they promise, because a playable city is experienced, not described.
The idea of what our cities should mean, how public money is spent, what we imagine as good for us and who is involved in designing them, is only ever addressed when we have a complaint or we feel excluded. We talk to the city council when the road is road is torn up or the lights won’t come on. We complain that our voices are unheard, but we never seize opportunities to speak, fearing that if we do we will be ignored or shouted down by the loudest ones.
This feeling of separation cannot be undone overnight. We need new approaches, new tools, and new ways to talk to one another about how to live together in cities.
Conversations about the future, about how we want to live, have to begin from a level playing field, and crucially that level playing field may not be where we expect. Play is a leveler: when we play, we play as humans, first. Traditional status markers like wealth, celebrity, or qualifications are not really much use when invited to dance with your shadow or conduct lights like a demi-god.
Addressing problems and finding solutions that work for us all begin with inviting everyone into conversation. Play as unexpected interventions in familiar places act as invitations to connect, an offer to begin to talk about those parts of our cities that we feel excluded from. To new eyes and ears, some projects can seem esoteric – but that is because we have become numbed to dull public announcements, badly designed flyers and clunky websites which act as information dumps that no-one reads, let alone takes as an invitation to work together. Yet, this is important stuff: we need to talk about the kind of future we want or it be will be decided for us while we look the other way.
Looking to have a little fun with your walk? Now you can use mapping technology to do so…
The Trace app will let you turn a sketch on your smartphone into a physical walking route around a city. You can share your route with a friend, and the recipient gets step-by-step directions. Eventually, the app will reveal the shape on a map.
The walk creator can add signposts along the way—images, audio recordings, messages—which will pop-up at specific places in-route. Walkers can begin their walk anywhere in the city, and pick the duration of their walk. The app adjusts the size of the shape accordingly.
Sixteen walkers in Seattle, Boston and Chicago tested out Trace for a week, drawing over 150 shapes. They sent the walks to friends or tried the routes themselves. The results were presented in a study in Seoul, at the Association for Computing Machinery’s CHI conference last month.
For a limited time, you can finally experience Pac-Man on your favorite (or least favorite) place to navigate IRL. One of the best navigational easter eggs ever, Google Maps is currently letting users experience the world through the eyes of a Pac-Man.
Ever wished Namco created a Pierre L’Enfant-version of the arcade game? Well, D.C.’s Logan Circle now has all the Pac-Dots your Pac-Gut can handle.
Austin is a city with a strong arts culture, and is continuing to showcase that:
The hidden life of Austin’s street furniture will come to light next month with the launch of Hello Lamp Post, an international art project created by London-based designers Pan Studio which invites people to strike up conversations with familiar objects around the city using text messaging.
Hello Lamp Post is a city-wide platform for play that allows participants to talk to the city’s infrastructure and share stories using the text messaging function on any mobile phone – no smart phones required. People can interact with any object they choose, in any part of the city, because the project utilizes the thousands of pre-existing identifier codes that label items of street furniture, including (but not limited to) lamp posts, mail boxes, moontowers, utility boxes, manholes, or telephone poles
OK, so YES it is being sponsored by a huge megacorporation. YES it is a total gimmick. But it is such a COOL gimmick.
“That will be five hugs, please.”
Randomly selected McDonald’s customers will have the opportunity to pay for their meals with various tasks — such as doing a dance or calling their mom — between Feb. 2 and Feb. 14. The deal is outlined in a Super Bowl ad from the company, above, which will air on Sunday but is already posted on its YouTube page.
So, for example, breakfast might cost a fist bump to a McDonald’s crew member; lunch could be paid for with a call to a loved one; and dinner could go for a hug to a family member. But there will only be 100 winners at each store.
Last week I also posted about a major paint company that promoted their paint via enabling the handicapped in China to blow up paint balloons onto a canvas.
While to some it may feel “icky” to have mega-sized companies counting this kind of self-congratulating promotion as “spreading the love” or even “charity work,” frankly I am just happy that anyone, either an individual or a giant corporation, is taking steps to making their spaces a little bit happier and more enriching. Companies spend millions of dollars to make their customers happy, so why not spend a little bit of that on a smile?
When has a corporation made your day better, either through a promotion or just because an employee took some time to acknowledge you? Leave it in the comments below.
My coworkers and I were just talking about Choose Your Own Adventure books the other day. I hated them, but most people liked them a lot. Now, someone has created a version of CYOA on Twitter.
As one author points out,
“I am pleased to see interesting uses of Twitter to tell a narrative in a way I might actually consume.”
These are a little more dark than the kid’s versions, but still interesting.
Eden notes that he’s not by any means the first person to try and conduct a CYOA story via Twitter, but he’s the first person we’ve seen try and do it in a fully self-contained way – most use tweets to link to external URLs to continue the story or make choices. The downside of this is that each link cuts down on the amount of the story that can be told in a single tweet. It also ends up with users being redirected all over the place, so the chances of finishing it are probably slimmer.
We’re not going to ruin the story for you, but if you have a few minutes to spare and fancy trying to get through the story without meeting a grisly ending, then you can do so at the starting point above.
I don’t know if I would find this inspiring or not… thoughts?
Videogames and poetry haven’t always gone hand in hand.
We’re still a long way from Master Chief breaking into a Coleridge soliloquy. But game developers Ichiro Lambe and Ziba Scott have edged us a bit closer to that day with Elegy for a Dead World, a game they Kickstarted in October and released on Steam last month.
Elegy lets players write prose and poetry as they explore distant planets and dead civilizations. The player faces 27 challenges in three worlds, each riffing on a specific British Romance-era poem: “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, “When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be” by John Keats, and “Darkness” by Lord Byron.
The different challenges find the player in various roles: an emperor rallying his troops before a doomed battle, for example, or a schoolgirl evacuating a city being bombed. Players travel through beautifully designed backgrounds, while on-screen text narrates the story. But much of the text is left blank—that’s when players tap their inner Wordsworths, finishing the tale with their own imaginations.
Throughout their adventure, players are tasked with using several writing styles: Plugging in blanks in prompts like serious Mad Libs, writing poems in rhyming couplets, or going totally freeform.