October 27, 2003


misbehaving.net "is a weblog about women and technology. It's a celebration of women's contributions to computing; a place to spotlight women's contributions as well point out new opportunities and challenges for women in the computing field."

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Women Devs

Interview with several women developers of MMoRPGs over at Warcry. Gender, games, and development has been on my mind lately, so hopefully more on this subject later.

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Full Nelson

The Jiménez-Porter Writers' House and the Maryland Institute for
Technology in the Humanities (MITH) present electronic artist and writer
Jason Nelson.

Thursday, October 30, 7:00 p.m.
McKeldin Library, Room 6107
University of Maryland

Out of the Oklahoma plains comes the swirling, oddly crafted, poetic world of Jason Nelson's New Media poetry and prose. He will read, click, and shudder in person and on the screen, over the speakers and through the keyboard. Join us for his electronic literature performance.

Jason Nelson was raised a Oklahoma poet, but found the allure of electronic bits far too strong to remain moored in print. His projects include Hyperrhiz, a hypermedia literary journal, , and Secret Technology. His work has appeared in a variety of print and online journals including Beehive (Brown University), Boomerang (UK), Epitome (Madrid), 3rdbed (NYC), Nowculture, Blue Moon Review and others. In addition his work has been featured in art galleries worldwide. Nelson has a B.A. in Cultural Geography from the University of Oklahoma and an M.F.A. in Poetry from Bowling Green State University. Next year he will join the new media faculty in an innovative interdisciplinary program at Griffith University, Queensland,Australia.

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October 23, 2003

Lost in Translation

Unlike the slightly suburban-mystical mood of Virgin Suicides, Sophia Coppola's Lost in Translation (IMDB)provides a striking shot at realism, toned by the semi-magical landscape of Japan, sculpted both in technology and nature, globalization and tradition.

Good friend (and former Misc. guest speaker on Buffy) "L" called the film "uncomfortably real." Elaborating, she said:

"there is a texture to some of those scenes, like the one in the sushi restaurant, [and] the one when the first talk at the bar, that feel like the actors aren't aware they're being filmed... like you're eavesdropping and you shouldn't be"

Sound plays a pivotal role in Lost in Translation. The obvious complexities of language - in the mixture and confusions of Japanese and English, both written and spoken - are combined with the less obvious sounds of culture and city - ranging from the karaoke bar, to the chants and drums of a temple, to the silence of a contemplative moment, punctuated by horns and arcades, or wind and footsteps. Those scenes are crucial for the overall tone of the film. The abrupt contrast of karaoke vs. the music in the temple shows how sound can both penetrate and numb you at the same time.

Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are superb, with a subtle attention to dialogue that struck me as honest, with mumbles, long pauses, and uncertainties proving that a tightly woven script can - and maybe must - account for the uncertain, stumbling offerings of oral speech. The moments where language is most scripted prove that streams of chatter and forceful language amounts to little substance - perhaps best represented by the "movie star" character, Kelly (played by Anna Faris), who is in Japan to promote her new action movie.

All of this is played off of long stretches of silence or near-silence. Quiet moments where the camera takes long looks at the landscape, a synchronic exploration of exterior and interior, paced by a character's unspoken thoughts. Silence and quiet is often a bold move in film - at least since it was an option - and Coppola makes wonderful use of it throughout, mixing in subtle rhythms to complete - or complicate - the mood. The ending - which I'll not ruin for those who haven't seen it - is unique for its deliberate obscurity.

This is not a happy film, in any imagination. But it is a beautiful one.

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October 22, 2003

Game Neverending

Got my Game Neverending beta password the other day, even though this round of beta hasn't started yet. But checked out the chat features and so on, which are active... pretty nifty. People I met seemed really nice. Looking forward to seeing how the game pans out...

If you are interested in playing, I think I can submit names to the beta list through my interface? Let me know, and I'll try...

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Color Picker

Color Picker [via Liz]

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Samorost by Amanita Design [via anne]

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October 19, 2003

Exhale AoIR

Just got back from Toronto - 6:30am flight.

Exhausted, but very satisfied. Paper went well enough (more later). Got to meet some fantastic people (including fellow bloggers Kathleen and Liz), saw some thought-provoking panels, and hung out with a few old and new friends. Rad.

Now, to recover.


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October 16, 2003

AoIR (Thurs)

Arrived around 12:30ish. Bus from airport took a while, but the driver was kind, and met another conference attendee on the way. Finally got to my hotel, which is nice enough, after a rather long jaunt from where the bus dropped me. Dropped my bags and zipped over to the conference, where I caught the last bit of the 2:00 panel. Went to the 3:45 panel on blogging afterwards - you can find my inquiries about that on Liz's post (in the comments).

A little social gathering afterwards, where I mingled for a while before retiring for this hasty blog post.

Apologies for the curt reporting - burning time on a hesitant network, so trying to post before gettting booted. The little iBook I'm typing on, however, makes me want to buy one (which is probably why Apple supplied a bunch for the 'conference lab'). Quiet keyboard, small but useful screen, and a built in linux terminal. Everything I'd need for a portable (games are meant for desktops...)

Now, time to find some dinner, having realized that I haven't eaten since about 6am...

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October 15, 2003

Coming Up for AoIR

I'm all packed. Not sure how much blogging I'll get done while there, since it looks like there's a lot of great stuff to hold my attention.

My paper is pretty much done. I'm sure I'll tweak it a little here and there before I present on Saturday, but I think it'll do.

Unlike most folks, I travel light. No laptop. Not even a PDA. A notebook, some pens. A digital camera. I just hope my leather jacket and a sweater will keep me warm enough. I think I'll bring a hat...

To those who will be at the conference, see you in a little while!

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Where Is My Mind?

Sometimes, when the crush and madness of the week feels a bit overwhelming, when you've been up late touching up a paper and working on graphics, when you wonder how quickly you can get through the work day so you can rush home to pack so you can spend some time with your wife and catch a few hours of sleep before a 7 a.m. flight the next morning...

Sometimes, on days like that, it's great to take 3 minutes at your desk to close your eyes and nod your head to the Pixies.

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Game Taxonomy Article

Gamasutra is featuring an article by Craig A. Lindley entitled Game Taxonomies: A High Level Framework for Game Analysis and Design [announced on GAMESNETWORK list].

Unfortunately, no time to read it right now.

Access might require free registration.

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October 14, 2003


Slashdot | Free Unreal Engine Release Planned for education or non-profit purposes.


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aoir conference program

AoIR Conference Program (PDF)

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October 11, 2003

Defining Simulation?

[This is in response to a great discussion on GTA specifically about newsgamings' September 12th (which I reviewed here) and more broadly about reactions to calling the game a "simulation". I would post it in GTA's comments section, except that I always hesitate to clog the narrow comments column with overly lengthy posts... this follows Noah's comment on October 11, 2003 10:02 AM ]

Manovich has some great stuff about simulation - although he is also very clear about distinctions he draws in its use. When talking about frescos, for example, he is distinguishing between "representation on a screen" and "simulation" as immersion. The key difference for him in that distinction (which is focused in this case on Virtual Reality and screens) is the relationship of the material body to the object of study - is it fixed (sitting in front of a computer) or mobile (walking around a wax museum). Manovich also goes to great length to situate simulation within a variety of historical contexts. Finally, his definition of computational simulation cites "visual fidelity" as just "one" aspect. He writes "Besides visual appearance, simulation in new media aims to model realistically how objects and humans act, react, move, grow, evolve, think, and feel" (LoNM 182, emphasis mine). The paragraph at the top of that same page is equally usefully is seeing how Manovich draws distinctions and associations in different types of simulation in "old" and "new" media.

So, to clarify, I wasn't quite asking "how do we define simulation" - which, as this fascinating conversation is pointing out, might not be such a bad question to revisit. My question really was: Does Gonzalo's definition of simulation successfully distinguish narratives and games (which is its stated purpose)?

I'm not sure it does.

I think Andrew and Noah are both totally right - each, in a different way, seems to argue that when defining a term (and creating a 'new' use for it), you must also take into account its historical and cultural heritage (after all, words aren't fixed, but nor are they unhinged). But the 'new' use in this case - functioning as a distinguishing characteristic between games and narratives - strikes me as suspect. By stating "Narrative is based on semiotic representation, while videogames also rely on simulation,[1] understood as the modeling of a dynamic system through another system," Gonzalo essentially argues that narrative is not simulation. And that makes me want to revisit the definitions of simulation in its various historical contexts...

The longer excerpt of Gonzalo's essay was very helpful - he has some really rich ideas, and I'm looking forward to the entire essay. It also brought to mind a few more questions about how he attempts to distinguish games. He writes: "Unlike narrative, which is constituted by a fixed series of actions and descriptions, videogames need the active participation of the user not just for interpretational matters, but also for accessing its content." When I read that, I mentally ask the following questions:

1. How do we define "active participation"?
2. Is narrative fixed? In what way? Are we talking about print narrative, such as a novel? Film narrative? Hypertext?
3. If a game has a narrative element (such as a RPG), how does this definition's distinction between the two reconcile itself?

Gonzalo's definition of simulation also serves an important political function in the long-standing debate that is broadly about the 'nature' of games but so often is cited as the ludology-narratology debate (a name that is, in my mind, an unfair reduction of a fascinating conundrum in the study of media into a dichotomy battle between methodologies). I also think that using this definition of "simulation" as the distinguishing characteristic of games does not successfully accommodate all types of games. Nor does it recognize that the category of 'games' encompasses a vastly diverse population of media objects. Absalom, Absalom and Webster's Dictionary are both books, but that doesn't really help to really define either of them beyond their surface material trappings.

(To be clear - I'm not saying that Gonzalo hasn't considered these things himself, but am rather just arguing against what I believe are the implications of his assertion. I realize that zeal for a subject matter can sometimes come across oddly in a textual environment, so pardon the self-conscious and well-intentioned aside...).

Bringing this back to the specific example of September 12th - I thought a few passages from Gonzalo's essay were striking and maybe speaks to why calling his game/political cartoon a 'simulation' struck some as problematic (as evidenced by Greg's colorful reaction):

"On the other hand, simulation is dynamic and its essence is change: it produces different outcomes."

"This also explains why videogames are not a good realm for historic events or characters or for making moral statements."

"The potential of simulation is not as a conveyor of values, but as a way to explore the mechanics of dynamic systems."

"Simulations also have particularities and referents, but their main characteristic is that they allow tweaking and changing the original model."

"Simulation is an ideal medium for exposing rules rather than particular events."

If we take these assertions as given, would we call September 12th a successful simulation? Or even a simulation at all?

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Started a website/blog for my family - www.therhodys.net - a place to put baby pictures (ultrasounds, for now, of course) and news about our family without subjecting relatives to my daily ramblings about games, books, and the decline of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

If you go look now, you'll see our baby giving us the "thumbs-up" ... guess that means she (or he) is ok.

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October 9, 2003


I was hoping for something a little more British - funny shapes, varied colors. Something tells me that Jackson's demeanor doesn't really meld well with background pastels.

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Like Liz, I am taking care of final details for my trip to Toronto for the AoIR conference. I finally have my plane tickets, and a buddy and I found a room at the Bond Place Hotel - not the height of luxury, but affordable for two graduate students.

(And, like Liz ... no, my paper isn't done yet, but it will be before I leave!)

I tried signing up for a Birds of a Feather gathering on gaming, but (I'm almost embarrassed to admit ... well, not even almost) I couldn't figure out their not-so-intuitive message boards, which kept wanting a username and password that I didn't have (and couldn't figure out to sign up for). If anyone wants to grab a drink and talk about blogging and/or gaming, I'd happily meet.

[EDIT: looking over the program, I'm bummed to discover that I'm going to miss some really awesome talks Thursday morning. I'm looking forward to, one day, having travel funds so the decision to save a night's hotel cost by flying in the morning of, rather than the night before, is an easier one. At least I found a 7am flight, so I can catch the afternoon panels...]

Also, just got word on the Level Up! game conference program, which looks really great. I was slated to give a paper there as well, but I had to withdraw, due to costs. With international travel, and only a few hundred dollars travel budget for graduate students, I just couldn't afford it. Needless to say, I was disappointed that I would miss out. Hopefully it will get some blog coverage!

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October 8, 2003


Interesting thread on Slashdot for quick software suggestions and reviews (set your threshold up a bit to skip nonsense): Slashdot | Top 10 Software Titles Every Home PC Needs?

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October 7, 2003


orneryboy by michael lalonde just makes me laugh. out loud.

[thanks to mcb]

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October 6, 2003


I waited until today to book my AoIR plane tickets so I could get the department to pay for it, rather than waiting on reimbursement. Avoiding a complicated, personally trying story that is too long to even get into, insane fare hikes and good advice led me to studentuniverse.com: Student travel deals and cheap airfares.

I saved over $120. Definitely worth noting for future reference. You just have to be a student -or- faculty member ... confirmed through your .edu email address.

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October 3, 2003

Rhody's Response to Bernstein's Bait

The question is fair enough, I suppose, if in the proper context (fine for a role-playing or other style of "narrative-driven" game, less so for a puzzle game like "Tetris"). In the midst of arguments over how much money the game industry makes (more than box office, less than additional DVD sales and rentals?) or whether or not narratology (film studies, post/Marxism, or [enter your theory of choice here]) is an appropriate methodology for studying games, we still have yet to engage in substantial ways with a very basic question (paraphrased by andrew at GTA):

in the twenty-plus years that games have been around, what do they teach us about ourselves, e.g., about personal relationships, sexuality, the human condition?

Now, here is MB's original question (you can read the full context here here and his more recent addition here):

Take the last twenty years of computer games -- the whole kit and kaboodle. Put them on a shelf. (Yeah, it's a big shelf) Now look over the shelf, and tell me everything we learn about, say, sexuality.

I happen to think that Andrew's revision is both more fair and a tad more approachable. If we adopt all of MB's rules, which involve some fairly substantial restrictions on critical reading skills, sexuality as a topic becomes particularly difficult to engage in the context of games. Sure, we can point to scholarship as early as Turkle and as late as, well, more recent resources dealing with gender and play (my library isn't handy right now), but the restrictions limit such discussion, as MB notes:

I'm looking for what's in the game, not what the audience brings to the table, and yes, I see the theoretical shortcomings of the previous clause.

So let's tackle this on the broader scale, if for no other reason than that game companies are most likely to pander to the sexual codes that are so evident in games while simultaneously avoiding overt sexual themes that are likely to get them in trouble (unless, as in the case of something like Grand Theft Auto, you deliberately offend, resulting in an odd sort of reverse subversive social criticism).

The "human condition," brought up via Andrew's revision, is, as we all know, an equally unwieldy term - one we frequently use to tell our undergraduates why we study literature, but generally vague and problematic, always surrounded by quotation marks as if we must shrug our shoulders when we say it. The human condition, according to who? With all of these caveats, restrictions, concerns, and complications in mind, the question remains - what do games tell us about the human condition? What do they teach us about ourselves?

Andrew and others (see his post for a list of great links) say, "very little," and while I'm not inclined to disagree for the most part, I'm also not sure that I have thought and written enough to really decide that. I do know that I have on rare occasion found myself sitting in awe, as both gamer and scholar, at something that occurred on the screen in front of me. This is one of those stories.

It was Leafcull, Portal Year 11. For the past several months, the towns across Dereth had been tormented by the floating Shadow Spires - and the shadow minions that protected them - until a final battle, and aid from unexpected sources, drove the Spires back into the ground. But not until after the towns of Arwic and Tufa had been destroyed, leaving huge craters in the ground.

The game? Asheron's Call, a MMORPG (the unpronounceable acronym for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) that provides free monthly and (usually) story-driven updates to the game, marking it as a serial-narrative style game. Portal Year 11 was October 2000, and the game was beginning to wind up to the final stages of their first story-arc that spanned a year's time. Shadows - creatures made of little substance and decedents of a rebellious nation - had become a prominent force throughout Dereth, attacking towns and terrorizing the landscape with their floating Spires. Their leader, once a Dericost man named Ilservian Palacost, was the dread Bael'Zharon. Unknown to the Isparians - the people (the players) who had settled Dereth many years later - Bael'Zharon's rebellion was thrown down and his power captured within a series of crystals hidden throughout the land. Several months' of recent explorations had uncovered those crystals and adventurers destroyed them, for not only did their power threaten Dereth, but they also wielded great riches to those who broke them.

Turbine - the developer of Asheron's Call (which is published by Microsoft) - wove an amazing story over the course of several months. They counted on gamers' desire to conquer, and to gain unique riches, because that desire in turn slowly released an evil upon the land. It was an ambitious and thoughtful design that played upon the persistent nature of the world to prevent recalling a decision. Once a crystal was destroyed, there was no reverting to a saved game to preserve it. For many months, destroying the crystals was seen as an act of preservation - the very first crystal, found in the frigid reaches of Frore, had cast an enduring winter upon all of the land (the first "Live Event" in December 1999).

The battle of the Shadow Spires, where Asheron reportedly appeared for the first time in years to help defend the town of Cragstone, "occurred" in the dead space between September and October 2000 patch. In other words, the worlds came down for the patch early one morning and when they came back online, players logged in to find the events already played out. After such effort to drive the plot this far, players felt somewhat cheated. Why did the "big event," they asked, exclude them? The title for that month's patch - "Hollow Victory" - resonated more strongly than perhaps intended.

So the developers set an elaborate stage for the next (and grand finale) event - "Should the Stars Fall" -- Leafcull, PY 11 (November, 2000). A series of adventures (the details of which are too lengthy to explore in detail right now) led to the location of the final crystal - The Shard of the Herald - but with a catch. Those who entered must be marked as player killers (PKs), something that a player can complete a short quest to accomplish (a similarly short quest can turn the player back into a non-player killer). By now, enough had been revealed that players knew that destroying the crystal would release Bael'Zharon.

In his monthly "The Spin From Turbine: A Tale of Six Crystals (or, "It was the best of events, it was the worst of events..."), released after the event on December 8, 2000, AC Producer Nik "Azeraphel" Davidson discussed the rationale behind the event:

A lot of what we did in November came from reaction to player feedback. In prior months, especially regarding the Nexus, players complained that there was no way to intervene in the plotline. People wanted the chance to defend the crystal, to keep BZ imprisoned. We thought that this would make for fantastic role-playing, and tried to come up with a system that would allow people to take a more active part in the event. Thus the PK-only dungeon for the final Shard was created. We wanted to give the players a choice -- to defend the Shard, or to destroy it.

Asheron's Call is played on several worlds (servers) in order to accommodate the number of players. Each world is distinct, although also synchronized in terms of story and events. No one world could diverge substantially from another, because that would radically increase the amount of work for the AC Live Team.

In other words, the crystal, no matter what, had to fall. Now, this wasn't really a problem or a concern. In fact, the crystals on all worlds fell within a matter of hours. Gamers like to break things in hopes of finding something inside of them (a point reinforced to me when my brother-in-law drove his car from GTA3 straight through a window ... discovering a better sports car hidden behind it). Except on one server - Thistledown's players mounted a defense of the Shard of the Herald (affectionately dubbed "Harry") and proceeded to defend the crystal for the entire month (more details are in the article I listed above).

The struggle and consistency of the defense was really quite impressive. Those of us who were on other servers kept track through message boards; we kept each other up to date in games. No one believed that the defenders would hold. But they did, until the very end. All of this is impressive in itself, but one final surprise - and this one was key. A bug in the programming allowed NPK characters to enter the battleroom. Since NPK characters cannot be harmed (and thus stopped) by PK characters, they had nothing to prevent them from simply destroying the crystal. Surprisingly, no one did.

As the letter details, the developers enlisted the help of some players, got behind the controls of some powerful "toons" (avatars), and engaged in a major battle, tipping the scales so that "Harry" could be destroyed. The developers gave them the nod to acknowledge their feat, and instead of pulling the plug in the downtime, gave them an amazing final battle. Nik Davidson reiterated this fact in his article:

In closing there's one thing that I want to make abundantly clear: We did not do this to "make the defenders lose." We did this because the defenders had won.

Humanity is, in part, captured, if not defined, by decisions; the substantial difference between, say, a novel and a game is that in 'traditional' literature, the decisions are made prior to the act of reading (agency during the act of reading is something I'll get into another time). Some of the most amazing (and frustrating) literature involves choices that remain undecided, uncertain, or unknowable - the end of James' Portrait of a Lady is a novel that drives me into fits every time I read it; I spend hours wondering what Isabel is really up to when she runs to Rome. For the most part, however, the decisions in novels arrive to our eyes and ears mostly already made. Tragedy and comedy - humanity - comes from those decisions, decisions that we can only read about but cannot change.

Role-playing games, however, are often about making decisions - enacting the process rather than reading the results. So part of the problem with MB's question is that it eliminates the process of creating outside narratives - notations, descriptions, quotations, and other history-making exercises - that in turn help create the sociology of these types of games outside of the program itself. We have methods for critical approach to novels, for example; we can neatly summarize relevant plot details, define characters, point to passages in the text. How can we accomplish this same level of detail in persistent worlds? Virtual tours only take you to the setting ("Here lie the fragments of the Shard of the Herald; next on our tour, the monument dedicated to the defenders of Thistledown."). Until we have a way of re-creating exact experience in games, we are, much like the "real world," left with artifacts, recollections, first-person accounts (and many of these, as I've discovered in a recent bout of research and writing, are quickly disappearing). Part of our job as scholars must involve an accounting - and criticism - of such game events, because it is in such accounts - the decisions and consequences that amaze us and confound us - that we can begin to tackle the question of their lessons of, and for, humanity.

[Note: Andrew's comment and concern about "well formed experiences" is a really well-stated notion of what I was trying to work through regarding "accounts" of games in the paragraphs above]

[Double note: I hit 'draft' instead of 'publish.' Damn. Corrected now (obviously). Lots of interesting discussion in the meantime over at GTA that makes me want to rethink some of this, but I'm not rewriting this thing right now.]

[Final note: some more AC history, for reference: A Brief History For Travelers]

[On a yet another side note, I found this article particularly interesting.]

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October 2, 2003

Wear Your Heart (or a video) On Your Sleeve

You ever say "For 40 bucks, this t-shirt should make me coffee!"? You might not get an espresso, but you could watch a movie on your belly:

Ready To Ware: Electronics and fabrics woven together will make smart dressers of firefighters, football players, and fashionistas alike

I think this stuff is so cool.

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October 1, 2003

September 12: A Toy World

After having time to play yesterday, I wanted to offer a few thoughts about September 12, the new game by newsgaming.com [I mentioned it earlier here (briefly linking it to Bookchin's version of The Intruder) - also discussed by GTA, GGA, and Jill]. The game requires the Macromedia Shockwave plug-in but is small enough to download in a reasonable amount of time. The introduction artwork features (presumably, based on garb, setting, and subject matter) a Muslim woman bent over and clutching a dead child in much the same way as Michelangelo's Pieta. The full title is listed as "September 12th: A Toy World," which brings to mind the doll-house effect - a mini-model experiment in which you tinker and experiment.

This introduction screen quickly switches over to the "instructions" screen [screenshot below], which details the recognizable icons in the game. Civilians are listed below - a man and woman walking with a child, all dressed in non-descript Muslim clothing. On the top, we see a running man holding an automatic weapon, underscored by the label Terrorist.

The rules are intriguing in themselves: This is "not a game," but a "simulation" without possible winners or losers. "It has no ending. It has already begun" reminds us that the title - September 12th - places us a day after the attack in New York, Pennsylvania, and DC. We are, then, the hand that holds the retaliatory trigger, the proverbial finger on the red button. "You can shoot. Or not."

The game play itself (or the simulation play?) is fairly straight forward - a town is full of the iconic characters introduced to us on the instructions screen. They run from building to building in a non-specific but obviously Middle Eastern city. The terrorists are easily pinpointed by their white head coverings. The player controls a crosshair, which they can use to deploy a missile that strikes approximately two seconds after mouse button is clicked. After the missile explodes, we have about a ten to fifteen second delay before the next missile can be deployed, a wise design decision that forces us to watch the missile land and the destruction it leaves in its wake.

If a civilian is hit (as they undoubtedly will be, based on the lead time of the missile and the speed of their walk) and another civilian walks by, the live civilian will stop and weep over the body of their fallen comrade. Make sure your speakers are on, because this sound is striking. The mourners will then, with a transformation that would stun Bruce Banner, stand and turn into terrorists.

The possible implications to a casual observer? Terrorists are recognizable. They only run with guns - they don't use them (even though the title reminds us of the terrorist attacks the day before, the terrorists depicted in the game are innocuous. They do not attack anything - they just run). American defense/aggression (whichever view you happen to take) only breeds more terrorists, rather than protecting against them. It also, in that any civilian can become a terrorist, homogenizes the fictional Arab city. Unintentionally, perhaps, the game seems to state that the only reaction to American weapons is to become a terrorist. Just as our options are limited to two (fight or not), so too are theirs.

Now, to be fair, I think the folks over at newsgaming are making a solid effort towards using games as a critical tool. I'm not arguing that the above is what the developers think - only what the game seems (to me anyway) to possibly imply. On the other hand, the instructions screen could be read as a subtle commentary on the media's portrayal, or perhaps America's presumption, that anyone who looks Arabic and holds a weapon is a terrorist. It may lead some to think about what may have happened had an alternate, non-military response be pursued in the wake of September 11th. Perhaps the name of the game, the echoing weeping, and the Pieta-style introductory image serve to remind people that there are days of grief aside from September 11th, and places of misery outside of the United States.

While I think that there might be room for these kinds of arguments and discussions, I worry that many who look at September 12th will only see what appears to be the games' seemingly implicit argument - that terrorists are easily identified by their garb and gun, that retaliation (or defense, again according to taste) will create more terrorists rather than fewer, and that isolationism is the only method of prevention (or perhaps just stasis - I did not leave the simulation running long enough to see if the numbers of terrorists moving about actually decreased if no bombs were dropped). In other words, the complexity of the perspective might get lost in the simplicity of game play.

In any case, "September 12th: A Toy World" is certainly worth checking out, if only so you can add to the conversation, which is the developer’s clearly stated - and admirable - intention.

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