I want to try to tie together a couple of themes that have been kicking around here regarding games/play, creativity and co-creation. I'm inspired by some excellent thoughts from German Dziebel posted on John Winsor's weblog, who suggests that a better understanding of games and storytelling deals with the "tip of an iceberg whose base is planted deep in the interface of culture, media, and business".
Dziebel goes on to state:
We live in the world of mass customization and, most recently, co-creation. Brands are RAW files these days. [RAW meaning non-digital?!]. Instead of defining their product once and for all, companies increasingly encourage their customers to co-create and co-innovate. They engage them in a game in which every party takes turns in production and consumption, and out of this turbulent dialogue many stories are born.
Co-creation is often talked about as a way s of getting consumers to become part of the process of crafting brand meanings, and the mode of game/play (and how that shapes individual storytelling) is a very useful way of thinking about how this can actually take place. The only thing I might add to the above is that the customization and co-creation that Dziebel refers to takes place in an increasingly particular social context. Without meaning to split hairs, I just think that this only reinforces the importance of those behaviours, and probably makes them an even more valuable mode of behaviour that brands need to get a better handle on. Brands exist as social constructs.
Some of these thought echo ideas I posted about regarding the open-ended architecture of games, and how just enough leaves to be left available in the design of experiences to be navigated, changed and determined by the user with game-like functions. Customizaton and co-creation help to explain the morphing of storytelling, from fixed to changeable across a number of platforms (music, printed content and so on). But I think that two things need to be emphasized here:
1. "games" and "play" do not need to be taken too literally. the idea of "play" can include many forms of creative expression and even social interaction. two quick examples that might illustrate this: the Cadbury Gorilla ad remixes and even the Dora clip posted below are in my mind a form of play. content is played with and re-spun into something new and fresh. (Faris has written a lot about remix culture, as I'm sure a lot of you have already read).
Another example of how play enters into the experience of social interaction is the very architecture of sharing on You Tube itself: the architecture of game mechanics might help to explain the "flow" state of consuming and sharing content on You Tube. Designing interactions and experiences that are geared toward producing flow-like states is an area I'd love to know more about; I think there's a lot to learn about this (certainly more than what I know now).
2. consumers/people don't really give that much of a shit about too many brands (see Iain's recent comments about the scary future of marketing: "I often think about it when I see brands out there doing wholly inappropriate things like trying to engage in conversations that no-one wants to be part of"); most brands/marketers need to get their head out of their own ass. begging them to be "part of the conversation" is not the answer. thinking about what people actually like to do is a much better place to start.
with the rare exception of a handful of brands that manage to generate real enthusiasm around an idea or cause (Dove Real Beauty being the obvious example), most other brands would do well to think about experiences and interactions that are about people first (not their brand) and the unique behaviours people are engaged in, in whatever context they are reaching/communicating with them.
again, the Cadbury Gorilla spot is almost tailored made for the consumption/creation/remixing/sharing environment of video-sharing websites. it works there, and it's simplicity affords the remixing and loose community that has sprung up around it. (if anyone at Cadbury prefers to believe that people were just waiting to "co-create the brand meaning" in such a cool 2.0-way, who I am to stop them?).
other interesting examples include the M&M Dark puzzle from last year that Jason wrote about (another form of game-play spinning off into community) or the interactions and creativity generating the storyline of Where Are The Joneses. these transmedia examples suggest to me that the smart path to co-creation emerges from a real, practical level (rather than a make-believe artificial "conversation" with The Brand, which is usually just a fiction of marketers' imagination), and whose behaviour is explained much better via game mechanics than abstract theory.
If, as Dziebel argues, the dynamic of games and storytelling (and the behaviours attached to its evolution) only scratches at the surface of deeper relationships between culture, media and business, I think we're just at the beginning of really understanding that relationship. The question of media consumption, creation and distribution, and how that shapes culture in new ways (and how brands fit into that picture) needs to be answered by thinking about the sequence in which that relationship progresses in a clearer way.
I still think that old models (and our old brains) are being assigned the task of trying to figure this one out. To my mind, the balance of thinking still favours top-down culture/media thinking; even a lot of the language betrays this: "invite the consumer into the act of co-creation" being a favourite term I love to hate. In any case, I'll end the ramble here, and hope to pick it up again ;)