Something to Play: Papers Please


The purpose of Something to Play is typically to suggest, well, you get the drift. And I went into Papers, Please with high hopes. Who doesn’t approach a “dystopian document thriller” with anticipation?

But it’s utter drudgery. It’s the most amazing example of mentally-taxing-work-as-a-game (not just sorting, like Candy Crush) and a real grind.

You play a border security guard in a quasi-Soviet republic who’s got to administer dozens of arcane rules about entry to the republic while admitting or turning away would-be entrants. Every day, your hits and misses are tallied up, your pay is docked accordingly, you decide how much to spend on heat or medicine for your sick kid and the criteria that you have to check against gets harder.

Behind all this are various sub-plots involving corruption, human trafficking, joining a rebel group, getting laid, etc., meant to mimic the character of this sort of system (i.e. the only way to win is to cheat, play both sides or become corrupt) but you’ve got to process an entire day’s worth of people, scrutinizing every tiny detail, to get to the narrative.

It’s out for iPad, if this particular brand of masochism sounds up your alley. I hated myself for getting hooked on it and following it into a dark simulacrum every evening.

Nudging the salad, pushing the Big Mac


mcdonalds salad billboard

Correlation doesn’t equal causation, but…

McDonald’s chief executive officer, Donald Thompson, said recently that although the chain had devoted one-sixth of its advertising time to salads, they make up 2 to 3 percent of sales, and don’t drive growth.

It turned out that including a healthy option did change people’s behavior — by making them eat more unhealthily. “When you put a healthy option up there on an otherwise unhealthy menu, not only do we not pick it, but its presence on the menu leads us to swing over and pick something that’s worse for us than we normally would,” Mr. Fitzsimons said.



JWT Interview

The fine people of advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, who recently hosted a week of panels and presentations for Social Media Week, asked me a few questions in anticipation of a chat we did about social games on Monday.1 Here they are; there’s more from others over at their AdGeek blog. That penultimate answer is a little tongue-in-cheek, but there’s something weird in the air I haven’t quite figured out yet.

What was your social media eureka moment?
I think everyone has a path of social media eureka moments which revolve around making real connections with other people. Everyone feels the magic when they meet someone in real life that they’ve come to know over the internet, and compares their concept of that person and their actions online with the living breathing talking version. That can be online dating or buying a dresser on Craigslist. Same goes with arguments; the first time you get into a blood-boiling argument on the Internet you pass a sort of barrier. To me, those are the most interesting bits, coming to understand the powerful connections we can create with people who share our interests and goals.

What do you use on a daily basis and how?
Whew, big question…currently running applications include: Mail, Chrome, Firefox, DevonThink, Pomodoro, Dropbox, Spaces, ManyCam, Skype, iChat, Word, TextEdit, Tweetdeck. Frequently accessed webservices/social bits/communities include Facebook (begrudgingly) & Twitter and Google’s suite of stuff, without which I’d be truly lost. Metafilter and Reddit are my favorite community sites. Google Reader tells me ‘from your 300 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 9,359 items, clicked 33 items, starred 10 items, shared 0 items, and emailed 61 items.’ I’ve developed an arcane and possibly foolish system to basically archive anything I touch on Twitter to a bookmarking site, and I spend a lot of time watching Contagious’ output and cataloging all that stuff for further analysis.

What is hot and what is just hype?
I think this question is becoming less and less relevant, but I can’t quite explain why. I’ll try, though. In the last year or so we’ve seen enterprising groups take things that are in the hype cycle’s trough and make fun new things out of them. I hope the cycles created by our anemic attention span and relentless economic machine continue to pump up and churn through emerging technologies—it leaves more room for the inquisitive tinkerers to come through and say ‘oh, what’s this, how does this work.’ It’s like the kid who always had the most fun, newest toys—you knew a few days later their attention would be elsewhere, but that fun toy probably still had some life in it for something. I’m currently obsessed with the Kinect, Minecraft, quadcopters and autonomous flight sequences, Mechanical Turk and whatever a rotating cadre of members of the present-day Invisible College of technology is doing.

What do you see as being the next big thing at next year’s conference?

Definitely jetpacks. Seriously though—with the speed at which companies seem to be earning venture capital money, I would look for topic ideas from this article on SXSW 2001: “Is there still an Internet economy?”, “Internet Industry Trends 2001: Is Anyone Making Money?”, How to Survive Takeovers, Acquisitions, Layoffs, Mergers and Other Supposed Career Setbacks”. Etc. Mad-Libs the blanks where appropriate, change “million” to “billion”, there you go.

What is the one takeaway you hope everyone gets from your panel?

I hope people leave the panel understanding the difficult lines games makers have to walk, between manipulating game mechanics to maximize profit and making genuinely fun games people want to play.

  1. I actually moderated a pair of panels, on social gaming on Monday and storytelling on Thursday. They’re archived here (after 16m of David Eastman) and here if you’re interested. []

Rohrer’s repped? A watershed moment for games and ads?

I was quite surprised yesterday when my colleague Ann Christine Diaz told me about a story she was working on—Jason Rohrer, renowned champion of the indie videogame movement, signed to be repped by a commercial production company.

In this case, Rohrer’s one of three big new hires by Tool of North America, which traditionally represents TV commercial directors, but is making a foray, along with most anyone in the space concerned with keeping the doors open, into digital creation.

Rohrer’s a very interesting guy, who’s cited by many as one of the top game developers working today, especially among the indie/artsy set (he was also honored as part of this year’s Creativity 50–and that’s no small beer). Esquire magazine had a great story recently about his commitment to craft as well as honorable ideals concerning our relationship with nature and the advancement of an equitable and responsible society. (To be succinct, he’s something of an ascetic who fought to preserve his family’s yard as a meadow, eats vegan food and doesn’t refrigerate anything.) He’s got the values I wouldn’t have thought to be attracted to working in advertising.

‘Ho ho,’ you say, ‘This is interesting, another artist brought under the spell of the wicked advertising industry. How soon we’ll be seeing him leave, jaded, when his true genius is squandered.’ And you’re right to think that way–it’s a bit like Thoreau writing Quaker Oats spots for Wilford Brimley.

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