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"Understanding emergence has always been about giving up control, letting the system govern itself as much as possible, letting it learn from the footprints." -- Emergence

Steven Johnson, in his book Emergence, discusses the emergent behavior evinced in both the micro-worlds of slime molds and ant colonies as well as in the macro-worlds of neighborhoods and cities. Intrigued by the ideas he expressed, we began to explore the hidden functions of casual socializing and random encounters in bars, cafes, city parks and other locations where humans collide in impromptu information networks and public and private worlds exist simultaneously. We wanted to tap into the essence of these interactions at ITP.

We decided to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the presence of the ITP community to attempt to construct a micro-environment in which the ITP community could play and create a narrative. We hoped that given the right set of circumstances, the gameplay would become a self-regulated system that would result in emergent macrobehaviors, while achieving the pre-set goal of creating a narrative.

As we decided how to shape our experiment, we tried to keep in mind the five fundamental principles of building a system designed to learn from the ground level:
  1. More is different.
  2. Ignorance is useful.
  3. Encourage random encounters.
  4. Look for patterns in the signs.
  5. Pay attention to your neighbors.
We built a landscape gameboard to facilitate the creation of a narrative and placed it in the most highly trafficked area of ITP to encourage random encounters and to ensure that it was accessible to as many members of ITP as possible. We created a set of simple rules that would set boundaries for the gameplayers while still leaving them relatively ignorant about the broader purpose of the game. We incorporated many ways in which players could leave their mark on the gameboard so that players would be able to observe patterns in play. We also set up a surveillance camera to document the process of gameplay for the purposes of our experiment.

The rules of the game were as follows:
  • You are being taped when you play Storyboard
  • You may move one piece per hour anywhere on the board.
  • If you move a piece to the pond, you may move an additional two pieces elsewhere on the board.
  • At 12:00, 3:00, and 6:00 everyday, one player may take one Polaroid of any part of the board. The player who elects to take the Polaroid must write a few sentences of narrative at the base of the photograph. This Process will be assisted by one of the creators of the game.
  • If you move a piece to the forest, you may add an object of your own to the board.
  • Storyboard will be accessible 11/14 - 11/21

Given that the installation was only active for a week, we feel that the project successfully cultivated seedling emergent behavior.

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Contact: Jake Barton, Alicia Cervini, Ryan Leffel, Susan Leopold
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