Post-Learning Lab Reflections

Hello all,

It’s been quite a while since my last blog post! A lot has has been happening here in London, but I just wanted to take a moment to reflect that it’s been a year since the Learning Lab. One year since I first left the United States and came to London. Oh, and what a year it has been!

For anyone reading the blog that doesn’t know, the Learning Lab was a short project that Matryoshka Haus ran for a week last summer in partnership with Bent Tree Bible Fellowship, an evangelical church in Dallas. The goal of the Learning Lab was essentially to share Matryoshka Haus knowledge and experience about postmodern culture, while also conveying the core values that make Matryoshka Haus flow and function as an organisation and community. I was one of the fourteen Americans that came over as a member of the Bent Tree team.

Learning Lab, one year ago.

Learning Lab, one year ago.

Looking back on the past year, I can hardly believe how much my life has changed. I originally came over to the UK having almost no idea what to expect, and now I’m living in London and am a part of Matryoshka Haus. I mean, I can still remember deciding to come do an internship, and still not really fully understanding how Matryoshka Haus works off paper. The irony is that even though I now understand how everything works, in the process of getting there I’m no longer sure I can accurately and concisely explain it to another person… That’ll be an exercise for another blog post!

But in comparison to other years of my life, it seems like a disproportionately large amount has happened since the Learning Lab. When I think back to who was with me on the Learning Lab and where we all were at that time, it feels like it was ages and ages ago, even though not that much time has actually passed. So while I could talk about how much the Learning Lab as a week-long experience has influenced my life, that blog post feels like it’s about ten months too late, given how much has happened since then. Really the Learning Lab served me more as a kind of launch pad for growth in the past year, also obviously leading into my internship with Matryoshka Haus.

For one, the experience of moving to London and being a part of Matryoshka Haus has really helped me grow in my faith & walk with God. Obviously the act of trying to establish myself in a new city/country is cause for change in and of itself, but I’ve definitely had to review how I value everything compared to the States – most notably with respect to church and the community that is Matryoshka Haus London. By far one of the best things about my time in London has been getting to know all the awesome people from Matryoshka Haus, whether that is during a community meal, over coffee, or during a project meeting. I also love how I’ve been able to apply my abilities & passions to Matryoshka Haus projects like the Transformational Index, given how the field of interactive media is so narrow and broad at the same time.

Community Meal

Overall, much like trying to explain Matryoshka Haus, talking about my time in London on the blog is equally as difficult. I feel I am either radically understating the breadth and depth of what goes on, or I’m rambling and the meaning of what I’m saying is somehow 90% lost.  Hopefully one of our next projects will change all that! 🙂

More to come soon™

Brenden

eSports in Cologne

A few weeks ago I attended the StarCraft II World Championship Series season one finals in Cologne, Germany. For those reading the blog that aren’t familiar (probably everyone), StarCraft is the premier RTS eSport, and national sport of the country of South Korea.

Wait… what? What’s an eSport? South Korea?”

An eSport is essentially a highly competitive computer game, capable of being played full time at a professional level. ESports are just like traditional sports, in the sense that they require an extremely high level of physical dexterity, as well as the thought and strategy of a game like Chess. Like the game of Chess, eSports can be played for years and years without being “figured out” – there’s no one trick or best strategy that always wins the game.

 

But what exactly is an eSport? Well, there are different kinds of eSports, just like there are different kinds of traditional sports. One of the most popular eSports is called “StarCraft”, a highly competitive real time strategy (RTS) game. Real time strategy games require players to think many moves ahead of their opponent, similar to Chess, except the entire game operates in real time with limited information. Physically playing the game of StarCraft requires intense multitasking and exceptional coordination to manage all possible moving pieces on the board. On top of it all, neither player can actually see what the opposing player is doing in real time, which adds another level of complexity beyond other competitive games. In other words, StarCraft requires the mind of a grandmaster Chess player, the dexterity of a virtuoso piano player, and the cunning of a professional poker player. There are other eSports in addition to StarCraft, which all have their own intricacies that I won’t delve into for this blog post.

When StarCraft I was released in 1998, it was so popular in South Korea, it created an entirely new industry. The entire culture of Seoul was practically changed overnight; today South Korea boasts the highest internet speeds in the world, and has a high-tech culture to rival Tokyo. Well over 90% of South Korea’s youth play computer games as part of mainstream social culture.

“My Mom told me, before the game, not to come home if I don’t make it…”

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White-Ra, a famous player from Ukraine

 

 

 

 

 

 

So two weeks ago I was in Cologne to attend the American & European World Championship Series Finals. The event was hosted in the Electronic Sports League studio along the river, with people coming from all over the world. I met people from Norway, Sweden, South Korea, China, France, Denmark, Canada, Switzerland, South Africa, Poland, America, and Brazil. The entire time I was at the studio, I kept getting mistaken for a famous Polish player named “Nerchio”; thus, people would come up to me to ask for my autograph and to take a picture. Naturally, I didn’t want to disappoint my fellow StarCraft fans, so I signed as “TL.Nerchio” (since I was wearing my TL shirt), and took a picture with them hahaha 😀

Me

Me

 

 

Nerchio

Nerchio

 

 

 

I don’t know…. I guess we look a little similar?

 

 

 

 

 

 

MC - Highest grossing player of all time.

MC – Highest grossing player of all time.

 

 

 

 

Overall the event was fantastic, and the highest grossing player for prize money earned took the European division of the event. MC (short for Min-Chul), is arguably the most successful pro-gamer of all time, and is well on his way to becoming the first StarCraft multi-millionaire at age 23. I was very happy he won, since the last time he took a tournament was in Texas, of all places! 🙂

If anyone is interested in eSports, more information can be found at:

http://www.teamliquid.net/

 

Until next time!

– Brenden

Note: SC2 pictures @ESL

Chateau Duffy Reflections

Coming off a week of travel around Europe, Chateau Duffy was a fantastic way to end my trip. I met up with Shannon, Rachel, and Gwen in Paris a few days beforehand, and we drove down to Limoges that Friday. The French countryside was absolutely beautiful, and I was strongly reminded of the Ohio valley where I grew up in the States.

That weekend was particularly meaningful, not only because it was the start of the Chateau Duffy trip, but because it was Easter. I was especially struck with a sense of dualism between my time in the States and my time in Europe, in how much God has blessed me over the years, whether I’m in the Ohio countryside, or French countryside – which are both amazing. Easter also felt very different, in the sense that it’s not an extravagant holiday like it would be at a Texas mega-church. It really was a day of remembrance and thankfulness, rather than another holiday you take for granted just because it happens.

Lindsay looking devious...

Lindsay looking devious on Easter…

Easter meal

Easter meal

Taking a Sabbath right before starting the week also really helped us all take a breath from our rhythm of travel the day before. Shannon introduced a sort of “communion” at our evening meal with bread and wine, the way it would have been done at The Last Supper. This verse stood out to me, as a sort of parallel to how Matryoshka Haus does community,

“The Son of Man came, eating freely and drinking wine” – Matthew 11:19

Bits of scripture really helped set a more complex spiritual dynamic for the week, encouraging us to take time out for reflection and be responsive to God. However, I especially appreciated that this wasn’t at the forefront of our trip; no morning prayer, no afternoon Bible readings, no evening worship, etc. Everything flowed out of individual conversations taking place throughout the week, allowing different people to open up and share their experiences. Thus, I could really see how different people in the community organically meshed together, regardless of faith or background. Overall, Chateau Duffy was like a little case study in how the Matryoshka Haus community operates relative to its projects. This was particularly significant for me since the only active London MH project is the Transformational Index, which is more exclusive than past ones.

On one hand, “Chateau Duffy” as a project really encapsulates the spirit of Matryoshka Haus; that is, to bring hope, justice, and restoration where there is none. Before I arrived at Chateau Duffy, I was expecting… well, a chateau. But as you can see, Chateau Duffy is really more of an ancient French home and barn, built in the 15th century. When MH first started this project, there didn’t seem to be much hope of justice and restoration, given the state it was in.

Expectation

Expectation

Reality

Reality

In spite of this, “Chateau Duffy” really brings the MH community together in a unique way. For the first time since I arrived in London, our time together wasn’t broken up by the logistics of everyday life in the city. Especially coming off of a week of international travel, the sense of “sharedness” in the experience of Chateau Duffy was very refreshing. At times the worksite seemed almost comical, the way so many different people came together to work on this one construction project, despite the fact that almost none of us knew what we were doing.

The ebb and flow of life during the Chateau Duffy trip also was really reflective of the spirit of Matryoshka Haus. We work hard during the day, bringing our diverse community together to accomplish a common goal for the common good. In the evenings, we have these great hospitable meals and engage in community with others, whether that is within MH, or the other communities we touch with our projects.

Barbecue with the villagers

Barbecue with the villagers

I think a defining moment for this Chateau Duffy trip was the last day, when we threw a huge barbecue at Chateau Duffy itself. We finished work early, cleaned up the worksite, cooked a huge meal, and invited the entire surrounding village to come to the party.

Barbecue in a wheelbarrow?

Barbecue in a wheelbarrow?

As you can see, while it took Cathers us a while to get the barbecue going, we had a great time interacting with the villagers and the food was fantastic 🙂

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I think by the end, we all realized that “Chateau Duffy” is actually quite a nice space, and that we’re starting to have an effect on the surrounding community. It doesn’t hurt that we literally double the size of the village when we visit. Overall it’s a great picture of what Matryoshka Haus does best, I think.

Until next time!

Brenden

Good Brunch at Farm Shop!

This Sunday was the last of the spring Good Brunches. For those reading who may not know, the “Good Brunches” is a project where MH hosts a series of community brunches to discuss existing and emerging social issues, for the purpose of deciding what our next big social project is going to be on. This particular Good Brunch was again hosted at Farm Shop, where Rachel, Rich, Sarah, Susan, Cihan, and I gathered to examine the brainstorming process of generating potential projects & solutions. While we did not discuss any specific real issues, Rachel organized “joke” projects in order to get our groups thinking more creatively; “start a fashion trend to bring back top-hats in London”, “Get a law passed that require everyone to break for afternoon tea & cakes”, etc.

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After generating many ideas to achieve these goals, Rachel the introduced another random factor we had to include in our solutions; Elephants, children playing games, etc. Personally, I was all for the direct approach – threaten to release a herd of Elephants in the city unless parliament passed our law for tea & cakes. Though we had many different ideas, some practical (like mine) and some not-so-practical, I do feel this “Good Brunch” effectively illustrated the depth of brainstorming and decision making that goes into designing the types of projects we  do at Matryoshka Haus; that is, creatively finding a critical point of systemic impact in society. Even with a completely ridiculous cause, the group was still able to generate some great ideas that really cut to the heart of what we want to achieve. This made me think about how Matryoshka Haus is always attracting & uniting very different groups of people for a common cause. I can’t wait to see what our next big project will bring!

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Our next round of Good Brunches will take place after the Chateau Duffy trip, starting the beginning of May. Everyone is invited to attend, and I believe we’ll be sending more information out soon!

Until next time,

Brenden

Why charities, social enterprises, and churches need to become more like game development studios…

As I’ve been working with different people from Matryoshka Haus, I’ve been thinking a lot about how game design translates to the social sector, and how the medium of games can be used to have a greater impact on the world.

To give some background about myself, I actually major in “arts & technology” at university back in Texas. Majoring in “arts & technology” essentially means that I study interactive media development and video game design. I also duel major in history with a minor in business entrepreneurship. I will return to school this fall and be in my 3rd year of undergraduate studies (4 years total).

In recent years we’ve seen both the social sector & games industry grow immensely. Mobile phone games are becoming ever more popular. PC gaming continues to break boundaries. Last year, Grand Theft Auto V broke 6 world records, generating the highest grossing revenue ever produced by an entertainment product in history… all in just 24 hours for over 1 billion dollars. The average gamer is now 35 years old, and 45% of them are female. You can’t go anywhere now-a-days without seeing some sign of how games are affecting culture.

So with all the craze and hype surrounding games and digital media, why aren’t we seeing more charities and social enterprises getting in on the action? Plenty of charities write books to advocate solutions for their cause. Entire films are made to educate the public about different issues. Even traditional art and photography are used to reveal injustice in the world. Surely you’d think we’d be able to leverage this new medium of games to do the same?

If we can make films, why not games??

If we can make films, why not games?

Well… unfortunately, it’s not quite as easy as that.

Charities tend to go wrong making games because they vastly underestimate the sheer amount of time, money, and talent needed to make a game of impact worth playing. To give some perspective from the games industry, the average high-profile game takes at least 20 million dollars, 3-5 years, and a couple hundred people on staff in order to be successful. Even low-end games require hundreds of thousands of dollars and a couple years of development time. While charities are obviously not trying to compete with the commercial games industry, there’s still a huge disparity between what charities hope to accomplish, and what they’re actually capable of over the short term. It’s not that charities can’t make games; it’s just that they have to know what they’re getting into before they start.

Now, as I’ve been working with Matryoshka Haus over the past month, I’ve had the privilege of working on the Transformational Index project. For those who might be new to the MH blog or don’t know, the Transformational Index (TI) is essentially a tool that can be applied to any organization or project, for the purpose of identifying metrics that lead to a true measure of real impact and social change. The long term goal is to create a transformative index that allows social enterprises to collaborate and iterate on their ideas more effectively, while giving them the language & tools to meaningfully quantify real-world impact to investors. The Transformational Index also happens to be a game.

While I’m not going to get into hardcore game & systems design in this blog post, I believe the TI actually works incredibly well as a game. When the TI is played out, there many different indicator cards that list off potential core values and indicators of success for any given organization. The leadership team then needs to go through the game, and will eventually get a set of specific indicators that reflect the values of the company or project. After playing the game, there’s a second workshop stage where specific metrics of change are identified and given a context, and a storyboard is generated to illustrate the narrative of the emergent gameplay from the 1st stage.  Eventually differing organizations will be able to collaborate and learn from each other’s projects with regard to respective metrics of social impact.

CBC TI

I think part of what makes the TI so great, is that in terms of development, the TI doesn’t really differ that much from a traditional game. The TI has been in development for several years now, and has gone through much iteration to bring it to the point it’s at today. Obviously it can be quite difficult to create something that has a truly transformative impact on charities and social enterprises; partnering with other people/organizations, developing our theory of change, creating the game cards, designing the actual game process itself, graphic design, workshop facilitation, demoing the TI, physically manufacturing the cards, etc. That’s just a fraction of what I’ve seen go into development of the TI over the past month I’ve been with MH in London. In a sense the game is really only the front-end of the TI; there’s a ton of development and infrastructure behind it that has to come together to make the TI successful and sustainable over the long term.

I believe this is how the Transformational Index is different from when other charities and social enterprises try to create games. Game development isn’t this one-off thing charities can pull together over a few months, run a campaign, and then shut down once they’re done. Now-a-days, the best games are actually their own business model; World of WarCraft, League of Legends, and Hearthstone are just a few multi-billion dollar examples. Like the TI, those games are reciprocally supported by a larger system that makes them more meaningful and sustainable.  Even though they require continuous development and support, most of the value these systems create are crowd-sourced from the community surrounding it. As a result, these games can punch far above their weight, so to speak, and have a disproportionally large social impact. That’s what we’re hoping to accomplish with the Transformational Index, and why so much has gone into development.

In contrast, I haven’t seen many other charities, social enterprises, or churches actually thinking this way about their own projects. Part of what makes game development so brutally tough is that you need to align the efforts of (sometimes) hundreds of uniquely talented individuals for one common purpose; in this case, creating a game.  These larger studios (called “AAA”) engage in extremely detailed game design work before they start a project, typically planning out a realistic timeline, considering costs relative to their business model, doing market research, minimizing risk, etc. Individual roles and hierarchal structures then tend to become very closely associated, sometimes stifling systemic innovation as a result of wanting to be safe and comfortable.

Sounds familiar?

Now in the games industry, we’ve actually seen a huge decline of large scale, corporate style studios. The ones that still exist are extremely good at what they do, but increasingly more and more people are leaving to form their own smaller, independent ensembles. They work in small, flexible, and highly relational teams that actually go to the specific community they want to reach. This is typically far more effective and economically viable than spending millions on a single project that may or may not reach the intended audience and have a meaningful impact.

"Journey" (2012). The first game developed by a small studio to win "Game of the Year" from IGN.

“Journey” (2012). The first game developed by a small studio to win “Game of the Year” from IGN.

Frankly, both models have merit. Large scale studios are potentially able to reach a much wider audience and accomplish incredible feats because of their knowledge and professionalism. Smaller, independent studios are much more flexible and can iterate on innovative ideas much more effectively, thus having a greater impact on their specific community.

In other words, charities, social enterprises, and churches need to become more like game development studios.

– Brenden Palmer