Playful 2014 @ Conway Hall (24.10.14)

Headed down to Playful 2014 a few weeks ago. Here are things that stuck with me:


Jemima Kiss (Head of Technology @ The Guardian) compered the day. She quoted Alan Rusbridger early on, when she said “Maybe we don’t need to be profitable. Maybe we just need to be sustainable.” I liked that.

First up – Dan and George from Aardman. They talked to us about hidden easter eggs in gaming.


Was interesting to hear that the first easter-egg was invented back in 1978 by Warren Robinett, who rebelled against his employer’s (Atari) policy of not giving credit to game designers. He placed a hidden object in the game that would allow players to reach a screen that displayed the words “Created by Warren Robinett.” Easter ego, more like.The Aardman guys talked about how including easter eggs is a way of ensuring that fun transcends into the game. By doing it, you bake in fun.

Rachel Coldicott was up next, talking about cats and curiousity. She spent quite a while trying to work out whether she could predict the weather from changes in her cat’s daily routine. It didn’t work. Funny quote though: “I track, therefore I am.” She’s made a habit of tracking things that don’t really matter, and has most recently started noting down what she’s listening to at specific points on her commute. Fun talk.

Henry Cooke spoke next. I loved his talk. He talked about radio amateurs, that have been picking up seemingly random sequences of numbers on unscrambled shortwave radio frequencies. It’s suspected that these radio stations are used by governments to communicate with their intelligence officers around the globe. Using one-time pads (a pretty much unbreakable crypo-system developed at Bletchley Park), the numbers allow a message to be communicated safely and securely. These radio stations have been tracked for years, but recently have began switching off. And it’s believed that twitter is the newest channel they’re being communicated over. So next time you see a random sequence of numbers in a tweet – don’t automatically assume it’s a twitter bot. It might well be governments conversing with a spy out in the field.

After Henry’s brilliant talk, Annie Machon spoke next. Annie is an ex spy, who worked for MI5 between 1990 and 1996. There she met her partner David Schaler – who was a precursor to modern day whistleblowers like Edward Snowden. She shared some fantastic insights about MI5, such as the enhanced vetting procedure that starts in a three hour interview in an unmarked building off Tottenham Court Road, and goes on to a tree-diagram of surveillance and interrogation of all of your close friends and family. Despite the supposed glamour of being a spy (jumping in and out of safe houses throughout London, saving lives and working undercover), Annie talked of the lack of privacy and unshakable paranoia that she’s felt since she left the service. Amazing talk.


James Brown and brothers talked about their physics-based, multiplayer game ‘Gang Beasts.’ I’m not totally up on game development, so struggled to understand a lot of this talk – but funny to hear that despite trying to create a cooperative game, they ended up creating a very violent, competitive game instead. Like brotherhood I suppose…

Steve Lloyd’s talk was really interesting. He talked about our hidden relationship with objects, and how when wearable technology is adopted fully, products will have an online space intrinsically attached to their physical being. Simply by scanning a bar code, you’ll get access to reviews, messages and much more. That space will soon become a battleground – where brands and brand managers fight to remove user generated reviews, and instead put marketing-approved advertising. Get ready for some interesting times.


Next up we had a couple of interactive game designers. Subalekha Udayasankar talked about a game that she’d developed with friends to draw attention to the invisible drones that have entered our lives. And Ida Marie Toft showed us her interactive piece ‘Lovebirds’ live, which was certainly interesting (it involved venetian bird masks with broken circuits within the beaks, that light up when beaks are rubbed together.)

Dave Birch spoke after Lovebirds. He’s a fantastic expert when it comes to all things fintech, and was a delightful financial cynic. He talked about his proposal for a cashless society, which would remove the currency channels currently used by criminals (who don’t contribute any tax). Instead, he proposed two new systems. One with light coins, that have traditional tax payment systems. And every payment is made and published on an open and transparent light block chain. And then a dark coin system. Where anybody that wants anonymity for the purchase can do so, but at a price. And instead have to pay an extra 20% tax in exchange for going unnamed. Great talk, and hugely entertaining speaker.


Alice O’Connor spoke about the collections of readme.txt’s that she has collected over the years. Some were beautiful, some were funny, some were tragic.

Dave Murray-Rust is a scientist and artist that focuses on hidden interactions in our fabricated lives. He took us through some of his recent projects. My favourite were the cybernetic flowers, that displayed maslovian behaviours. He also took us through the options we have to ensure some of our lives still remain hidden – from Merel Brugman (who created fake facebook holiday snaps in photoshop) to changing location data to varying degrees. Fun talk to finish the day.


Looking forward to next year, Playful. Thanks for 2014.


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