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create / 2014

LAReality - a game that makes its players into makers doers and creators

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by USC Game Innovation Lab

Our game motivates Angelenos of all ages to become makers and doers in all form, creating amazing experiences for the entire city of LA.

Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Our game motivates Angelenos of all ages to become makers and doers in all form, creating amazing experiences for the entire city of LA.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Reality is a collaborative media-making game developed and played at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. When you play the game, you must actually create new films, games, books, and experiences other people can enjoy. The game is in its fourth year and we’ve seen huge successes in terms of motivating incoming students to significantly increase their creative output.

We think we could do the same thing for the entire city of Los Angeles. It doesn’t have to be about just media, either. New technology, new food, new business models, new wonderful things - all driven by a simple card game and a web-based community presence.

Creating is a habit. Reality is a way to build those good habits. We’d like to expand our game to the entire city.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

Simply: we are expanding the scope of a proven project to benefit the entire city.

Reality uses a simple card game mechanic to suggest creative projects – often those require collaborators who have their own cards and skills. It motivates the act of creating by arranging wonderful surprises for top players and other players who distinguish themselves in key ways.

Expanding the game to LA as a whole involves folding in more creative disciplines and re-balancing the game to play out over an entire city instead of just one college campus. Location also plays a big role in Reality – we encourage players to develop a curious mind and explore their surroundings and the larger cultural context of their city. We’d push this angle heavily in developing LAReality.

Community is also a big part of making the game successful. For our campus games, we built online communities and integrated the powerful social networks our players already used in ways that were engaging and sometimes challenging. Bringing the game to the city as a whole means a significant expansion of that infrastructure and the people to run it.

Rewards are also a big factor that motivates creation in the game. Doing exceptional work earns once-in-a-lifetime encounters with luminaries in their fields. In our campus game, top players found themselves unexpectedly meeting director John Singleton, touring the Museum of Jurassic Technology with game designer Jenova Chen, and being whisked to the Warner Lot in a limo to present their resumes to powerful executives. Significant effort from the game runners goes into securing these rewards, but they’re powerful motivators.

We’ll expand that to the broader creative community of Los Angeles. Imagine unexpectedly going on a culinary tour of K-town with Roy Choi, or meeting Shepard Fairey to scope the graffiti murals of LA. Enlisting the participation of powerful Los Angeles creators will make the project special and ensure a level of participation we’ve seen great results with so far.

We’re constantly adding new technologies and surprises to our game. Growing it to promote more times of creativity means we also need to expand our exhibition platforms. One of the things we love about LA is the incredible number of pop-up exhibition venues organized by small groups passionate about some aspect. Our plan to grow Reality to all of Los Angeles also involves linking these groups and working towards a common, amazing cultural explosion.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CREATE today? In 2050?

Creating is a habit. The game helps build those habits. It produces new creative work as a natural byproduct of trying to “win” the game. The effects will be immediate. Los Angeles, already known around the world as a place where creativity flourishes, will see a spike in new works. Since the game doesn’t own or seek to profit off what’s created for the game, the originators are free to pursue their ideas or interesting discoveries as far as they can imagine.

Everyone sits on their couch at some point and talks about the thing they would make if they just had the time, or the money, or the motivation. We can’t help in a tangible way with time or money, but as practicing creatives, we’ve observed that when it matters, you MAKE time. We’ve seen Reality provably cause students who protest they’re too busy and too broke and too tapped to create not just short films, but entire transmedia shared universes linking dozens of projects across all mediums. We really truly think the game has the power to get more people off the couch and chasing their dreams.

In 2050? Well, like we keep saying, creating is a habit – but it’s also like fitness. It hurts at first, but when you get in the habit, it becomes easier. You do a little every day and before you know it, it’s second nature. Los Angeles is suffering a little bit of a creative brain-drain as other cities have begun luring creatives away – but if we keep the city itself fertile for creativity by building not just a place, but a community of creators, Los Angeles of 2050 will be a hell of a place to make cool stuff.

Whom will your project benefit?

If you’ve always wanted to create something, the game is for you. If you live in this city because it’s a mecca for talent, because it offers food and art and music and film and technological wonders you wouldn’t find wherever it was you came from or would go to, then LAReality is also for you.

We know you said to be specific, but the truth is it could benefit anyone. All you have to do is engage with it. Engage a little, engage a lot, it’s designed to be as casual or all-consuming as you want to make creativity in your life. We think it’s perfect for this initiative.

One thing, though:

We place a high premium on inclusion. One thing we’ve prided ourselves on when developing Reality is smashing the completely toxic and baseless gates some like to erect on creating based on gender, race, creed, orientation, or other socioeconomic factors.

Obviously, we think the opposite is the case - there are voices out there being shut out by certain creative fields that need to be heard MORE and not less. This is a venue for those voices. So if you’ve ever felt trapped or boxed in or unheard - oh, we are most definitely for you.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Reality already has three years worth of inroads and good ties with the entertainment industry. If LAReality gets selected, we plan to expand to other creative professions.

From past experience, three crucial factors for participation from outside partners are:

  • be flexible to their schedules and life’s demands
  • give them ownership over the experience and how they’d like it to play out
  • keep the experience small and intimate - this makes it special and doesn’t turn it into a circus

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Create” metrics?

  • Employment in creative industries
  • Arts establishments per capita
  • Patents per capita
  • Minority- and women-owned firms
  • Number of high-growth startups
  • Venture capital investment
  • Measures of cultural and global economic influence (“soft power”) (Dream Metric)
  • Recruiting and retention rates at local higher education institutions (Dream Metric)
  • Percentage of graduates from local higher education institutions that remain in LA County 5 years after graduating (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

In the short term, Reality produces interesting creative work. It also forges friendships and lasting creative alliances between people who never would have met or collaborated without being put together by the mechanics of the game. (Add entrepreneurship and inclusivity – so it can add to minority firms, start ups, as well as creative jobs, arts establishments, etc)

It’s also going to produce some pretty great new ideas once it takes off. We feel very confident that the metrics we checked off are going to see some measurable movement as a byproduct of the experience. In our campus game we’ve seen lasting creative partnerships form and a few of the ideas take on lives of their own once the game ended. On the broader scale, this creates an incredible amount of potential new enterprises and has the potential to involve underserved groups and bring them exposure in ways that could really move the needle.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

Measures of Effectiveness:

  • players who create at least once
  • players who habitually create
  • diversity of disciplines per player
  • diversity of team makeups
  • web traffic to creative works
  • physical traffic to special happenings and events
  • media coverage highlighting the initiative
  • growth in output from specific geographic and demographic communities

We’ve done groundbreaking network analysis on this project with Ben Stokes as part of his PhD at USC and this version of the game would be able to build on that work to measure social capital and engagement across the city.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

1) Give your players ownership The game is a dialogue between the players and the runners. We learned early on that being flexible was key to keeping participation and enthusiasm up. Apart from safety concerns, we don’t hold to any one rule if it’s interfering with them doing the best work and the work they want to do. If they find a loophole in the rules because they want to do an incredible thing, we let them. Of course, if they find a loophole in the rules because they want to score extra points, we shut that down. That said, giving them ownership has largely prevented the usual problems of cheating or gaming the system, even when there are highly desirable prizes at stake. In three years of running the game, we’ve only ever rejected one project on those grounds.

2) Keep it Underground, Keep it Special The biggest threat to any activity like this is it gets seen as “mandatory fun” or institutionalized groupthink airport bookstore malarcky. The tone and spirit of the game, and its somewhat secretive “in the know” underground appeal it turns out is ESSENTIAL to the game’s success where others like it have failed.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

We run a 15-week game every year. We have a system in place and a lot of the infrastructure – the major goal over the next twelve months is to scale it up. Some things will need testing and re-factoring, but the major effort is to build something out based on something that’s already successful. We feel that’s highly achievable in twelve months.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

1) Scale We don’t want to make it seem like we’re hand-waving when we say “scale it up” – scaling things up is hard. At bigger scales lots of balanced things tend to break. Preserving what’s great about Reality while opening up the number of disciplines and inviting a far greater number of players means we have a lot of work to do to keep it running smoothly. The best strategy for this is organization and being smart about building an all-new infrastructure to handle city-wide play.

2) Buy-In Reality works because the motivation is rooted in encounters with people and creators you want to meet. USC luckily has an excellent alumni network with notable figures across a variety of disciplines- we think we can tap a pretty good bench through our own network, but the factors we mention above about outside partnerships apply here. We’ve learned important and powerful people are pretty willing when they understand the “ask” gives them control over the details and timing and puts them in contact with 3-5 really exceptional people. We’re also hopeful our new friends from LA2050 will have some ideas and introductions they could make. ;)

What resources does your project need?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
  • Community outreach