Ida C. Benedetto http://uncommonplaces.com Media Strategy, Event Production, Game Design, Website Development Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:56:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Wanderlust Projects in Fast Company http://uncommonplaces.com/2014/07/wanderlust-projects-fast-company/ http://uncommonplaces.com/2014/07/wanderlust-projects-fast-company/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:55:12 +0000 http://uncommonplaces.com/?p=3646 Fast Company calls us “Innovation Agents.” In the video interview, N.D. and I talk about risk, discovery, and getting past boundaries. Check it out:

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Fast Company calls us “Innovation Agents.” In the video interview, N.D. and I talk about risk, discovery, and getting past boundaries. Check it out:

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The School For Poetic Computation http://uncommonplaces.com/2014/06/school-poetic-computation/ http://uncommonplaces.com/2014/06/school-poetic-computation/#comments Thu, 19 Jun 2014 19:41:10 +0000 http://uncommonplaces.com/?p=3591 Learning to fly at the artist programming school that made my heart soar.

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In the original story of “The Ugly Duckling”, there’s a moment where the despondent and rejected fluff ball sees a flock of migrating swans overhead. He recognizes them as his people, a group where he will no longer be the teased and abused outsider. The ugly duckling is too small to join the migration and waits out the cold winter until he is fully grown and the flock returns.

Have you been through a lonely winter like that–where you knew who you’d be at home with, but for reasons outside your control, you weren’t ready to join in yet?

Via https://flickr.com/people/omp_production/

Via OMP Productions on Flickr

Unlike the ugly duckling who just has to wait and grow a little, joining the creative flocks I so admire requires deliberate trial and error. I saw one of those flocks pass over head sometime in undergrad, when I did half of my BFA work in Parsons’ Design & Technology program. It was a struggle to keep pace with my more technically savvy classmates. I saw work that inspired me greatly. I learned that interactive and computational technology could gracefully accomplish what I awkwardly manipulated documentary photography to do.

It’s been years of cold, lonely winter where I applied the experience and interaction design skills I learned in the Design and Technology program to physical and analogue settings, but I struggled to acquire the technical prowess I craved.

Winter Thawed, the Flock Returned

And that flock was the School For Poetic Computation. This past Spring, I was very happy to find myself with the heap of beautiful swans at the SFPC (or would it be a stack?).

Illustration by Taeyoon Choi

Illustration by Taeyoon Choi

SFPC describes itself as school for artists taught by artists. Not everyone attending was an artist strictly, but everyone optimistically embraced creative expression through computation as a means and an end. The school ran on open source code, open finances, and to a large extent an open curriculum.

Getting a Raspberry Pi up and running with Jonathan Dahan

Getting a Raspberry Pi up and running with Jonathan Dahan

SFPC can’t teach you to be better at technical execution, much like learning to write poetry won’t improve your punctuation or grammar. SFPC can’t position you for a career in any direct and obvious way. And as far as I can tell it probably can’t fix shoddy thinking, either.

From the SFPC Mission Statement:

This is not a program to get a degree, there are large programs for that. This is not a program to go for vocational skills, there are programs for that. This is a program for self initiated learners who want to explore new possibilities. This is a program for thinkers in search of a community to realize greater dreams.

What SFPC can do is deepen your appreciation of computation as an expressive medium, get you engaged with a community of practitioners, and leave you with a host of new possibilities to explore. You gain a deep appreciation of the potential of code to do profound and beautiful things.

Becky Stern and her Adafruit creations.

Becky Stern shares her Adafruit creations

My opening presentation was on tenements and the borscht belt. My closing presentation was about my mom’s domestic textile arts practice. It was all fine and welcome. I’m not sure what other technology intensive would look at these contributions and see a swan at work rather than an ugly duckling. And how did my presentations relate to what I actually worked on during the two weeks? Let’s just say it was all pretty poetic.

Opening presentations at SFPC.

Opening presentations at SFPC

Why SFPC in Particular is Awesome

Radical Transparency in Finances

This goes along with the artist school mentality. Expensive education on endeavors of unclear practical application and material benefit is inherently an exclusive pursuit of the privileged. SFPC aims to be accessible while being realistic about what it takes materially and financially to create a supportive community of practitioners. Commitment to radical transparency in finances ensures an ongoing, rigorous engagement with how to do this. Artists and money–sometimes it’s just not about the money.

Everyone Was There For The Right Reasons

The openness, curiosity and supportive disposition of the cohort bowled me over. It shows clarity in messaging on the part of SFPC (or just the right opacity) and a great screening process.

Packed Schedule, Yet a Flexible Approach to Learning

There was always lots of brainpower in the room, between the core staff, the guest lectures, and the cohort of participants. The planned schedule gave us tons to work on and be inspired by, but there was also a spaciousness about what the group gravitated toward and needed. What was taught very much responded to the group’s momentum. The brainpower available meant that specialized workshops could happen on the fly. If you didn’t know what to work on at any one moment, there was bound to be something going on or someone who could use a hand.

Controller gloves created in Kaho Abe's workshop

Controller gloves created in Kaho Abe‘s workshop

What the Program Did For Me

Having toiled mostly alone to learn tech stills for the past few years, it was incredibly comforting to arrive at SFPC and realize the extent of what I had accomplished. It’s easy to underestimate what you know when it’s just you and the whole contents of the internet to judge yourself against. The concepts I managed to master on my own were fairly simple, like nested for loops and version control systems, but in a social context where the background and expertise of the participants varies widely, it was impossible to second guess the utility of what I had taught myself. I gained a lot of confidence to simply keep it up. It’s hard to think you’re doing something wrong when Zack Lieberman is searching Stack Overflow to answer your questions and testing some of the same possibilities you did (albeit much more quickly and elegantly).

Zach Lieberman demonstrates bit planes.

Zach Lieberman demonstrates bit planes

I have a host of new tools and concepts to play with. I would never have expected that I would spend as much time mucking around with Python as I did, for example. It was also incredibly fun to get my first Raspberry Pi working and play around with routers and mesh networking. I have a laundry list of fresh reading and tinkering to do that will fuel my creativity for some time to come.

My router served me up a drink recipe when I got it working in a workshop with Sean McIntyre

My router served me up a drink recipe in a workshop with Sean McIntyre

Beautiful, messy data. Presentation by The Office Of Creative Research.

Beautiful, messy data–presentation by the Office Of Creative Research.

So what’s next? More SFPC picnics, I hope! And more Python for me. I’ve been polling my friends in urban policy and historical research for data sets to play with.

An exciting side note: we did our thing where Rancid did its thing. Check out this music video shot in the very room where we made 1 bit computers and rained 3D squirrel in virtual space. Thanks to Orbital for hosting us!

Birds of A Feather

SFPC is going through something of an ugly duckling phase itself. Amid the many programming intensives, SFPC is the odd one that thinks poets have all the answers and that hireability isn’t necessarily a sign of success for a technologist. It dreams of having a flock of its own, a collection of artist schools where we can go from one affordable intensive to another learning what most go to grad school for but with more joy and less overhead. What will creative technology education be like when SFPC finds its flock of swans?

Sign up for SFPC’s email list on the website to hear about upcoming sessions.

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Wanderlust’s Foiled Goodbye to the Borscht Belt http://uncommonplaces.com/2014/06/wanderlust-borscht-belt-kutchers/ http://uncommonplaces.com/2014/06/wanderlust-borscht-belt-kutchers/#comments Sun, 01 Jun 2014 19:38:59 +0000 http://uncommonplaces.com/?p=3557 We were captivated by Kutcher's: the massive gathering spaces, the kitschy carpeting, suits left as if room service had been through just yesterday.

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Live tech demos are notoriously dangerous. Something inexplicable always goes wrong. Wanderlust Projects is subject to this phenomenon, too. No matter how much we scout a location, no matter how carefully we plan, something unanticipated and nerve-wracking happens the day of the actual production. With the Candyland Trespass Safari, we spotted security in the defunct factory for the first time only after our 50 guests had fanned out across the facility. Before the Illicit Couple’s Retreat, one set of joyriders after another pulled over to nose around the property as we were setting up. Luck had been with us though. My collaborator N.D. Austin and I always managed to pull it off in the end. I’m sad to say that luck left us recently.

We found out about the fate of the last of the grand Borscht Belt resorts in December. Kutcher’s Country Club will be razed to make way for a yoga retreat. We visited and were captivated by the sprawling, outdated complex: the massive gathering spaces, the kitschy carpeting, the suits left as if room service had been through just yesterday. Kutcher’s felt like something.

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Even though I grew up just on the other side of the Hudson River, I had no personal relationship with the Borscht Belt, a collection of 1,000 bungalows and resorts that catered to Jewish New Yorkers from the 1920s through the end of the 20th century. We had to do some research to make sense of Kutcher’s. Borscht Belt lore is a treasure trove of memories. People had good times there that they recount in numerous books and news reports. I was knee deep in library books on the “Jewish Alps” when I found a haunting video on YouTube. A man explored the dark and vacant Kutcher’s just before the estate auction recording nearly a half hour of POV footage, narrating aloud about the memories each spot brought up.

I used to go swimming here plenty of times. And the Deep End Lounge… Beautiful chandelier… And now for the first time ever, I’m gonna go into the offices. As you see, the bingo cards which we’d play with Tom and Barry. Yea, good old Tom and Barry Bingo… [video 1 of 2, 4:42]

Yup, and the card room is right over here, just as I thought. Some chairs from the night club. I guess this is where they moved the shul… Don’t ask me why I am doing this. (He picks up the ripped out phone handset off the floor and places it back on the hook.) [video 2 of 2, 5:23]

Alright, let’s go back down to the lobby. Back down to the auction. Still so sad… It’s just falling apart. Breaks my heart to see what’s happened in such a short period of time. [video 2 of 2, 6:58]

Is that sound of sniffles him crying?

Wanderlust Projects designed an experience (codenamed “The Mambo”) based on the resort’s heyday. We signed on bands, comedians, a bartender, and even a tummler. The two dozen guests were ready to bring their children for a day in the country.

Despite scheduling the experience on Easter and Passover weekend, the property was suddenly crawling with demolition crew. It was impossible to sneak our sizable group onto the property.

We left the city behind and headed north on I-87, intermittently chatting and dozing. An hour went by before we pulled over into the parking lot of a rest stop. Benedetto hopped out of the van and asked everyone to gather for a quick pow wow.

[Benedetto] had just received a call from Austin, she said, and it turned out bulldozers and construction workers had beaten us to the event location. Today’s adventure would have to be rerouted. The guests, who just had arrived at Grand Central with even fewer details than I had, were being sent home. She looked genuinely distraught.

- The Huffington Post

We managed a solid save for the crew, who were already en rout. Some of the band members said that if we hadn’t said anything, they would have thought that the detour to the Widow Jane Mine was the plan all along. We unfortunately had to disband the guest before they set out on the road. We mailed each family or couple a care package with a personal letter explaining what happened and memorabilia from the resort.

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IMG_9289web

I was sad that our plans to offer Kutcher’s a final farewell were foiled. I was so steeped in the complex emotions the place stirred up for people who visited and worked there that I began to feel those sentiments, or at least some shadow of them, myself.

The Gothamist gave us the opportunity to write about Kutcher’s. We shared the insights of our research with enthusiasm and appreciation for the larger cultural impact the Borscht Belt had American culture. The heartfelt comments on the post have been a delight to read. Here are a few of my favorites:

Sent this to my Mom. She says, referring to her late father:
“i guess that says it all. end of an era. the last time i was at Kutshers with Saba there was a fight between 2 rabbis at the saturday service and Saba won the raffle and got the weekend for free. a fitting end.”

I waitressed at the coffee shop there in the early 90s. A guy I dated in college is from the area and we used to drive down and work crazy hours a couple of weekends a month. We stayed in the employee quarters that are hidden away behind the hotel. It really was like Dirty Dancing. Except for the dirty dancing part.
I have a fond memory of serving coffee to polka legend Jimmy Sturr. He was wearing a purple lamé shirt.

Dad’s Catskills memories were from the early days. He & his parents were musicians, who played in the house orchestras in the 1920s and 30s. One of his earliest memories was of driving up to Joe Slutsky’s Nevele Mansion c. 1925, as a small child. He played in Catskills hotels in the 1930s, when he was a student at Juilliard. He remembered being at some hotel in 1936 or 37, when Naftule Brandwein came to play. After the show, the whole orchestra went into Monty, they go to the deli, and Brandwein starts to play. All over town, windows pop open, and cries echo of “Naftule’s back! Naftule’s back!”

Thanks for the memories, Kutcher’s.

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2013 Year in Review http://uncommonplaces.com/2014/01/2013-year-review/ http://uncommonplaces.com/2014/01/2013-year-review/#comments Wed, 08 Jan 2014 07:01:47 +0000 http://uncommonplaces.com/?p=3433 The laundry list of everything I did in 2013, plus some subtle observations about how I work and all the small things I was grateful for.

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Over the past year, I have been writing up personal reflections each Sunday. Taken together, the 52 sets of answers to qualitative questions about my week maps out what I accomplished and how, effectively silencing the persistent little voice inside that says “You have’t done enough!” Reading through the weekly reflections reveals subtle shifts in my thinking and behavior over time. Here’s the summary:

Ida C. Benedetto

 

The Laundry List of What I Did in 2013

Wanderlust Projects (wanderlustprojects.com)

Antidote Games (playistheantidote.com)

Other Professional Endeavors

Misc. Personal

  • Fooled everyone with my bridesmaid costume at my sister’s wedding
  • Was treated to the best surprise birthday adventure ever (thank you N.D. & Laine)
  • Quit Facebook completely

General Trends

1. (A Little Less) Overcommitment

This past year involved a serious reality check about commitments and what I could reasonably accomplish each week. The list you just scrolled through is me scaling back. Initially, the weekly reflections had me testing out hourly estimates of how long the things I committed to would take. My estimates were consistently low.  I shifted to a more intuitive process of keeping complete lists of my projects and shuffling them from active to inactive each week based on what I thought I could reasonably focus on. I had to trust my gut, and this worked far better than guessing hours.

2. Introspection FTW

Scheduling regular introspection time created huge shifts in my self-awareness, creativity, and engagement with unexpected challenges. The weekly reflections were just the tip of the iceberg for scheduled introspection. By the end of the year, I was meditating and journaling every morning, too.

3. Change Through Simple Methods and Support

All year, I told myself to make time to write and practice programming. It consistently didn’t happen. I did meet other personal goals, like steadfast budgeting, improved physical health, and better self-esteem. In the moment, it is easy to be hard on myself for not writing more and practicing programming consistently. Looking back at my weekly reviews though, it’s clear that the goals I did achieve happened because I had a simple methodology in place and support to follow through.

In the case of budgeting, the support was this great software called YNAB and the methodology was to enter each expense as it happened on my mobile phone. For improved physical health, I developed a dead simple cardio routine based on how exercise improves happiness and mental acuity. Once I knew what the exercise program should be, I got a membership at a gym with an expansive steam room and sauna to reward myself after each workout. Improved self-esteem came thanks to the support of an excellent therapist, occasional visits to a local zendo, and daily meditation. In each of these instances, it took a bit of research to get the right mix of methodology and support.  Once I got the right combination in place, change was pretty much on auto pilot.

For writing and programming, I have clear goals but no practical methodology or consistent support to ensure follow through. I used my weekly reviews to psych myself up to achieve those goals, but my pep talks were useless on their own.

The pattern was only evident upon reviewing a whole year of weekly reflections. It doesn’t matter how big my goals are.  Success comes with a method to get me started and the support to keep it up.

Everything I Was Grateful For Each Week

my team at Antidote · a beautiful home · my partner’s success · autonomy · living on the waterfront · world travel · dancing · creative challenges · the respect of my piers and collaborator · a supportive family · being my own boss · my amazing taste · cool opportunities that perfectly match my skills · more inspiration than I know what to do with · my sex appeal · health insurance · my therapist · an imminent vacation · learning from mistakes · the opportunity to work with people I respect · emotional openness from people close to me · romance · self discipline · friends with cars and cabins · EMDR · personal space · the self respect to turn down opportunities that are a bad fit · a loving and persistent mother · cuddly cats · paid trips abroad · friends in far away places · Skype · systems thinking · personal resolve · partners who challenge me and help me grow · negotiation skills · nascent leadership skills · mediation · the internet · good clients · massage · everything I learned doing my internships years ago with high caliber people · the zendo · torrenting websites · weirdoes for friends · new collaborators · risk taking

New People I Got to Collaborate and Explore With

Christopher Wisniewski · Jordan Smith · Hillary Kolos · Jose Olivares · Cydney Gray · Alicia Stott · Claire Suddath · Matt Black · Celia Pierce · Juliette Rooney-Varga · Cal Fishberg · Margaret Lobenstein · Beverly Pimsleur · Julia Pimsleur · Sean McIntyre · Steve Duncomb · Mike Silberberg · William Andeson · Tim Rodriquez · Joe Richman · Charles Melcher · Phoenix Perry · Frank Rose · Nina Strochlic · Julie Arrighi · Barbara Soalheiro · Ayden Grout · David Sharps · Julia Sourikoff · Sanjay Agnihotri · Anna Marrian · Anne Correal · Wylie Stecklow · Patricia A. Wright · Joana Seguro · Michael Lynch · Andrea Calvaruso · Ligia Giatti · Carola Costa · Rodrigo Guima · Edgard Gouveia Júnior · Denise Saito · Fernanda Cardoso · Sara Marina · Bruno Höera · Fernanda Cardoso · Jaakko Tammela · Amnah Asad · Manuel Nogueira · Gilberto Topczewski · Renato Fregnani · Gus Bonfiglioli · Marina Bortoluzzi · Luciana Minami · Joana Tuttoilmondo · Carla Mayumi · Sabrina Dridje · Sabrina Aggarwal · Earl Sebastian · Natalie Galazka · Laura Lewin · Nikki Zeichner · Cameron Yates · Phil Engelhorn · Christine Jones · Don Jones · Baraunde Thurston · Jordan Seiler · Chris Reid · Chloe Veraldi · Shira Bannerman · Mike Sweeney

Old Connections Who Continue to Bring Awesomeness into My Life

Kaitlin Prest · Mitra Kabuli · Natasha Del Toro · Sue Jaye Johnson · Laine Nooney · Kiana Love · Rachel Aicher · Kyle Balmer · Ben Norskov · Mohini Dutta · Sarah Schoemann · Dylan Thuras · Kate Ryan · Pablo Suarez · John Timothy · Myric Lehner · Gaelen Green · Rose van Steijn · Margaret Moser · Larisa Fuchs · Jessie Sheildlower · Dan Glass · Yoni Brook · Andrew Otto · Mike Hicks · Matt Parker · Lee-Sean Huang · Colby Reed · Tod Seelie · Jason Eppink · Haitham Ennasr · Allison Meier · Lois Beckett · Amira Anne Pettus · Tom Toynton · Mary Flanagan · Deedee Vega · Matt Dallow · Kaho Abe · Jeff Stark · Eugene Ashton Gonzalez · Mark Krawczuk · Nicolina Art · Clayton Grey · Perry Chen · Amy Yenkin · Susan Meiselas · Eric Gottesman · Nick Fortugno · Colleen Macklin · John Sharp · Jonathan Harris · Greg Trefry · Eric Zimmerman · Emma Raynes · N.D. Austin · Dirby Luongo · Katie Bode · Annetta Black · Brad Haynes · Ryan Hale · Scott Valentine · Christopher Nesbit · Clemency Cook · Katherine Isbister · Charlie Todd · Colin Snyder · Colin Nightingale · Chelsea Wagner · Ereka Duncan · Lisa Jamhoury · Anthony Simon · Andrew Mahon · Lev Kanter · Zeke Shore · Molly Butcher · Deborah Zinn · Orit Halpern

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The Wanderlust School of Transgressive Placemaking http://uncommonplaces.com/2013/06/school-of-transgressive-placemaking/ http://uncommonplaces.com/2013/06/school-of-transgressive-placemaking/#comments Sun, 02 Jun 2013 15:20:02 +0000 http://uncommonplaces.com/?p=3392 On four Tuesdays in June, Wanderlust Projects will be hanging out with people whose ideas and work can further the practice of transgressive placemaking. Join us for discussions relevant to trespass theater, urban exploration, subversive big games, site-specific prankstering and culture jamming, graffiti and street art, unauthorized street events–you get the idea. Hope to see you there!

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On four Tuesdays in June, Wanderlust Projects will be hanging out with people whose ideas and work can further the practice of transgressive placemaking. Join us for discussions relevant to trespass theater, urban exploration, subversive big games, site-specific prankstering and culture jamming, graffiti and street art, unauthorized street events–you get the idea. Hope to see you there!

The Wanderlust School of Transgressive Placemaking
presented by Atlas Obscura at Acme Studios
63 N 3rd St, Brooklyn, New York
Tuesdays in June – Doors at 7:30, Talks at 8pm
$12 each – Advance Tickets Only (follow the links below to reserve your spot)

Bringing neglected spaces back to life and making the invisible visible has animated the work of archeologists and urban spelunkers, city planners and activists. In this four part discussion series, Wanderlust explores the logistics and ethics of how to re-imagine and re-make the far side of the “No Trespassing” sign.

Speakers include: Annetta Black, Annie Correal, Stephen Duncombe, Charlie Todd, Nick Fortugno, Mark Krawczuk, Myric Lehner, Jeff Stark, Wylie Stecklow, Patricia A. Wright

June 4 - Broken Legs, Surveillance Cameras and Black Mold: Safety & Security Off the Grid
on staying physically safe and mostly out of trouble

June 11 - Go Directly to Jail: Trespassing & the Law
on what kind of trouble you can get into and what to do about it

June 18 - Getting In Is the Easy Part: Site-Specific Experience Design
on creating unique experiences from the character of a place

June 25 - “For The Little Old Lady In Japan”: Documentation & Legacy
on capturing places and the experiences created in them for a broader audience

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Notes on Gift Giving: Wanderlust, the Night Heron, and To Hell With Exclusivity http://uncommonplaces.com/2013/05/notes-on-gift-giving/ http://uncommonplaces.com/2013/05/notes-on-gift-giving/#comments Fri, 24 May 2013 20:19:33 +0000 http://uncommonplaces.com/?p=3352 Recently at one of our Wanderlust events, we had a guest who was not really ‘with the program’. Let’s call this guy “Schlemiel”. Schlemiel was straggling behind, inattentive to instructions, and dismissive of crew and other guests. He managed to independently tick off four members of the crew, me and N.D. included. Schlemiel’s efforts to […]

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Recently at one of our Wanderlust events, we had a guest who was not really ‘with the program’. Let’s call this guy “Schlemiel”. Schlemiel was straggling behind, inattentive to instructions, and dismissive of crew and other guests. He managed to independently tick off four members of the crew, me and N.D. included. Schlemiel’s efforts to fade into the background had the opposite effect as his behavior stood in stark contrast to the openhearted wonder that most guests exhibited.

What was with this person? Upon looking back through our records, we realized that Schlemiel had snuck past our vetting system. We didn’t have space for him when he RSVPed late. We communicated this to him clearly in advance. Since he stole his way into the event, Schlemiel wasn’t available for the gift we were offering. His inattentiveness posed a security risk to everyone in attendance.

It was telling that his behavior stood out to so many of our crew even before we realized that he had bucked our system. What he was there for was not what we were offering, and it was frustratingly apparent to many who encountered him.

Being 'with the program' is not only important for recievin the gift; it's important for ensuring everyone's safety. Keep moving, people! Photo by Alan Chin.

Being ‘with the program’ is not only important for recieving the gift; it’s important for ensuring everyone’s safety. Keep moving, people! Photo by Alan Chin.

Creating and Receiving Gifts

Wanderlust events are gifts. (The Night Heron Speakeasy was also designed as a gifting experience.) We create gifts based on how spaces inspire us, and we design the experience to be received as an act of generosity. We play with the element of surprise, like unveiling a carefully wrapped present. We are at our most creative by asking ourselves what we want to give people in inviting them to transgress with us. Designing with a gift-giving mindset pulls us above our fears (of getting caught, being misunderstood, etc.) and personal needs (like recognition, making ends meet).

The ideal audience is one that will get the most out of the gift, either because it’s so far removed from their expectations or because if offers discovery and intimacy that will bring new flavors of awe into their lives. For example, guests who think they know what they are getting into are often least available for what we are offering. If these people are effectual and communicative, they might join our crew and are happier there as gift givers than receivers.  We often call our crew members stewards. They are collaborating in delivering a gift and ensuring the safety of our guests. It is an act of service rather than a performance.

A Few Examples: TimCon28 and The Night Heron

Friends and random contacts often ask us to design custom events. There’s a clear, consistent division between opportunities that capture our imagination and those that don’t. If the event is not a gift in some way, it’s a struggle to be interested, no matter how good of friends we are or how much money is being thrown at us or what curious locations are involved.

Take the Timothy Convention as a positive example. Our good friend John Timothy approached us about doing something better than renting out the neighborhood game shop to host his birthday party. JTim was not interested in using his birthday to make him look cool and guilt his friends into showing up for another mediocre hang out session. Quite the contrary. He wanted to give his friends an awesome experience. The TimCon was about respecting his friendships by using the occasion to give the people closest to him an unexpected adventure. The end result—TimCon28—was a blast.

John Timothy having a blast with friends at the Waldorf Astoria during TimCon28. Photo by Alan Chin.

John Timothy with friends at the Waldorf Astoria during TimCon28. Photo by Alan Chin.

Wanderlust creates particular kinds of gifts – of adventure, discovery, wonder, intimacy, transgression. Some folks want a gift of a beautiful experience but are not actually down for some serious transgressive adventure. Those people invariably get a little scared as soon as N.D. and I start ideating. They usually don’t stick it out through the process.

Our events are free because we haven’t figured out how to square charging money with keeping guests in the mindset of receiving the experience as a gift. The transactional nature of paying for the right to attend an experience often instills a sense of entitlement that closes off people’s ability to transcend their own expectations to receive what is offered.

The Night Heron found a brilliant way around the money issue by asking guests to be both receivers and givers of the gift. As described in the Atlantic’s Into the Water Tower, With Flair:

“One of the things I wanted to do,” says Austin, “was give people the ability to share the experience itself. Exposure had to be limited for security reasons, so the only way you could share it was by passing it on to a person.” Guests could attend the Night Heron only once, and entrance had to come in the form of a gift from one who’d already been. At the end of a seating, a letter thanked guests and explained that gifts of watches providing entry for two were available for purchase if desired. The price was $80 at the beginning of the run and capped out at $300 by the end, with the average price hovering around $160, according to Austin.

The system was supremely practical for vetting guests, as anonymous channels like the Internet can easily bring thieves, groping drunkards, or gossip column reporters, potentially jeopardizing the experience for all. But beyond mere practicality, says Austin, “The effect was more powerful than anything I would have expected.”

Guests at the Night Heron read the thank you letter that explains the gifting process. Photo by Yoni Brook.

Guests at the Night Heron read the thank you letter that explains the gifting process. Photo by Yoni Brook.

Intimacy, Generosity, and Exclusivity

Much of the press about the Night Heron describes it as an exclusive experience. ‘Exclusive’ is a gripping term to catch eyeballs wandering the internet. Like the Gothamist’s overheated take in Chelsea Water Tower Transformed Into Exclusive Speakeasy:

“To get to this hidden oasis, would-be imbibers had to present their ticket, which came in the form of a pocket watch that was gifted to a lucky few… Photography and Tweeting were verboten inside the tower, but here’s some sick video of the raucous party that you weren’t invited to…”

The Night Heron was an intimate experience of limited capacity designed around generosity (among other things). But ‘exclusive’ (read: exclusionary) connotes insider/outsider relationships and aggravates a sense of missing out. This is not how the Night Heron’s gifting access system was structured. The New Yorker accurately pinned the Night Heron as neither exclusive nor inclusive, but democratic:

“The crowd on a recent evening (six couples) included the owner of two gay night clubs; a twenty-five-year-old Dutch gallery worker, who had brought her roommate as a birthday present; and a young couple from Hoboken… Austin is quick to point out that the guest list at the Night Heron is democratic, and he never knows who’s going to show up.” – From Tower Heist

‘Exclusive’ is the opposite of generous, but a good gift is not for just anyone. A gift is specifically for the person receiving it as a product of the relationship between the giver and the receiver. By bucking our system, Schlemiel failed to establish a relationship with us and missed out on the gift.

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Recap of “Before the Revolution Comes: Navigating Sexism in the Games Industry” http://uncommonplaces.com/2013/05/before-the-revolution-comes/ http://uncommonplaces.com/2013/05/before-the-revolution-comes/#comments Mon, 13 May 2013 13:23:41 +0000 http://uncommonplaces.com/?p=3287 The design and unexpectedly warm reception of a breakout session on sexism and games for the Different Games Conference.

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The Different Games conference this past April was a great big love fest for games being more inclusive in terms of who makes them, who is in them, and who plays them. It was an honor to advise on the conference. The New York games community was ready and eager for an event that not only celebrated diversity in games but critically engaged with what that means and what we want going forward. The conference leadership, Laine Nooney and Sarah Schoemann, did a phenomenal job balancing a multiplicity of interests and concerns in the short program.

Who’s an Expert on Sexism?

I was asked to lead a breakout session for women working in games, which I called “Before the Revolution Comes: Navigating Sexism in the Game Industry” along with Chloe Varelidi of Mozilla. I reached out to a number of women for input on their experiences of sexism in the industry and what they might want a breakout session on the topic to accomplish. To my surprise, many women declined my invitation to connect over this issue stating that they are not experts in sexism. I was baffled the first time this happened and completely disoriented when it emerged as a pattern.

Why do you need to be an expert on sexism to discuss your experiences of it? Did women think they weren’t experiencing sexism? Were they scared to discuss the topic give the heated and disturbing episodes around PyCon and Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter campaign? Was I fundamentally missing the core issue in my approach? Some of the feedback I receive suggested that the breakout description in the program might be too edgy. I rewrote it a few days before the conference even though I knew that the description wasn’t at fault for whatever core issues was playing out.

Designing Awkward Moments of Connection

All of this shuffling and second guessing meant that I arrived at the conference without a plan of what I was going to do at the session itself. Luckily, Mary Flanagan’s keynote address offered real inspiration. She mentioned one of Tiltfactor’s card games called Awkward Moment, which presents players with awkward situations and a hand of possible responses. With a portion of the Awkward Moment cards representing situations of racial and gender stereotyping, the game subtly makes players aware of their own biases.

Given the taboo nature of talking about sexism in the games industry, Awkward Moment offered a model of intervention that could break the ice on an issue people didn’t know how to approach. When I initially conceived of the session, I thought people would want concrete strategies for addressing sexism. The tension around the issue was so high that just opening up about it in the first place would probably be a huge benefit for most attendees.

Chloe Varelidi and I review the rules and cards for Awkward Moment in designing our breakout session.

reviewing Awkward Moment

Chloe and I used text from response cards in the Tiltfactor game for stock response cards. We designed prompts for writing about awkward moments of sexism while working in games. We wanted breakout attendees to think concretely about specific encounters they might have been in. Prompts included “You need to say what’s wrong with the design concept that was just presented for the new game project”, “You arrive early at the tech meetup”, “A Facebook friend enthusiastically posted the PS Vita ad on their wall”.

The breakout session was well attended with over 40 people (2/3 women, 1/3 men), packing the classroom at NYU-Poly. After introductions, people broke into pairs to write awkward moments. Chloe and I gathered the moments and shuffled them. The room was divided into two groups and given a set seach, generated almost entirely by the people in attendance, to play. The cards were full of difficult situations of being hit on, sidelined and undervalued.

The room filled with tender eagerness as the groups settled into the game. Afterwords, several attendees, men especially, approached Chloe and I to thank us for the session.

 

What Worked? Opening Up While Hiding

The original game of Awkward Moment is carefully balanced to introduce just the right number of topical awkward moments about biases amid more general awkward moments.The balance creates awareness without resistance in the player. This is the subtle brilliance of what Tiltfactor has created. Where Awkward Moment is designed to create awareness of biases, “Before the Revolution Comes” was designed to confront the two biggest challenges that arose as I planned the session: opening up and connecting.

Women were reluctant to open up about their experiences. Leaving the prompt to write awkward moments open ended allowed participants to write something personal, specific or general as they were so inclined. By collecting and shuffling the cards, who wrote what card was obfuscated, adding an additional layer of safety for writing something specific if one felt compelled. The risk of exposure was minimized while the possibility for connection was high. Playing the game with cards created by people in that same room facilitated a palatable intimacy. People groaned in pained recognition as awkward moments were served up and laughed sympathetically as the responses people played were just as futile as they might experience in real life. These weren’t a stock set of awkward encounters. They were inspired by the experiences of the people playing together.

I was impressed by how many men showed up for the session. Given how seemingly comfortable their participation was thoughout and how moved they were after, it seems that the benefits of opening up while hiding for the women extended to the men. Through the balance of intimacy and anonymity mediated by play, the men could witness a recounting of sexism that might otherwise be too uncomfortably specific or confrontational.

Attendees relived the damaging experiences of sexism in a safe, supportive environment. Opening up just enough to create the game materials and connecting over play created the space for catharsis. This approach works for a group that is already interested in engaging with the touchy topic at hand. If it were a general audience from the game community at the workshop, the content of the cards might not have been so consistently topical and gameplay might have gotten uncomfortable in the midst of so many challenging issues coming up.

Next Steps

Mary Flanagan and Celia Pearce participated in the session and showed great interest in moving the project forward with an official mod of Awkward Moment for the games industry. I hope that both the breakout session design and the game mod can move forward. Given the resistance I experienced in the lead up to the workshop, I was totally blown away by the eagerness of everyone who did attend and the effectiveness of the activity. The games community first needs to drudge up its own biases in order to confront them. A sexism in games version of Awkward Moment would be wonderful for that. For those who have dealt with sexist encounters repeatedly as they try to create work they love and believe in, a space for healing and connection will give us the strength to carry on with our ambitions.

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Doing Versus Having http://uncommonplaces.com/2013/05/doing-versus-having/ http://uncommonplaces.com/2013/05/doing-versus-having/#comments Fri, 03 May 2013 12:53:40 +0000 http://uncommonplaces.com/?p=3280 The psychologists Leaf van Boven and Tom Gilovich asked people to think back to a time when they spent more than a hundred dollars with the intention of increasing their happiness and enjoyment. One group of subjects was asked to pick a material possession; the other was asked to pick an experience or activity they had paid for...

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The psychologists Leaf van Boven and Tom Gilovich asked people to think back to a time when they spent more than a hundred dollars with the intention of increasing their happiness and enjoyment. One group of subjects was asked to pick a material possession; the other was asked to pick an experience or activity they had paid for. After describing their purchases, subjects subjects were asked to fill out a questionaire. Those who described buying an experience (such as a ski trip, a concert, or a great meal) were happier when thinking about their purchase, and thought that their money was better spent, than those who described buying a material object (such as clothing, jewelry, or electronics). After consucting several variations of thie experiment with similar findings each time, Van Gilovich concluded that experiences give more happiness in part because they have greater social value: Most activities that cost more than a hundred dollars are things we do with other people, but expensive material possessions are often purchased in part to impress other people. Activities connect us to others; objects often separate us.

- The Art of Happiness by Jonathan Haidt, page 100

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Vidoe on the 300th DNA Exhonoree http://uncommonplaces.com/2013/04/false-confession-exoneration-video/ http://uncommonplaces.com/2013/04/false-confession-exoneration-video/#comments Sat, 27 Apr 2013 13:22:07 +0000 http://uncommonplaces.com/?p=3270 "I used to be one of those people who believed that someone would never confess to something they didn't do. Society as a whole believes that. And yet here I am."

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I used to be one of those people who believed that someone would never confess to something they didn’t do. Society as a whole believes that. And yet here I am. There’s a false confession out there that I gave for a murder that someone else committed. Until you go through it, you just won’t know how much of an interrogation you can take.

Video by One For Ten.

From the YouTube video description:
Damon Thibodeaux spent 15 years on death row for a crime he did not commit. He was questioned in 1996 after the disappearance of his cousin, and after 36 hours with no sleep and a 9-hour interrogation, Damon falsely confessed to the crime. After 15 years on Louisiana’s death row, Damon was proved innocent by DNA evidence.

Antidote is in the final stages of making a game about this topic for The Innocence Project. It’s going very well so far. Can’t wait to share it more widely. We’re playing it at the Different Games Conference right now.

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Wanderlust Residency at Atlas Obscura http://uncommonplaces.com/2013/04/wanderlust-residency-at-atlas-obscura/ http://uncommonplaces.com/2013/04/wanderlust-residency-at-atlas-obscura/#comments Sat, 13 Apr 2013 20:50:38 +0000 http://uncommonplaces.com/?p=3257 Hurray! Wanderlust‘s residency with Atlas Obscura is official. From their website:  Atlas Obscura’s deep knowledge of unusual places and urban environments will cross-pollinate with Wanderlust’s savvy with designing experiences and appetite for transgression. Wanderlust will engage with skilled historians and avid fans of bizarre and unusual locations to broaden the Atlas Obscura community’s understanding of […]

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Hurray! Wanderlust‘s residency with Atlas Obscura is official. From their website:

 Atlas Obscura’s deep knowledge of unusual places and urban environments will cross-pollinate with Wanderlust’s savvy with designing experiences and appetite for transgression. Wanderlust will engage with skilled historians and avid fans of bizarre and unusual locations to broaden the Atlas Obscura community’s understanding of wonderment and placemaking. – Posting on the Atlas Obscura site

Atlas Obscura is an online compendium of odd and curious locations around the world. In their words:

atlas-obscura-logo-b9a657cadff440af436284e0be4f9d44In an age where everything seems to have been explored and there is nothing new to be found, we celebrate a different way of looking at the world. If you’re searching for MINIATURE CITIES,GLASS FLOWERSBOOKS BOUND IN HUMAN SKINGIGANTIC FLAMING HOLES IN THE GROUNDBONE CHURCHESBALANCING PAGODAS, or HOMES BUILT ENTIRELY OUT OF PAPER, the Atlas Obscura is where you’ll find them.

Fun stuff, right? I can think of no better organization for Wanderlust to partner with at the moment.

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