Bateman’s Vegas: the film experience

A little glimpse into our showing last week. We presented our first attempt at modelling a system with a number of interacting smaller models. The system we chose to model was Bateman’s Vegas, a fictional seaside town on the east coast of Australia. The following are a few videos showing each of the games.

In this small toy model, the audience are responsible for managing the parking and transport infrastructure for the visitors.

In Beach Teens, the audience examine how the local teens come to light fires on the sand dunes.

In the Tension game, the audience play out the tension building between locals and tourists.

Surfing allows the audience are able to alter the size and shape of the sandbar to see what effect it has on the surf break.

In the Fishing small toy model, the audience play out the effects of commercial and recreational fishing on the town’s local fish stocks.


Dead games, old games, new games

With Bateman’s Vegas only dead and buried a week, yesterday we spent time exhuming its corpse, analysing what worked at last week’s showing, what didn’t, and where we go from here.

The showing, through my eyes at least, went a lot smoother than was expected. It was rough, sure, and there were probably a few moments where the ball was up in the air (or dropped, depending on which version of ball-related saying is being used) but on the whole it was a thoroughly positive experience. It was fantastic to see an audience engaging with the system we had created, both on a tactile and intellectual level.

Something of significance that I noticed and heard through feedback was how much more engaging the science was once people were connecting with characters’ stories, and completing tactile tasks. I think as we go ahead we don’t need to be afraid of bringing in complex ideas as long as we consistently integrate them with more performative, interactive parts.

Internationale Spieltag was great, as has already been discussed. There were many games using mechanisms that closely linked to some of the key ideas and cognitive attitudes we’ve talked about in the project’s manifesto. Programming actions, for example, forces players to remain aware of their original expectations and goals while the results may differ from what they had planned. Balancing outcomes against expectations is an important cognitive attitude that the process of modeling can develop, as are an awareness of the way we formulate goals and the ability to discover new questions.

Something we chatted about yesterday was the format of initially presenting a flawed (perhaps biased) model that doesn’t work, and encouraging the participants to discuss the problems and suggest solutions for an improved model, and then managing (or playing) that model, which they have had a hand in creating (modelling reflects the people doing the modelling). This is something that I would love to test – even if it doesn’t work I think it could provoke some quite useful ideas.

I leave with a picture of an 18th Century German gaming table (thankyou Deutsches Historisches Museum) and a question which some of the Essen games left me with:

How much room in an hour is there for an audience to engage in self-reflection? Can constant self-reflection be encouraged throughout?

– Nathan

Another Day, Another Egg Dance

This last week has been super busy. Presenting a showing and then jetting off to an international board game convention will have that effect upon the common week.

Showing off Batemans Vegas last Wednesday proved a rewarding experience. My main concern heading into the showing was clarity. That what we were trying to do and what we wanted the audience to take away from the experience might not be clear enough to throw up suggestions for how to progress the work. However what we were setting out to do seemed clear in the end, but how to do it in full within the time limit we have created is the more interesting puzzle.

 A realization that I had in leading up to the showing was in regards to time. How do you fit all the complexity and detail of a systems model (which you need in order to fulfill the original focus of the project) while also including narrative and finding creative ways to present these systems and the models that represent them, into a 45 min-1hour work. To make it longer would probably be to draw it out too much. But in 45 minutes of showing we were able to get through one cycle of the sub systems which is not really enough to display the full beauty of what can be observed in a modeling process. The challenge remains to make something without leaving out details and the process of the system, but also to present it in a way that doesn’t drag, or take more than an hour.

Some of our experience at the Spieltage game convention in Essen presented suggestions of how to move things along a bit, although I am not certain that they will all be appropriate for our work.

Escape! Was a game which had a audio track to time the game. The aim of the game was to escape from a collapsing temple (Indiana Jones style) with your whole temple exploring team. You began the game when you pressed play, and when the track finished, if you hadn’t made it out, your whole team lost. It certainly drove the adrenaline up and the interaction. Suddenly you relied upon each person on the table to get out. While I don’t think that kind of adrenaline is what is needed particularly in this Modelling Play, the form of it is interesting.

My favorite of the Spieltage games was a very silly kids game called Eiertanz (Egg Dance) which was also very interactive but also very short, in which participants must collect their eggs (yellow rubber bouncy eggs) and then hold them under their chins, arms, between knees and elbows. Then the challenge is to hold them all, gradually getting more and more, and being given sillier and sillier provocations (running around tables, jumping up and down) until someone drops their eggs and they go bouncing madly about. Perhaps this is not something to put into the systems modeling, but it was a lot of fun nonetheless. Although if we decided to model a chicken coop… 

My question at this stage of the process is: How do we make a work that captures the complexity of the modeling process, simply and within a hour performance that we have asked of ourselves?


Playing Escape! at Spieltage 2012


Spieletag 2012, aka the best research trip

It’s a sign of something when the project you’re working on legitimately requires you to travel to Germany to attend a boardgame festival. What exactly I’m not sure, but however uncertain we are about a lot of the details of Modelling Play, one of the few things we’re certain of is that it’s an interactive performance taking place around a table, and in that respect it owes a lot to the venerable tradition of boardgaming.

So with that in mind, Nikki Rachel Muttley Nathan and myself departed for Essen, Germany to spend several days at the biggest boardgame festival in the world, Spieletag. It’s a fairly intense experience for a non-gamer to arrive at a town and have a crush of 75,000 people swarming in from all corners of the globe, packed out trains on the subway, people everywhere and then to arrive at the convention centre and wander through hall after hall packed full of boardgames.

Over the last 48 hours we have played a lot of boardgames. We played a Settlers of Catan variation which I was terrible at, a game called River Dragons where you needed to build a bridge across a river in order for your dragon to visit the pagoda on the other side. We played a game set in 1930s America called Crown of Underworld by a new Polish company. Nathan fell in love with a game called Marrakech around being a carpet salesman. Nikki and I fell in love with a game called Dancing Eggs which was intended for five year olds. Muttley and Rachel were consistently the best at all the games.

And we learned a lot. There’s a lot that boardgames can teach about how to invite a user in, how to structure an interactive experience, different ways and means of building tension, how much control to hand over to the participant and how much to maintain as a facilitator, and how much you can achieve with a few simple mechanisms. Many thoughts which we’ll only properly apply when we return to UCL next week.

In the meantime, the most wild and fun experience of the festival was the ten minute game Escape! which according to had the most buzz of any game at all of Spieletag. And fair enough, it was wild. DIG IT.

– David F

Farewell to Bateman’s Vegas

Tonight was our first public showing for the Modelling Play project, and we were fortunate to welcome 10 charming guests into our upstairs office in the University College London Environment Institute. And there we ran through five ‘sub-systems models’ that link together to form the core of our – very basic – representation of the seaside town that is Bateman’s Vegas.

In this version of the show we only ran the systems through one cycle, which meant that the participants only had time to get familiar with each model before it ended. In a future version we’d hope to have fewer sub-systems and simpler control mechanisms, so you could more rapidly get to looking at the behaviour of the system as a whole. However, for now, it was really valuable to see if and how the sub-system games worked as mini-performance pieces and how the whole thing functioned as a performance event.

Interestingly, the participants got the absolute best-case results from the various models. The carpark was sufficient for the tourists, the surf was great, the fishing was excellent – there were a few too many fires on the sand dunes, but overall an excellent season for the town. The moral of the story being, put British people in charge of Australian beaches, they clearly have a hidden talent.

Lots to consider, lots to change. Tomorrow (actually in a few hours from now) we head to Germany for Spieletag, the international boardgame festival, which will be a pretty bizarre and wonderful research trip. And then next week we return and begin, in a way from scratch. First we throw out Bateman’s Vegas (goodbye!) and begin with a new system, which we will be spending even more time on. This might well be the system we take through to our final scratch at BAC in November, which is exciting.

Right now I’m buzzing with thoughts of what did and didn’t work, and from the excellent feedback and input we got from participants after the showing. So given that we’re going to start again, I think my main question for right now is, How can we extract the working components from Bateman’s Vegas and apply them to a new setting?

– David F

The Exciting Carpark of Batemans Vegas


This week we have moved from looking at the individual components and mechanisms – that could be employed in performing around a system – to looking at what a modeling process actually is.  Working out how a system functions is not easy, everything relates to everything else somehow after all, and it all gets complex very quickly. I have found learning the language of systems analysis and understanding what affects what in a system a little tricky. But this process does give a very good analysis of a system, taking into account multiple aspects and perspectives.

Now we have done our analysis of our beach system , we are each taking on a smaller sub systems to design a game or mechanism for, which displays the negotiations that must occur within that area. Each of these small sub system games should then (theoretically) be able to affect the next game and the next, all the way along (and back), as they are interrelated and dependent on one another. Our big challenge next week will be to fit them all together and see if they really do operate just like that.

My sub system is the car park at the beach. I am going to be examining and displaying how the amount parking allowed will affect the businesses, the tourist and local peoples satisfaction with the beach, and also the impact upon the environment – specifically the sand dunes adjacent to the beach (a perfect parking spot for frustrated drivers who can’t locate a park). Using a planning element in the design of the car park for maximal efficiency, and then by testing the ability of the design to withhold the amount of tourist and local traffic moving in and out of the car park in a peak season day the mechanism looks at the use of space to maximum effect, and at how successful it is at allowing for fluctuations in use.

If my mechanism operates as it should then it will output some measure of how relations between the local people and the tourists that visit their beach are (for Rachel to use in her model) or/and the level of impact upon the sand dunes – a natural habitat for grass, wildlife and the towns teenage population (for Nathan to use in his model). We attempt to put them all together on Monday.

Is this a performance about modeling, or one in which modeling is used? Or both?


Some videos of the process so far

Hey, so just to keep us up to date: we’ve been capturing some of the process of creation on film, and we now have our very own Modelling Play Vimeo Channel (see link on the right). However, in case you’re interested, here’s a selection of our games in one swathe.

Muttley and David created a game entitled Volleyball Farm, in which players managed different farms (a party farm, a gulag farm, a cat farm, a triangle farm and of course the eponymous volleyball farm) and tried to collaborate to insure each other against bad years and to collaborate to build a giant statue of the buddha. A community bank acted as a shared common resource which was tempting to exploit. Created on the sixth day.

Nathan, Rachel and Nikki created the Four Farms game, which involved placing pieces of infrastructure and landscape (bridges and forests), involving silent voting and compromise. This took place on our fifth day in the space.

Rachel and Nikki created a game in which players took control of an ants nest. In the first half you allotted resources to produce different kinds of ant, from soldiers to workers to males. In the second half, those different types allowed you to create trails leading to different kinds of food. In this clip, Rachel reads a story about the male ants and Ikea. Created on our sixth day.

Town and Islandi were two of the small pseudo models we created in our first week of development. Town looks at some imagined effects resource allocation could make upon a town environment, while in Islandi players negotiate to balance the impact of fishing and logging on a small island. Both are very rough sketches of what we are attempting with the project, but a beginning nonetheless.