GEEK’s Storyteller in Residence

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The GEEK festival in Margate is an interesting thing. On one hand, it’s a gaming festival, with everything from retro arcades and Minecraft to edgy boardgames and a side order of Cosplay, comics and toys. Wrapped around that is a layer of art, including new commissions, digital art, and game-making.
 
But underneath all of that is the proposition that digital, gaming and the wider creative sector are vital to the economy of East Kent, and that their potential is being ignored in things like regeneration strategies. Those documents always look at attracting big employers, where a more resilient digital economy is built of lots of small, agile companies who co-exist, share services and overlap.
GEEK was created by the team at HKD in Margate, a research-led design studio who work in science centres and museums to design world-class exhibits. Alongside their own practice, they run Marine Studios (where I have a studio). 
 
A couple of years ago, I produced a newspaper for the festival, the GEEK Gazette – which included the programme, and some fun stuff, but also looked at the future of work, emerging technology, and the way creativity and gaming contribute to the area. Writers included the then-minister Ed Vaizey, Tuttle founder Lloyd Davis, and the Centre for Creative Collaboration’s Brian Condon.
 
Well – GEEK is back this year, and moves to a new venue, Dreamland. And I’ll be back there too, with a new role as Storyteller in Residence. I won’t be telling stories, but collecting them, to help tell the story of why GEEK, and all the things it’s about, are really important.
 

Next time in TribevTribe

What didn’t work. In the spirit I always talk about, that discussing failure’s important, here are the bits I want to improve for future (and a rider to this – this is my personal list, not a detailed evaluation, and it’s thrown up quickly). Some of these are very local but are things to watch out for if the game goes elsewhere. You must read yesterday’s post about what worked alongside this one.

  1. The least used check in was the one inside Dreamland. While the Roller Disco and The Quarterdeck were well used, players didn’t get inside Dreamland, and we didn’t turn the people who were visiting Dreamland into players. We had Dreamland staff playing, but even they didn’t check in inside the park (even though they did go to other venues). If TribevTribe happens in big places, it needs a bigger presence.
  2. When staff from Dreamland and Turner Contemporary were playing, we could have made more of getting them to play against each other than we did. In week one and two, we kept them competitive, but it would have been good to have encouraged the organisations themselves to push this more internally. I had hoped this would create a game within the game.
  3. We didn’t use our players as the mechanism to get new people playing enough. We know this could work, and a few times it did, but we should have pushed it harder.
  4. We got some people Tweeting, using Instagram and watching the Facebook page, but we never took it further. We didn’t have the time or budget to fix the mechanics for people who wanted to play entirely online. An app overlaid on the real world game would be a good way to take this further, but you still need the real, physical game. Could the further away players encourage, mobilise, act as back room teams for the players locally? We needed this version of the game to work out how a more online version could work, though; it was like a big card sorting exercise.
  5. We didn’t add as many new check ins as we could have, mainly because I ran out of bits to make them! It would be good to have the time to mass produce log books, Chance cards and so on. To be more responsive, to add new check ins quickly.
  6. Some people ignored TribevTribe, and I felt that while it’s good that Cliftonville is developing its own identity, it was perhaps too separate. Visitors don’t care whether it’s Margate or Cliftonville, and could be encouraged to move around more. We tried to get Resort on the board, and the Tribes Festival was run from the Tom Thumb Theatre, but we didn’t nail either to involvement in the game. Venues in the Old Town and the lower High Street were more enthusiastic. How can we create something which drives visitors to Cliftonville, if Cliftonville doesn’t want to join up with what’s happening elsewhere? We made lots of good links, connections, and moved people to new places, but not in this case.
  7. With a bigger production team, we could have got check ins set up at some of the events happening around Margate too. We tried to get a check in at the Art Car Boot, for example, but didn’t get it sorted until very late so it didn’t happen. Again the short timescale we worked to made this harder.
  8. I think 6. and 7. show where we could have done with a little bit of help. TribevTribe played across some of the venues involved in the Tribes Festival, but a little bit of nudging other places from the Tribes Festival organisers might have meant we had check ins at more venues and events. I understand the budget and time constraints, but think future festivals need a bit of active curation to encourage collaboration. The space between exhibitions, events – the bit that TribevTribe occupied – the bit where audiences can find new experiences, move from thing to thing – is important. We need to develop audiences, get new people to see things, and make it easy for people who already see some things to try new ones. To make sure events, actions, happenings, dovetail.
  9. Our final week was the quietest, although it did swing the final results. It was after the school holidays, and after a big burst of activity in Margate, so there were fewer visitors in town, and fewer residents out around Margate as well. There were fewer check ins, but this allowed the Mods to play tactically, take places, and win the game. We could have pushed extra places, extra rewards more this week.

Game Over #tribevtribe

So after 30 odd days, TribevTribe v0.1 has finished. Game Over. What worked well?

  1. People played together. Families; we saw mother, daughter, and grandma playing together a couple of times. Was TribevTribe mostly played by women? Seems so, though that’s not data we recorded. Friends; we saw small groups trying to outplay each other, too. On different sides.
  2. People played as much or as little as they wanted. Some people tried to visit every venue, some tried to find every badge, some played for the whole month, getting tactical towards the end. Some people dipped in for a day, on a daytrip, down from London or on a day off work.
  3. People found new places, or found that TribevTribe gave them an excuse to go to places they wouldn’t normally go. Richard said he’d found the Shell Grotto by playing, and a couple said they’d had their first pints in The Quarterdeck when they went there to play.Tweet 1
  4. All the stuff looked good. People liked the Dead Letter Boxes, log books and Chance cards. The mix of designed but homemade appealed; the lo-fi, some people said, made the game feel a bit edgy and underground. People nicked bits of the game to take home and keep.
  5. We let the Big Boys mess around. We hijacked a locker at Turner Contemporary and hid stuff in Dreamland. At both venues, staff seemed to enjoy the oddness, and were obviously excited or amused by players turning up. They delighted in making grown-ups say a silly password to get the Dead Letter Box.
  6. The history stuff got people talking. Places displaying posters for old gigs had conversations with their customers about those gigs, about memories, about what went before. People weren’t sure what was real, what was made up. Lines blurred.
  7. That and the Chance cards made people look a little harder, linger, even go back to find things they’d missed.
  8. People added bits, Children left drawings in Dead Letter Boxes. Other people added sweets. The boxes looked after themselves, or rather – people looked after them. Nothing went missing, nobody stole all the badges.Tweet 2
  9. We made things equal. Turner Contemporary got the same from the game as Breuer & Dawson, Rat Race was as important as Dreamland. Old places like The Shell Grotto were on the same level as new places like the Street Art Boutique.
  10. Players could cheat. Well, they described it as cheating; I think they hacked the game. Found ways to visit more places, found stooges to take their place for a day to score more, found ways to sign other people up for their team. It was a game that belonged to the players, not the referees.
  11. The Tribes Festival felt bigger because of the game. We took in more players, added a layer, got the places we were using talking about each other and about the game. TribevTribe was an effective amplifier.
  12. Bolting on things like the Wide Eyed Theatre workshop added layers to the game – even if that workshop had a low signup. Perhaps those things need a bit more integration to really work.
  13. We opened up Marine Studios. This place is a brilliant space. It’s got room for bumbling artists and anarchic thinkers, even while the main resident company are stretching themselves on a big pitch to an overseas client. More people came in, saw the place, and signed up as coworkers. The building, the space, was adaptable, agile, hackable and professional. We gave something back to the space by being there, too.
  14. It made me think, to look at my own work differently, to see a new angle on what I’d been doing for years.
  15. It was all done cheap, fast and dirty. We had about three weeks from the Green Light to having people playing. The budget covered a few days work, but people gave lots more because they were enjoying it.
  16. As well as TribevTribe, other work was made. Megan the producer made a series of drawings of the places in the game, and there will be more work for her from that. David joined us on work experience, shot a great bunch of pictures for his portfolio, was forced out of his comfort zone and got an exhibition.
  17. All that and it’s all only beta, test, trial, This version of TribevTribe is just the start. Imagine it with a budget and time.

TribevTribe

Five tribes will fight across Margate for the next month. TribevTribe is a month-long artwork which takes the centre of Margate as a board to play on.

When players choose to play they collect a Game Card, which randomly assigns them to one of five Tribes – Mods, Rockers, Punks, Hippies and Ravers. So if up to five people decide to play together, they’ll be playing for different teams.

Players visit venues across Margate, looking for a hidden Dead Letter Box. Usually taking the form of a wooden box, the Dead Letter Box is identified by some combination of the five Tribe symbols. Players can visit each venue once a week. In a few places, the Dead Letter Box is held by staff, and there’s a password to access it; the clue to these stashes can be found in other Dead Letter Boxes.

Chance back new copyEvery Dead Letter Box contains two things for sure; a Log Book and a pack of Chance cards. Players record that they’ve visited to score a point, and take a Chance card which can send them to other venues or set them another task to score more points. Dead Letter Boxes might also contain rewards or gifts left by other players. These might change week to week, and special rewards might be announced via social media.

Players can play by themselves, in secret; they can just visit each venue, find the Dead Letter Box and record their visit. The game is like a less technological version of geocaching. It’s a good way to explore Margate.

Or players can choose to play TribevTribe on a more social level. Players don’t know who else is on their team, but can accept Chance card challenges to use social media to meet other players.

Or they can, by gathering strangers together (and without even meeting them) play strategically, agreeing to all visit certain venues in an attempt to conquer them.

That’s important because scores are collected from the Dead Letter Boxes, and announced on a rolling basis. Each week, it will be announced which Tribe has scored most points and conquered each venue, encouraging the other teams to try to retake those places on the board.

Around twenty venues are involved in the work. Each venue can choose how to participate; the simplest way is just to host a Dead Letter Box. But some venues have chosen to get their staff playing, to add extra levels of content, or to champion one of the five Tribes on social media. The first fifteen venues are already in play – and more will be added next week. The venues are large, big public funded attractions like Turner Contemporary, and small, independent shops, cafes and attractions like The Shell Grotto, Rat Race and Proper Coffee.

Lower Third PosterOther venues are involved in another way. The game’s skin of subcultures has led to the creation of a series of posters referencing real gigs and events from Margate’s past; a residency in a community hall for The Lower Third, a Hawkwind community benefit, a wrestling match and so on. These post for long-gone gigs can be found displayed around the town, and players score extra points for finding them, too.

The game is designed to scale, flex and adapt as it happens; ‘it’s iterative design’, a Design Council expert said as she took her Game Card.

TribevTribe was conceived after carrying out evaluation of last year’s Summer of Colour, a festival organised by Turner Contemporary. That evaluation found that people’s movement across Margate from venue to venue was limited. And that people weren’t generally attending multiple events within the festival.

TribevTribe aims to address that, by giving people an incentive to move between places. But it also creates a linking structure for the diverse venues within the festival, and connects them to smaller independent shops, cafes and attractions across the town.

TribevTribe

“And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!”

“Have you used it much?” I enquired.

“It has never been spread out, yet,” said Mein Herr. “The farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.”

Lewis Carroll, Sylvie & Bruno

Whenever you go down the roads in Britain, you travel not in three dimensions, but in four. The fourth dimension is the past. And as we move to and fro in this fourth dimension, we see not only landscape but the economic, political and social forces at work behind the landscape. Shaping it, forever changing it, but leaving here and there the record, and the mark.

There’s life everywhere and the tracks we make are shared and crossed by the paths of others, who know this world better than we do.

Travis Elborough & Bob Stanley, How We Used To Live

Tribe Icons only

TribevTribe is a game uses the town itself as the board, and is played not in three dimensions, but in four. It’s a game which celebrates Margate’s place as a home to youth culture, and lays that past over the present townscape.

Players move through the town, and in and out of history, winning points by completing simple challenges, finding clues or building their tribe. As they play they win points for their tribe; Mods, Rockers, Hippies, Punk and Ravers. The Isle of Thanet, which history tells us is the correct place to land if you want to conquer Britain, will be conquered again as each tribe wins and loses territory in the four weeks the game is being played.

TribevTribe has been created by Dan Thompson, a social artist whose work is about mapping, public space, towns as places to play, and social history. It’s been commissioned by Marine Studios, who are behind the GEEK festival, which brings play, art and technology together. It forms part of the Tribes Festival. TribevTribe is funded by Kent County Council and the Tribes Festival.

Ed Vaizey on the UK games sector

On the outside Games Expo East Kent (known for fairly obvious reasons as GEEK) is a fairly straightforward games expo, with thousands of people descending on Margate’s Winter Gardens this weekend to play retro video games and find out about the latest in computer gaming. But underneath that is a serious purpose, to look at the place of digital in a town like Margate. If GEEK proves anything, it’s that digital today is all about a little bit of chaos, a lot of collaboration, endless crossovers and constant innovation. I edited the GEEK Gazette this year, a free paper distributed across the area, and asked guest writers to contribute. Here’s what Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, wrote:

Ed Vaizey at Turner Contemporary, Margate  © Robert Canis
Ed Vaizey at Turner Contemporary, Margate
© Robert Canis

The digital landscape of the UK is undergoing a period of tremendous change, a transformation that I believe is vital for the economic growth of our country. Government and local authorities are investing £1.7 billion to help bring superfast broadband to 95 per cent of the UK by 2017 – to enhance the connectivity and digital capabilities of our homes and businesses.

An improved digital infrastructure will help drive the growth of business within our creative industries, and particularly the video games sector. We recognise the incredible contribution that video gaming makes to our economy and are determined to do all we can to support its continued growth.

That is why we introduced the video gaming tax relief. Industry estimates it could be worth up to £25 million per year for the sector. We are also invested in the development of up and coming talent. Through collaboration with Creative Skillset our funding for the Skills Investment Fund is widening access to industry-led training. We have already seen a positive impact with the Fund helping to place over 100 trainees in 67 games companies.

The UK games sector generates £2bn in global sales and contributes almost £1bn to national GDP. We cannot underestimate the importance of this industry. The UK is a great training ground for the developers, animators and programmers of the future. We are attracting overseas investment and industry figures show that our games studios already employ over 9,000 creative staff, whilst indirectly supporting close over 16,000 jobs.

Within the video gaming world, the UK is renowned for its talent, creativity and the innovation of its products. We can boast of the creation of many world-beating games, such as Elite, Lemmings, Tomb Raider, LittleBigPlanet and Moshi Monsters.

This sector is a shining example of the UK’s strength in innovation and creativity and it is great to see video gaming claiming the recognition it deserves. The UK is already home to the largest games development community in Europe. Together with industry, we will continue to strengthen our position on the world’s stage, ensuring more and more globally successful games will be conceived, developed and produced right here in the UK.

Ed Vaizey MP