Computer Systems Laboratory Colloquium

4:15PM, Wednesday, February 23, 2005
NEC Auditorium, Gates Computer Science Building B03

Ludic Networking and Massively Collaborative Play

Jane McGonigal
University of California, Berkeley and 42 Entertainment
About the talk:

July 16, 2003, San Francisco — Over 300 people, most of whom have never previously met, occupy the pedestrian crosswalk at Market and 4th for ten minutes, spinning back and forth like whirling dervishes. Although the spectacle appears to be spontaneous, it has been carefully organized through emails, text messages, listservs and other forms of digital word-of-mouth. They call it a flash mob.

June 12, 2003, San Francisco — Over 450 people, most of whom have never previously met, take over a Market Street neighborhood for three hours, adopting superhero personas. They download site-specific Go Game challenges onto their mobile phones and roam the streets, completing dozens of public adventure missions each. They call it urban superhero gaming.

April 3, 2004, San Francisco — Over 700 people, most of whom have never previously met, occupy the gymnasium at the University of San Francisco for an entire day, networking their own personal computers to create the first spontaneous, grass-roots supercomputer. As the supercomputer works, they set up a massively-scaled Halo LAN party. They call it flash mob supercomputing.

August 24, 2004, San Francisco — Over 4,000 people, most of whom have never met in real-life, conspire to launch a 12-week, real-world occupation of nearly 1000 U.S. payphones, including a dozen phones on San Francisco’s Market Street. Their regular Tuesday payphone gatherings are part of Halo 2’s I Love Bees, an online alternate reality campaign with a total player base of nearly half a million. They call the real-world missions flash mob gaming.

Flash mobs, urban superhero gaming, flash mob supercomputing, and flash mob gaming — each is an example of massively collaborative play made possible through digital network technologies. In this talk, I will propose that the four examples above, which share a striking geographic, technological and cultural proximity to each other, are part of a much larger, emerging cluster of networking that is both ludic and public. This historically significant cluster, I will argue, is best understood and designed for as SuperGaming.

What, exactly, is SuperGaming? It is massively scaled, as in supersized gaming; it is embedded in and projected onto everyday public environments, as in superimposed gaming; it is experienced as bestowing spectacular new powers and abilities upon its players, as in superhero gaming; and it harnesses the play of distributed individuals into a high-performance problem-solving unit, as in supercomputing gaming .

Through a historically-grounded presentation and analysis of the recent trend toward SuperGaming, and an eye toward future directions in mobile networked play, this talk addresses the following pair of closely-tethered concerns: 1) What player pleasures are specific to the SuperGaming experience? and 2) Which digital game design strategies are most likely to generate play that is pleasurably "super" — i.e., that is massive, collective, spectacular, pervasive, and performative?

Slides and Web Page:

Slides for the talk. The slides are licensed under a Creative Commons license and copyright by Jane McGonigal.
Jane's Website:

About the speaker:

Jane McGonigal is a game designer and games researcher, specializing in massively multiplayer games played in everyday spaces. She is currently a creative designer for 42 Entertainment, where she most recently served as community lead and puppetmaster for the Halo 2 alternate reality game I Love Bees. Jane is also a Ph.D. candidate in performance studies at UC Berkeley, researching collective play and practicing design for collaboration as a member of the Alpha Lab for Industrial Engineering and Operations Research and the Berkeley Institute of Design. Her previous projects include The Go Game (Wink Back, Inc.), Organum (BID lab), Tele-Twister (Alpha Lab), and Demonstrate (Alpha Lab), which was the featured artwork for the Whitney Museum’s online digital artport in September 2004. She has served as a pervasive gaming consultant for Microsoft, Electronic Arts and Intel, and is currently working with the MacArthur Foundation on an educational gaming initiative. Jane has taught game design as the San Francisco Art Institute and game culture at UC Berkeley, and is a member of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.

Contact information:

Jane McGonigal