The Best Sentence of the Day

This blog is a cut-up of a dissertation in progress. Each day, I will post my favorite sentence that I have newly scribed. Everything out of context, but suggestive. I hope.

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Location: San Francisco, CA

I'm a game designer, a games researcher, and a future forecaster. I make games that give a damn. I study how games change lives. I spend a lot of my time figuring out how the games we play today shape our real-world future. And so I'm trying to make sure that a game developer wins a Nobel Prize by the year 2032. Learn more here in my bio or get my contact information on my contact page.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Best Sentence #97

The strong sense of community forged through ubiquitous games, indeed, creates a sense of collective empowerment among the players. To what ends the players put their new sense of collective empowerment remains, as a matter of history, to be seen. However, by way of speculating about the future of the ubiquitous gaming network, I want to conclude this chapter by considering the ways in which the collective metaphors discussed here may ultimately give rise to further collective play outside the game.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Best Sentence #96

Each time the players meet up and perform their collective play in public, they demonstrate support for the view that real community requires a local and material foundation.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Best Sentence #95

Current research holds that the twin hallmarks of online community – mutuality, or the opportunity for two-way communication, and density, or the existence of enough internal connections that a majority of members know and interact with each other – are increasingly difficult to maintain past a certain growth point.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Best Sentence #94

Woot! Chapter 7 is finished. Time to fix Chapter 8!


This opening up of the puppet master system echoes both the explosion of grassroots alternate reality games and the demonstrated ability of ARG players to continue perceiving patterns of their games after the games have ended. These three trends represent a significant shift toward a massively collaborative co-production and reproduction of ludic affordances. Together, they describe the emergence of an open ubiquitous game network, through which players are empowered to create their own real little games and to develop their own more gameful reality.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Best Sentence #93

Okay, let's not get crazy. BUT. I predict that with Best Sentence #98, scheduled for Friday June 30, the entire and complete dissertation draft will. be. ... okay, I'm not doing to say it yet, but I think you know where I'm going. Check back on Friday to see if it really happens!


It is very much the idea that gaming is itself a superpower, one which is used only and always for good, that empowers the participants to play and perform in such radically ubiquitous ways, contexts and spaces.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Best Sentence #92

Some strangers do not want to trust; some objects remain intractably unresponsive no matter how much string or tape is applied; and some spaces refuse to make room for the players’ bodies.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Best Sentence #91

Reality-based superhero games view everyday life itself as fundamentally playful, and therefore they neither require nor desire a fictional basis for ludic interaction.

P.S. If you like taking a gaming approach to everyday life, and if you believe that meaningful social connections can be made through play, then read this book. It is the hilarious true account of one very funny British bloke who gamed his way around the world.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Best Sentence #90

To begin this inquiry into the consequences of ubiquitous games, I will explore in the next chapter the phenomenon of the persistence of gameplay vision, in which players struggle to discern if there is in fact a ludic signal in the noise of everyday life, or if instead they are reading only the reflection of their own projected desire for more game.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Best Sentence #89

Reality-based superhero games (RBSGs) share a simple premise: if people are given specific instructions on how to take a more adventurous attitude toward public places, they will surprise themselves—not only with their own daring, but also with how receptive strangers and non-players are to spontaneous interaction and ludic intervention.

P.S. Want to play such a game right now? Check out SFZero, which I highly recommend. Or come play Cruel 2B Kind in September in NYC!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Best Sentence #88

Do players experience a sense of mastery over their real-world environments after successfully completing a ubiquitous game?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Best Sentence #87

There is nothing inherently fantastic in receiving a fax.


Okay, don't get too excited. Yes, I've finished my dissertation abstract-- but no, I haven't yet completed the full draft. Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 are complete; Chapters 5 and 8 are 80% complete, and Chapter 7 is a huge pile of words I really, really need to clean up.

But that said, especially for those of you who have put up with, even embraced, my elusive, decontextualized best sentences... here is the abstract. Violalala!

This Might Be a Game examines the historical intersection of ubiquitous computing and multi-modal digital gaming, circa 2001 AD. Ubiquitous computing is the emerging field of computer science that seeks to augment everyday objects and physical environments with invisible and networked computing functionality. Multi-modal digital gaming describes our contemporary technological culture in which new media and novel technological platforms are adopted for play virtually as soon as they are invented. This dissertation argues that the parallel and often mutually reinforcing proliferations of embedded interactive platforms and pervasive gaming systems have produced a significant body of experimental game projects that radically reconfigure the formal, technical and social limits of play in relation to everyday life.

In order to mark the heterogeneity of this experimental design space at the turn of the twenty-first century, I propose three distinct categories of ubiquitous play and performance. They are ubiquitous computer gaming, in which academic research games are deployed to colonize new objects, environments, and users in the name of ubiquitous computing; pervasive gaming, in which spectacular art games aim to critique and to disrupt the social conventions of public spaces; and ubiquitous gaming, in which commercial, massively-multiplayer games work to materially replicate the interactive affordances of traditional digital games in the real world.

Using design statements, original gameplay media, and first-person player accounts, I explore the aesthetics and socio-technological visions of seminal games from each of these three categories, including Can You See Me Now? (Blast Theory and the Mixed Reality Lab, 2001); the Big Urban Game (The Design Institute and Playground, 2003); and The Beast (Microsoft, 2001), respectively. I focus in particular on the category of ubiquitous gaming, which of the three has produced to date the most scalable, reproducible and popular vision of a games-infused, everyday life.

My critical analysis of these games draws heavily on a close reading of seminal ubiquitous computing manifestos by Rich Gold, whose perspective as an artist and former toy developer yields an unusually performative and playful understanding of the phenomenological implications of invisible, embedded, and everywhere computer networks. I conclude by offering an analytical framework for the future study of ubiquitous play and performance that is based in the pre-digital games theory of Johann Huizinga, Roger Caillois, and Brian Sutton-Smith. With this framework, I argue that digital game designers and researchers must attend more carefully to the insights and agendas of philosophers, anthropologists and psychologists who historically have explored play as an embodied, social and consequential ritual, always already grounded in the practices of everyday life.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Best Sentence #86

No direct translation or explanation of the fictive programming language was ever provided; however, players soon discovered that it was possible to discern the meaning of specific lines of code through their observable impact on other characters and on the composition and functioning of the website itself.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Best Sentence #85

The massively multiplayer ornament is the aesthetic reflex of the collectivity to which ubiquitous computing aspires.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Best Sentence #84

Why, then, go to the trouble of employing a dissimulative aesthetic if it can be discredited so quickly?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Best Sentence #83

I woke up screaming last night. Yes, I had a dissertation panic attack. Kiyash slept right through it. But Meche climbed into bed and helpfully sat on my hand until I calmed down. When I finally got back to sleep, I dreamed I was rooming in some kind of a religious studies dorm in New York City with my twin sister Kelly.

The best sentence(s) below are a call-back to the IM I posted yesterday. I finally figured out what to say about Castells' cryptic closing remarks!


In The Rise of Network Society, Manuel Castells describes the coming culture of real virtuality as a world “where make believe is belief in the making” (375). In other words, persistent play may ultimately lead gamers to cease marking the difference between their habitual participation in sustaining an illusion and the practice of everyday life.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Best Sentence #82

A brief observation before my best sentence of today.

As I write a chapter on the so-called "dangerously" immersive qualities of alternate reality games, I am reminded of two of the opening messages of The Beast:

"Get out. Deep Water. You would drown."
"Get out. Dark Dream. You will not wake up."

I just want to say that I think perhaps the same warnings should be delivered to graduate students embarking on the dissertation writing process. It sometimes feels as if I am in a fog of text from which I will never wake up.


It was a decidedly dark introduction to the game, one that portended a potentially dangerous level of immersion through its imagery of deep sleep, water, and death.

The writing process

For your enjoyment, a transcript of an IM session with fellow games research Ian Bogost. Ian listens to me mope and apoplex about my dissertation pretty much every single day, and for longer than I've kept this blog. He deserves an award. I never take breaks, but I do get sanity boosts from my IM's with Ian.

avantgame: do you know manuel castell's work
ian: yes
avantgame: so i've been using it and i have this one final quote
avantgame: that i cna't figure out what he means
avantgame: it's very frustrating. it's the last sentence of a chapter, he just drops it in and doesn't explain it
avantgame: so I am trying to use it but i can't explain what he means!! aaaah "the culture of real virtuality, where make believe is belief in the making."
avantgame: i know what the first part means of course, but the last part I dont' know what crack he is smoking
avantgame: through his "this is not a crack pipe"
ian: hmm
ian: where make believe is belief in the making
avantgame: i know what Richard Schechner means when he says taht
avantgame: I know waht Umberto Eco means when he says that
avantgame: but Castells in particular.... augh
ian: yeah
ian: maybe he just needed a nice chapter end
avantgame: yeah probably :-)
ibogost: :-)
ibogost: sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Best Sentence #81

Okay, folks. A big bonus up to anyone who can guess who the "his" in the best sentence of today refers to.

Hint: It ain't Caillois, whose taxonomy by the way is a reactionary nightmare. Unless you enjoy super-sneaky controlling ideology masked as anthropological research, you know might want to think twice about uncritically adopting his terms paidia, ludus, ilinx, mimicry, agon, and alea.

His is the first game taxonomy designed as a practical and immediate intervention into the world of play.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Best Sentence #80

It's hard to believe, but a full, complete dissertation draft is just 1-2 weeks away from completion. Only 14 more best sentences at most! (I suppose then we'll start the "Best revision of the day" era of this blog.)

As I near a complete draft, which incidentally is looking to weigh in at about 400 pages, ai yai, I keep wanting to post more than a sentence. I'm ready to show more.

But I want to keep the formal aesthetic of the blog. So here, one sentence; you can always check the comments for context and elaboration.

If the thesis of Homo Ludens is that all of humanity’s great institutions and achievements have their roots in play and games, then its stakes are this: Huizinga’s growing concern that society worldwide is abandoning its play ethic.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Best Sentence #79

But how, in the medium of email, might one investigate white space?

P.S. I know the point of this blog is "out of context", but with so many first-time visitors and new readers, I thought a little context might be fun. So click on the comments for the full passage from which this sentence was snipped.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Best Sentence #78

My best sentences of today make a controversial claim; go ahead and debate me in the comments if you feel so inclined.

Everything can be gamed; there is no scenario that completely precludes play. It is simply a matter of being trained to perceive what is ludic about any given context or platform.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Best Sentence #77

Instead of a sentence today, I'll post the title of my new Chapter 6. I'm still finishing Chapter 5, but I realized 20+ pages of what I thought belonged in Chapter 5 actually needs to be pushed. So I opened up a new file and named it!


Dangerous Mimesis:
Simulation and Dissimulation in Ubiquitous Games

Thursday, June 08, 2006

I stand before you naked

Oh my. It is with great surprise that I awoke this morning to discover that this little introverted wisp of a blog is Blogger's Blog of Note for the day. I admit feeling overwhelmed and naked as many of you lay eyes on my experimental dissertation blog for the first time.

My other blog Avant Game, where I write for a more public audience about experimental game design and weird, emergent social network phenomena, was a Blog of Note last week, and that was a great experience. I loved meeting all the folk who wandered over from their own dashboards, and clicking back to all of their blogs as well.

But this blog is different. It's very... personal. Until today, the only people reading it, for the most part, were people who knew me.

I've been keeping this blog since I started racing toward an inflexible dissertation filing deadline. I'm a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley, where I am earning my degree in performance studies and where I am also a member of the alpha lab for engineering. I am writing about the intersection of digital games culture, ubiquitous computing, and urban social networks. It's a humanities dissertation, but I'm working with a lot of scientific and technical literature as well.

What you should know before you read any further: This blog is the online manifestation of the knot in my stomach that has been tightening over the last 6 months. It is the one moment of each day where I lift my head from my work and attempt to see the world for a few minutes. I am coughing up one sentence that means something to me--and probably means little to anyone else. That's scary. Because I know dissertation writing out of context often appears convoluted, or overly academic, or just plain awful.

This blog has helped me get up every single day, Sundays, holidays, and keep writing, even when it feels like a Sisyphusean task. I am writing roughly from 8 AM to 10 PM every single day. Later when I am facing a chapter deadline. I have filed 240 pages with my committee and will file the final 160 later this month, I hope. Although that will probably entail writing until 1 AM instead of 10 PM.

I have been keeping this blog through pneumonia, two broken ribs, taking a leave of absence from my job as a lead game designer, and more. It has helped.

So be kind as you look at my naked, decontextualized body of dissertation writing. I know these aren't the best sentences you've ever seen. They certainly aren't the best sentences I've ever written. For some of those, check out my published articles and design manifestos.


P.S. Here's best sentence #70-whatever-I'm-up-to:

All built environments, computer-augmented or not, are symbolically encoded, and therefore possess a virtual aspect.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Best Sentence #76

Kuhn describes paradigm shifts as “intellectually violent revolutions” (6). Accordingly, Weiser predicts that a take-no-prisoners approach to overthrowing the current computing regime will be necessary: “This will not be easy; very little of our current systems infrastructure will survive” (“Ubiquitous Computing” [9]).

Monday, June 05, 2006

Best Sentence #75

The Beast augmented symbols in the virtual environment with actionable affordances. Data embedded in everyday media objects expressed not only semantic content, but also interactive directives. In the larger network of the ubiquitous game system, these signs embodied techniques, in the Latourian sense: they suggested, through their form, specific modus operandi for user to adopt.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Best Sentence #74

It's the weekend, and on the weekends because I work so hard, I like to give you a little cluster of sentences instead of just one. Woo!

The text below is the introduction to one of the more non-intuitive arguments of my dissertation-- that the original social vision of ubiquitous computing has actually been realized to a large extent in gamer culture, but without the ubicomp technology. Sort of a "We love the vision, but we don't need to wait for embedded sensors and computer-augmented objects, etc., to make it happen" kind of thing.


Is it possible for the design philosophy of ubiquitous computing to manifest first as a pervasive social architecture, and only later (if ever) as a widespread technological infrastructure? New media theory traditionally posits the opposite flow of influence: social adjustments follow the introduction of novel systems and devices. As William J. Mitchell observes in his 2003 Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City: “We shape our technologies, then our technologies shape us” (6). From Raymond Williams’s seminal 1974 article on “The Technology and the Society” and Langdon Winner’s influential 1986 essay “Technologies as Forms of Life” to Mitchell’s more recent work, scores of theorists have explored how new technologies change our daily habits and restructure our relationships at every scale, from the intimate to the civic, from the private to the global-public sphere. But in the case of ubiquitous computing, must the promised technological innovation precede the social reorganization to which the field aspires? Or could, instead, ubiquitous computing’s social vision inspire a new pattern of everyday life in advance of its widespread technological realization?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Best Sentence #73

Can we activate the world through embedded patterns, rather than embedded systems?

Friday, June 02, 2006

Cheers to Dissertation Community

Cheers to the other sentence-a-day and word-count-countdown blogs that have popped up recently! I'm so happy to have a community of fellow academics hurtling toward final filing deadlines.

If you like this blog, check out Anne's and Trevor's and Jean's...

...and if you are out there doing the same thing, leave a link here!

Best Sentence #72

Many thanks to all the #unfiction folks who earlier this week shared their really great comments on the art form of SPEC. :)


Note here that spec is not about solving the “real” puzzles. Instead, spec is about constructing a puzzle out of non-puzzle content so that it, too, can be formally gamed.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Best Sentence #71

However, not all of the emergent play that surrounded the game was pleasurable for its designers to watch.