Call and Return workshop at hanare

We went to meet up with the hanare group for a workshopping session for Call and Return. This was designed to be mutually beneficial: we could get some feedback about how to adapt the game for a Japanese audience and they could get some ideas for presenting participatory projects and building a community. The group meets for food every Monday evening, and they invited us along, so we were able to chat about the project while we ate.

The group found it a little difficult to understand the game at first, but generally in the same way that UK audiences do, because they weren’t used to the idea of free-flowing play with rules developing along with the game. Fortunately some people grasped it really well and were able to explain, and once we showed some examples of how people had tackled missions before, we were ready to get to the central part of the workshops – understanding by doing.

We were really keen to get the group to come up with their own missions, ones that they would find fun to do, but we suggested something really simple to get things going. We’d brought along a small bag of toys, so we asked people to select one and take it outside to photograph it in a place that suited the character of the toy. 10 minutes and then come back.

It went well, everyone managed to have a reason for why their toy had ‘chosen’ the place they were photographed, but there was a stand out winner in terms of creativity. He had chosen a drinking glass as his character instead of a toy, and after what would have been a perfectly acceptable mission pass of photographing it in front of a drink vending machine, he took the idea and ran with it, by managing to photograph the glass in front of various adverts as if the people in them were drinking from it – genius!

The group were still a little hesitant to put forward missions, but we managed to start them off by suggesting a variation of hide and seek with the avatars, and then negotiate how they would prefer to play it. The final mission ended up being for one player to hide their toy, photograph it and give the rest a hint as to where it was to help them find it. We were treated to the Japanese variation on Rock-Paper-Scissors as they selected who would be hiding: they all stood in a circle and could work out very quickly who had lost, and kept going until only one person chose the losing/winning option.

Hunting the elephant from The Ludogeographic Society on Vimeo.

The clue was fairly easy – that the elephant was very rich and needed to open a new bank account – so most of the players found it in the bushes outside the bank very quickly. Interestingly, they seemed to realise that if they just grabbed the toy the game would be over, so as each one saw it they just stood around in the general vicinity watching others searching until everyone had seen it, then the last person picked it up.

We also chatted about why we were doing the project, the practicalities of playing, and also what issues might be barriers to people in Japan engaging with the game. The main one seems to be time, the group are all very busy and tend to work long hours, so we left them with the mission of coming up with new missions: ones that they would be able to do in the time they had, and that would be so enjoyable that they couldn’t help but keep going.

Japan Sketchbook

I find that when you’re working on a particular theme, you always start noticing things that relate to it more than usual. It’s as if being in Japan has taken this phenomenon and magnified it a hundred times: I’m seeing avatars everywhere I look. I’ve been interested in the mascots that companies have for a while, it seems strange for a cute mouse-elf to represent the Tokyo police, but it seems to work for them. Lots of people here have toys hanging from their bags and charms on their phones, it seems to be just an extension of the kind of personalisation you get with screensavers and ringtones, although I did read that it might be some kind of modern-day version of Netsuke, the toggle for a sash cord.

We’ve already seen that you can get leisure suits based on popular cartoon characters, (perhaps another kind of update on the Yukata robes) we went to a shop that sold lots of varieties (Hello Kitty, Stitch, Pooh Bear etc) and I had to at least buy a Pikachu hat to celebrate.

I also noticed that lots of the toys in the shop were of well-known characters “wearing” costumes of other cartoon creatures, which is something that makes my head hurt in a good way. Perhaps we’re already avatars, and having characters to represent us in games is just a way of hiding this, or preferably a way to accept it and work out how to have fun with it.