Gamify Your PhD Hack Session in Tweets

The Wellcome Trust 'Gamify Your PhD' hack session was a huge success (you can find out more about the project here and the tweets from the launch of the project here) and we've been tracking all the tweets and here's a few that caught our eye: 

Science Games Jam Launches

Auroch Digital is really pleased to say that the Games Jam event between ExPlay Festival, the Wellcome Trust, the Science Museum and the Pervasive Media Studio is now open for participants! Hurry - tickets are running out...

Are you ready to push yourself to the limit, flex your brain, drop your pants and reach for the sky? The Extended Play game jam is where raw creativity reacts with extreme digital skills to explode and shower the public in face-melting interactive sickness.

The Wellcome Trust, Science Museum and Pervasive Media Studios wil be hosting the 2012 ExPlay Games Jam with 120 games enthusiasts all taking will take part in a hour games development frenzy in two locations to win a showcase at this year’s ExPlay Festival in Bath.

This October, budding games developers and designers from across the UK are invited to take part in a 24 hour Games Jam at either the Science Museum in London, and The Pervasive Media Studios in Bristol. Open to teams and individuals, the Games Jam will be led by expert bio-medical scientists from the Wellcome Trust, who will reveal a theme at the start of the 24 hour period during which participants will work round the clock to create a brand new, playable game.

Completed games will be judged by experts, and winners from each location will be able to showcase their games to the public at the ExPlay Games Festival in Bath in November 2012.

The Games Jam will take place on 5 and 6 October, with the theme, curated by The Wellcome Trust, announced on the morning evening of Friday 5 October and two locations linked by a live audio-visual feed. The Games are organised by ExPlay Festival, hosted by The Science Museum in London and The Pervasive Media Studios in Bristol and curated and funded by The Wellcome Trust.

Sign up here!

Gamify Your PhD Launches

At the Develop Conference yesterday, the Wellcome Trust project we have been producing launched:

The Wellcome Trust invites researchers to gamify their PhDs 11 July 2012

An innovative new way of communicating science research launches today with Gamify your PhD, a project from the Wellcome Trust which brings together researchers and games developers to create new games exploring and explaining the latest developments in biomedicine. The Trust is inviting researchers to share ideas for games based on their PhD work in biomedical science or the medical humanities, and small teams of games developers to turn these ideas into addictive, challenging and educational games. Those selected will partner at a two day hack in which the games will be created. The best of these will receive funding to develop into a releasable game.

To help inspire ideas and give researchers a flavour of what’s possible a web-app http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/gamify, developed by Mobile Pie, has been commissioned, offering an interactive and fully embeddable guide to the nuts and bolts of mechanics and motivation that lie behind successful game design. The web-app also features sample 16bit mini games to illustrate the different elements of gaming, including a Darwin inspired survival of the fittest pigeon game, a Mendel genetics puzzle game, a game based on Asch’s work on conformity, and a Newton-targeting apple game.

Gamify your PhD is part of a wider commitment by the Wellcome Trust to using games and gaming culture as a means of engaging people with science. A range of awards schemes is open to developers interested in creating innovative, entertaining and accessible games based around biomedicine and medical history.

Daniel Glaser, Head of Special Projects at the Wellcome Trust said: “The engaged researcher has lots to learn from gaming and game design can benefit hugely from the latest scientific advances. That’s why the Wellcome Trust is throwing its weight behind this innovative interaction. Today’s brightest researchers understand that science does not take place in a vacuum and the best research can engage with the most popular culture. I’m very curious to find out what these teams will come up with.”

Tomas Rawlings, the Wellcome Trust’s gaming consultant said: “Science and games are a natural fit, both are about the participant seeking to understand the rules that govern the world they find themselves within and achieving this by experiments such as trial-and-error. Gamify your PhD is an exciting twist and evolution of these areas.”

The deadline for applications from researchers and developers is 12 August, and the games hack will take place between the 3-4 September 2012. The resulting games will be made available online. All details about the scheme and the web-app guide to gaming can be found at www.wellcome.ac.uk/gamify

The project’s twitter hashtag is #gamifyyourphd

To see the project's web-app click here.

The Anatomy of Fun: FeedBack

Yesterday was the Anatomy of Fun session at Develop.  We've had a couple of good articles written about the session from LazyGamer:

At the Develop Conference, researchers have stated that they’ve been able to measure that magical element that’s missing from some games, fun.

And Beefjack:

In a panel today at the Develop Conference, some really clever sciency research types have been talking about how they can measure the notion of “fun” in a game – and the interesting trends they’ve discovered by doing so.

It also got a good reaction on twitter; here is a flavor of that discussion:

Develop 2012 Panel & Workshop

Wellcome has a couple of great events going on at Develop.  As well as the workshop we mentioned before, there is also a panel of the 11th too.  Here is the full information:

The Anatomy of Fun Wednesday 11 July 2012, 11:00 – 11:45 in Room 4

Chair: Jo Twist, CEO of UKIE Marek Bronstring, game design consultant, former Head of Content at SEGA Europe. Paul Croft, Co-Founder of Mediatonic Graham McAllister of Player Research Robb Rutledge, neuroscientist.

How important is fun to a game’s success? What do we even mean when we say a game is fun to play? And how easy is it to engineer fun? This panel explores the secrets to keeping players entertained and coming back for more. We hear from neuroscientists and games developers as they share their different insights and perspectives. What is science revealing about the many elements required to make an experience fun? And what do those at the front line of gaming find are the best ways to keep their players playing – whether in casual mobile games, immersive RPGs or any other gaming experience?

And:

Wellcome Trust Workshop: How Do You Make Science, Play?

Date: Thursday 12 July 2012, 14:00 – 16:00 at Develop, Brighton

From Deus Ex to Portal, science has inspired a vast array of successful games and sometimes in quite unexpected ways. This hands-on workshop explores how contemporary science can be mined for compelling ideas by games developers, going from concept to design. Whether as the inspiration for a game or for content supporting a bigger game, this workshop will see you collaborating with top scientists from across the country to develop novel ideas.

The session includes a presentation with Preloaded as they explain how a close collaboration between games makers and content specialists resulted in their latest game, Axon. There will also be a chance to find out how you can access the Wellcome Trust’s funding streams to develop science-inspired gaming ideas further.

Please note there is limited space available for this session. If you would like to attend, please email Develop@wellcome.ac.uk, with subject heading ‘WORKSHOP’.

Auroch at Crossover Summit/DocFest

Tomas was curating/sharing a panel discussion at this year's Crossover Summit as part of DocFest for the Wellcome Trust.  Here is the panel information:

Exploiting the Feedback Loop

Tom Rawlings (Chair) / Jon Dovey (DCRC) / Kate Quilton (Channel 4)

Games like Bejeweled, Draw Something or Words with Friends are not one-off media events, but are on-going almost living entities. Being connected to the network they can collect huge amounts of data from players and so feed back to the designers which elements work and which do not. This allows them to respond, changing and improving the project in response. But while this ‘bio-media model’ clearly works for video games, can it work for filmmakers? By seeing video as data, a number of media thinkers are increasingly challenging the view that a film has to be a one off creation.

Plus there are some notes from the discussion online too:

The idea for the session is rooted in biological processes that happen around us (and in us!) everyday. For example, the image (right) is of 6 linked insulin molecules.

Computer-generated image of six insulin molecules assembled in a hexamer. (Source, Wikipedia)

These are part of a number of biological systems we have that together make up our homeostatic systems. This is a series of monitoring and control systems that measure various facets of the body (blood sugar, temperature etc) via feedback loops and trigger the body to respond to external and internal changes. So while the body is striving to keep a form of stasis (being alive!) the chemical composition of the body is in a state of constant flux.

There are similar ideas going on in how we create, consume and develop media. This biomedia approach sees the media form itself and something in flux, connected and responding to feedback loops. It sees media artefacts themselves (games, films, novels etc) as being part of (and evolving within) a complex ecosystem, a media ecology. ...

There is more here.

Crossover Summit: 13th June @ Sheffield Doc/Fest

Exploiting the Feedback Loop 13:15 / The Chapel Tom Rawlings (Chair) / Jon Dovey (DCRC) / Kate Quilton (Channel 4)

Games like Bejeweled, Draw Something or Words with Friends are not one-off media events, but are on-going almost living entities. Being connected to the network they can collect huge amounts of data from players and so feed back to the designers which elements work and which do not. This allows them to respond, changing and improving the project in response. But while this ‘bio-media model’ clearly works for video games, can it work for filmmakers? By seeing video as data, a number of media thinkers are increasingly challenging the view that a film has to be a one off creation. Join us to find out more…

The Wellcome Trust in Wired

There is an excellent Wired article on gaming and the Wellcome Trust:

The Wellcome Collection and the Wellcome Trust have expressed a commitment to gaming as a medium for bringing biomedical science stories to life through a series of commissions and grants of up to £200,000.

The Wellcome Collection -- the Wellcome Trust's exhibition space -- commissions games that can bring its exhibitions to life online. These games are specifically designed to "do the work" of the exhibition rather than simply advertise them.

"We need to think about how games might fit into the overall exhibition context or substitute for things that can't be displayed in the exhibition. It's about making the gaming element part of the programme rather than part of the communications process," said Danny Birchall, editor of the Wellcome Collection's website.

It also shows an interesting scientist/game developer collaboration - the game Axon - which is well worth a play!

Playing on the Brink of Climate Change (Longer Version)

This is a longer version of the article that appeared on the Wellcome Trust blog... Playing on the Brink of Climate Change

There can be little doubt that one of the major, if not the major challenge of the current age is the threat of climate change. Indeed many influential voices argue it is already here. For example in the book 'Eaarth' by Bill McKibben, the author argues that the planet we are living on is already a different place from the one that civilisation emerged out of several thousand years ago and this change comes with consequences. The Wellcome Trust has set understanding the health implications of climate change as a major policy point;

Climate change has been described as "the biggest global health threat of the 21st century" and is likely to affect the health of millions of people worldwide. Threats include heat waves and flooding, changing patterns of infectious diseases such as malaria and dengue, and water scarcity and rising sea levels, which could displace hundreds of thousands of people. The impacts will be greatest in low and middle-income countries.

Understanding the health impacts of climate change is a challenge for science. Communicating and acting upon that information is a challenge for all of us. Artists have been linking with scientists to help with this important process, for example the 2005 visit to the Arctic by a joint group of artists and scientists, which produced the novel Solar.

The arena of video games has also, in its own way responded too. There are games that look specifically at the health issues (such as Climate Health Impact by The Wellcome Trust and Playgen) and games that put the player in the position of trying to persuade the world's countries to act together (Fate of the World). But there are also games that use the changed world as a narrative setting to explore what that shared future might be, exploring climate change both as creative inspiration and as gameplay subject matter. The example of this I'm going to look at, and how the science has informed the creative content, is the game 'Brink'.

Brink is a first-person shooter – an action orientated game where the player sees through the eyes of an in-game character and whose interaction with the world is conducted from this first-person view. Most such games use staples such as aliens, World War II or terrorism as their setting. Brink takes a different path from the crowd and opts to use a climate changed world as a narrative setting, as the games writer, Edward Stern, noted when I spoken to him about the process of creating the game's setting;

We knew the narrative backdrop for Brink had to be visually distinctive and explain why people are fighting, what they’re fighting for, and why they don’t just leave. All of this seemed to require resource scarcity and isolation. Perhaps an island of some sort, but why would people be on an island? I’d read about www.SeaSteading.org, and seen some other amazing terraforming/engineering solutions to rising sea levels on Jeff Manaugh’s amazing BLDG BLOG. So that lead to the Ark: a techno-visionary artificial island, built to combat climate change, but cut off from the outside world and running out of spare parts… it wasn’t anything I’d seen in a game before, and seemed to offer a nice solution to our setting needs. But also, it plugged into current concerns.

Given how much the science drives what you know (and don't know) about climate change and given that it is fundamental to creating a credible view of it, Edward Stern embraced the gathering of credible sources as part of his research to inform his writing;

My training, such as it is, is as a Historian, so my test for researching a topic is; have I read the primary sources, or am I relying on secondary sources, or have I just read one book, or have I read several web posts but they’re all misquoting each other? I’ve been lucky enough to meet and be taught by some real, actual, factual experts in various topics and I know I’ll never be in that league. But as a concerned citizen and consumer, much less as a writer and infovore, climate change is something I had to know something about. The data and its interpretation get so complex so quickly, I’m pretty much reduced to reading bloggers acting as well-informed collators and aggregators who can summarise experts and some of the experts are bloggers, and some of the bloggers experts. I used to follow the science and the culture/media brouhaha surrounding it as best I could, mainly starting with www.scienceblogs.com and www.realclimate.org and following links from there. I couldn’t understand absolutely every detail of the Mann “Hockeystick” and the stolen CRU emails, but I went through them as thoroughly as I could, keeping as open a mind as I could. If I couldn’t be an active combatant in the information wars, I could at least be a well-informed civilian. I didn’t want to just skim the stuff so I could say in interviews that I had done so.

With all this information, how does the wealth of scientific information become converted into creative aspects of the game? Edward gives us a fascinating insight into that process;

No matter how profound an understanding of the science I might temporarily acquire, it wouldn’t necessarily give me things I could use for the game. I needed to understand as much as I could, but I also needed to find things to exploit dramatically and for gameplay. There’s the old statistics joke that the plural of anecdote is not data. But from a writer’s point of view, the singular of data is not anecdote – you can’t just invoke a scientific buzzword and hope that will make things seem credible or dramatic to a player/reader. It has to be something you can Show or Tell within the game, and games aren’t great as a storytelling medium. As the old joke goes, games are a medium because they’re neither rare, nor well done.

I love it when a game connects to the non-gaming bits of the brain. I always cite Deus Ex as the first game I played where I genuinely didn’t know what to do. Not just what the game would reward me most for, or what would move the action along, but because I genuinely didn’t know how I felt about the real world choices and issues the designers had put in their game for my character to deal with.

It is worth noting that games handle narrative in a very different way to a novel or a film. As an interactive medium, the player chooses the degree to which they engage with the story. They may choose to not listen to a key conversation or ignore a vital text. This makes layering narrative a challenge, as Edward explains;

People play games in very different ways. Some, like me, love the narrative detail, and will dawdle through the environment as slowly as possible, reading every sign and situation like a forensic trainee, because nothing was put there by accident. Many more gamers want a bit of story, but don’t want to get bogged down in the details. And a large majority of them just want to run around and blow stuff up. The challenge is to make the story stuff optional, so that it’s there for the players who want it, but not in the way of those who don’t.

I've played and completed Brink and it does indeed have a story that draws you in, as well as some great action too. The setting of the game and the characters responses to the climate-changed world they find themselves in is credible and engaging. Given that climate change is a hot-potato political issue and will be for some time, I also think its a bold decision to place the issue front-and-centre in a key part of popular culture - gaming. This is key as a growing number of people play games and see games as a primary source of understanding about the world around them. Climate change is an emotive issue for many reasons, which to Edward Stern made it a strong place to set a work of interactive fiction;

I was trying to make it as easy as possible for players to let the game stick in their minds, to plug into their existing concerns and prejudices about real world issues, and few people know or care absolutely nothing about climate change, whatever their outlook.

Thanks for your time, Edward!

Brink

(Past articles for the Wellcome Trust blog include one on Deus Ex:Human Revolution, Crysis 2 & Portal 2)

Crysis and the Biological Singularity of Life

Another article by Auroch Digital's Tomas Rawlings is out on the Wellcome Trust blog:

A recent game release that has done well both critically and with fans is Crysis 2.  A ‘First Person Shooter’ (FPS), the player looks through the eyes of the character they control, shooting enemies and being shot at. That’s all good fun if you like that sort of thing, but why are we writing about it here?  Well, like Deus Ex (covered in an earlier post), Crysis 2 explores a number of interesting biomedical ideas.

The story is set in a war-torn Manhattan, where an alien incursion has turned the city into a dangerous no-go area. The few civilians who remain have become infested with an alien virus, while the aliens themselves have set about building mysterious funnel-like structures that reach into the sky. You play a rogue solider equipped with a powerful state-of-the-art nano(technology)-suit who is hunted by both the CEPH (the aliens) and human forces trying to control the area. The player’s technologically advanced suit is a pawn in a much bigger game that many people wish to possess.

Full article.

(Past articles for the Wellcome Trust blog include one on Deus Ex:Human Revolution & Portal 2)