Tuesday, April 19, 2005

5-day Narrative Game Workshop in Finland

University of Art and Design, Helsinki, Finland

The last time I was in Finland was in 1968, and I don't remember much about it. One of the things I do remember is going to the sauna in the hotel. Saunas are an important part of social and family life in Finland, but I knew nothing about them apart from the fact that it involved being naked in a very hot room. What I wasn't prepared for was a strapping middle-aged lady, wearing the uniform of a hotel employee, waiting outside. She motioned (she spoke no English; we spoke no Finnish) my father, brother and me to lie down on three tables, where she proceeded -- still with us all stark naked -- to scrub us each down, top and bottom, with a brush!

This kind of thing does not happen in central Kentucky. Nor yet central Sudan, the two parts of the world with which I was, at that point, most familiar.

The doors of the university, in five languages!
Thirty-seven years later I got the chance to go back, although I didn't manage a sauna this time. I was too busy (and perhaps a little frightened of a repeat performance). The University of Art and Design in Helsinki is giving a series of game design workshops and seminars, specifically on the subject of narrative in games, and they invited me to be one of the presenters. The group was a great mix of professionals, students, and academics -- I find that heterogenous teams often produce the most imaginative results.

One of the best of the ideas was Troll Island, pictured below. Troll Island is an augmented reality game set in a specific location: Suomenlinna Island, a popular spot with tourists. The fantasy is that the island is inhabited by fairies and trolls, but they're invisible to the naked eye.   To see them, you have to use an "Enchanted Eye" -- a mobile phone with a camera and a Global Positioning System receiver. The game consists of wandering around the island, having encounters with trolls and other creatures via the phone, in the course of an adventure whose plot unfolds as you walk. Great stuff, and completely different from what I anticipated.

Why do those spectacles look so much like mine?

I'm sorry to say, however, that the participants don't always give their teachers all the respect they deserve. Close inspection of The Keymaster Elf, pictured here, will reveal a familiar face.

Troll Island was conceived, designed, and documented in three days by Outi Kotala, Ville Tikka, Ciaran Harris, and Sami Pekkola.