Reach Out

Reach Out
Go Ahead: Make My Play

N. Evan Van Zelfden | 15 May 2007 08:04
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Terdiman first encountered Torrone two years ago, when he was writing a Wired News piece about four sky-divers jumping from a plane just to attempt a game of multiplayer Mario on the Nintendo DS while free-falling at 120 mph (it worked).

Terdiman has written about Torrone from time to time. "He's the biggest tinkerer I've ever met. Let's put it that way." Most games are about imagination, inside a box. Even the likes of Spore and Katamari, a designer creates a system, and players later look into a machine to interface with that system. But many of Torrone's projects seem to take that same imagination and engineering, throw away the box and play in real social situations. "He basically says, 'I don't like the box I'm given - I'm creating a new box.'"

Terdiman sees more social and hands-on gaming in the future, too. Last autumn he took part in a game created by Jane McGonigal of ilovebees fame and Ian Bogost of Georgia Tech. The game of benevolent assassination, titled Cruel 2 B Kind, transformed New York's Broadway between 48th and 58th Streets, into a battleground of combatants with compliments.

Teams of players would try to "kill" other teams, by yelling kind phrases at "enemies." What made it dynamic, notes Terdiman, is you don't know who is a player and who isn't. Yelling "You look great!" at a group of strangers who end up not be involved in your game ... "the look on their faces is priceless."

Seize the Play
Torrone and Fried have moved on to other electronic entertainments. At this year's South by Southwest they discussed subversive, yet playful technology during their keynote. One device turns off televisions. Another, the Wave Bubble, disrupts cell-phone signals within a five-foot radius and fits inside a cigarette pack.

Manufacturing and selling cell phone jamming devices might be less than legal in the United States, and that's at the heart of what the pair refers to as open-source, do-it-yourself hardware hacks. They document and publish new techniques online in full detail.

"It starts conversations," explains Torrone. "You're not malicious; you don't want to hurt people." So his quarterly magazine, Make, strives to illustrate projects that make the most of home technology, celebrating "your right to tweak, hack and bend any technology to your own will."

Torrone describes his goal as helping to change things for the better by showcasing, writing and celebrating the things people make. "I'm not certain how to solve all the world's problems, but I'm sure it will involve everyone learning how to build (more) things." Evidently, the more technology available, the more you can play with it.

Make My Play
At this very moment, Torrone is focusing all his attentions on the second annual bay-area Maker Faire, a two-day, family-friendly event - it features an Electric Giraffe - that celebrates "arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself mindset." Terdiman, who expects to report on the event, says it has similar energy to the Burning Man festival, of which Terdiman is a 10-year veteran. Beside the more ephemeral crossover between the two events, Terdiman refers to "actual projects that were created for Burning Man that are on display at Maker Faire."

In the end, it's about taking fun into your own hands and making it work. Torrone once wore a shirt made of computer fans to Burning Man. People would ask him if it really worked. "Why would I make a shirt out of computer fans if it didn't work?"

N. Evan Van Zelfden expects great things for the future of games. This is why he plays games, writes about them, and continues to work in the industry of games.

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