June 28, 2005

The Tell-Tale Squeak

More background on this later when I have more time, but - um - does anyone have a good suggestion as to what to do with a mouse after his little feet get stuck in those glue traps?

I know. Use snap-traps and get it over quick. Unfortunately, the location did not afford the space necessary for the snapping action...

Meanwhile... I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men, but the noise steadily increased. O God! what COULD I do? I foamed -- I raved -- I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder -- louder -- louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly , and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! -- no, no? They heard! -- they suspected! -- they KNEW! -- they were making a mockery of my horror! -- this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! -- and now -- again -- hark! louder! louder! louder! LOUDER! --


"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! -- tear up the planks! move aside this table -- here, here! -- it is the beating SQUEAK of his hideous heart plea!"

[Poe courtesy of Literature.org]

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June 18, 2005

DIGRA - Best Paper Presentation

Shadowplay: Simulated Illumination in Game Worlds by Simon Niedenthal provides a wonderful exploration of the use of light in game environments. The full paper is available here.

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DIGRA - Bridging Theory and Design

This roundtable generated quite a discussion, which I wasn't able to capture in my notes. My notes of the four panelists' opening statements follow:

Aki Jarvinen
Three processes/purposes for research: Research into design (traditional humanities- and social-style research), research through design (project based), research for design (game design, develop methods)

Stephen Bjork – stepping stones between design and theory
Focus on games (not gamers and gamer communities), focus on designed gameplay (not emergent; game with authors w/ intended gameplay) – “Game play Research” as type of interaction design; artifact and/vs activity. Test theories through design.

Design and Theory
Design – supported by methods, directed by theories
Methods – tested by designing, motivated by theory
Theory – validated by designs, applied by methods
(fluid shift between the three types)

Pirates! game example, where the team shifted between the 3 as they created the game.

Eric Zimmerman
Questioning Game Design + Theory
3 questions:
Game design as master discipline? Should research be relevant for game design? Or should scholars focus on their own field in relation to games without worrying about making sure that the ideas are relevant for game design?

Why the prevalence of formalism? The idea that games can be “known” and formally described. The “essence” of games. What does it leave out? Why this renewed structuralism? Why no ethnography of game design process or game designers?

Design as theoretical investigation? The academy as a possible space for games that would be avoided by the risk-adverse industry.

Slides soon available at: www.ericzimmerman.com

Can’t design, won’t design. On one hand, there is the idea that if you haven’t made a game, you don’t know what you are talking about. On the other hand, academics sometimes see designers as anti-intellectual, which is false as well. Advocate pure theory – long term, few specific goals, (anecdote: “where are you going with this?” “If I knew I wouldn’t take another step in that direction”). Practical projects as clutter – disrupts distance from object. Storytelling – no good explanation of the relationship between games and storytelling. Hasn’t been solved by design. Necessary to have a group that isn’t invested in design, but interested in dialoguing with these groups. 3 main channels of communication: pure theorists and designer. Design theorists and working designer. Pure theorists and design theorists. Request to all bloggers that all blogged comments be attributed to “the other Aarseth.”

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June 17, 2005

DIGRA - Janet Murray Keynote

Janet Murray – The Future of Electronic Games: Lessons from the first 250,000 Years

The last word on ludology and narratology – showdown at HUMlab Jan 2005 – Jenkins and Aarseth. Ludonauts.com – aarseth “as far as narratology is concerned, there was nothing to engage in. As Jenkins himself points out…, he is not a narratologist. … The real iron is that virtually all the so-called ludologist are trained in narratology. Hopefully there will be some strong “narratological” position paper at digra, where the ‘ludologist’ are met with rational counter-argument… and games are shown to be stories.”

What this quest for the phantom narratologist?
What is ludology? A methodology, an ideology – we need two different terms (one for each).
Methodology: Computer Game Formalism (CGF) – based on premise that games can be described as a discrete category with stable descriptors; uses methods derived from structural narratology; Phantom opponent “narratologists”: want to put games into the colonial grasp of narrative by denying their unique form [the colonialist myth]

Game (Studies) Essentialism (GSE or GE)
Defines the field of games studies as concerned ONLY with those formal elements unique to games; insists on the irrelevance of other approaches

Aarseth test – ref. The First Person article and the debate between aarseth and moultrhope regarding the importance of lara croft. There is no single orthodox reading of a game. Formal and cultural approaches are both valuable.

Did games make us human?
How did we become human?
New research in cognitive science examining the problem of how human beings got so smart so fast.
Merlin Donald – cognition linked to culture; our culture and brains co-evolve. Progress of hominoid cognition:
Mammalian: episodic awareness: self-awareness, event sensitivity, recognition of individuals
Hominid: mimetic gestures: social bonding via imitation of bonding
Homo Sapiens: symbolic communication, narrative, mythic framework
Human culture: external symbolic media
Mimesis --> Language

Are games the missing link? Merlin Donald is challenging the language model. Human children play rule-governed games by imitation; they invent games without language. Test chimps v. baby by playing games. Chimp loses interest in synchronized tasks. “Zone of proximal evolution” Apes can almost play advanced games, but not quite.

Michael Tomasello – culture ratchets
Awareness of other’s minds; awareness of shared consciousness – human babies aware at 9 months. Tomasello would argue that causal thinking develops at this time as well. Develop causal narratives. Mark Turner – small spatial stories that are the basics of grammar.
Joint Attentional Scene resembles a game. Shared limited focus; witnessed intentionality; symbolic communication. Which leads to: self in relation to others; perspectival thinking; develop basis for intentional instruction.

Carol Eckerman (Duke U) – Toddler-Toddler Imitation Games. Reciprocal imitation. Reflect pleasure in the intentionality and mirroring of behavior. Synchronize. This leads to language. Pleasure in shared pattern. Hellen Keller initially thought of the hand signals as a new game, until finally making connection to meaning. (Merlin Donald – Origins of the Modern Mind)

Wittgenstein: there is no essential game. Murray wants to put Ring Around the Rosie in the same league as chess, Tetris, etc. Synchronous participation, mimicry, pleasure. The “quintessential mimetic game”

Is our pleasure in and propensity for games a driving force of our evolution (cultural, biological, social)?
Types of games in cognitive development
Mimetic contests (follow the leader) – dance dance revolution
Abstract cognitive patterns (knucklebones) – counting, sequencing, etc – Tetris (What happens when we replace the human consciousness exchange with computer consciousness?)
Abstract social patterns – turn taking, contest, betting
Emotional social patterns: performing, spectatorship, cheating, risk-taking

Senet; Book of the Dead. Games direct attention to the symbolic nature of representation.

Games in a procedural medium: where are they leading?
Reintroducing mimetic task into the ‘larger village that we live in”
Reference to Façade – having to reinvent the joint attentional moment
Gonzalo Frasca’s Madrid – game as ritual; mimesis of coordinated action
Ian Bogost “Take Back Illinois”
Will Wright “Spore” – meta-mimetics of shared procedural creation; recreating that sharing and mimicking

If mimetic games make us human, then what kind of games do we want to play and make?

[please see Notes on Notes]

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DIGRA - TL Taylor Keynote Notes

TL Taylor – Contemporary Play: How MMOGs Can Inform Game Studies

Everquest info recap, for the three people in the audience who were not familiar with EQ (the advantage of game conferences).

The act of play includes play with indeterminate rules; malleable gameplay
EQ as “boundary objects” – Bowker & Star, Sorting Things Out (1999) – “objects that both inhabit several commuities of practice and satisfy the informational requirements of each of them… plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of parties employing them, yet robust enough to remain a common identity across sites.” Example EQ communities of practice: designers, players, legal departments, marketing, customer services, etc

One is not born an Everquest player, one becomes one (riff on De Beauvoir) – unpack how people become players:
Formal rules of the game

Layers that we learn play (what makes up how we play beyond the formal rules):
Technological: interfaces & controllers, system requirements & use knowledge, avatars, communication structures, open/closed architectures
We configure systems, systems configure us back. Science-Technology studies.
Value notions implied in each of these (e.g., avatars as gendered value notions).

Institutional: EULAs & TOS, “essence of the game,” game management & customer service, dispute handling/protest, subscription & distribution models, IP law
WOW: Warrior Protest – when the protest occurred, a system wide message from admins: “Attention: Gathering on a realm with intent to hinder gameplay is considered griefing and will not be tolerated.”

Communities: play styles and strategies, reputation & social capital, group affiliations, distributed & collective intelligence, player identity, ? of legitimate out-game “intrusions”
Train – pulling a ton of monsters; no mention in the manual but player community create rules or norms [JR: or ethics?]; make sense of trains only through community; as points of humor, memory, and community feeling
Guilds and social organization: social labor; reference EQ + Sopranos paper (trust, responsibility, and reputation)
Argue that it is crucial to the play of the game
The Collective Intelligence (Jenkins?) of EQ (3rd party websites, etc.) Alakazam website.
TL argues that the game is unplayable without 3rd party sites. High-end play heavily relies on these kinds of sites. Change of game rules proper in response: e.g., maps now present in EQ.

Heterogeneity of play:
Powergamers v. casual, family and friends, play histories and competencies, technical resources and skills.

Fundamentally different ways to play even among ‘power’ players.

Socio-technical artifact – encoding not only forms of play, but player subjectivity itself
Boundary object – game is constructed and enacted among multiple actors

[see post on Notes on Notes]

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DIGRA - note on notes

Just a quick note on the notes I post regarding DIGRA presentations. They are very rough approximations of what the person said, the mistakes are mine, all of the good ideas are theirs. I suggest you visit the conference website to see their full paper, which should be available there. [My personal notes are usually in brackets.] Thanks

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June 16, 2005

Did I Mention?

Did I mention that slamming your forehead into the windowsill the night before your trip - a classic one-man 3 Stooges act for sure - is not the best way to kick things off. Not that I don't enjoy a nice flash of bright light and the sound of my teeth clacking together in my ears. So, if you are in Vancouver, I'm the fella with the bruised-colored ball stuck to his forehead.

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Time Travel

Time travel has never been easier. You only have to sit in a narrow tube with people who seem to have three elbows to jab into your ribs for the duration of your journey, and suddenly you are three hours in the past. I arrived in Seattle yesterday with little trouble, though as someone who has never been an avid fan of flight - mostly because of the numbness that sets in after hour two - I was glad to be off the plane. The view of Mt. Rainier from the window almost made me forget the pins and needles. The mountains of the western coast never fail to surprise me, as I grew up navigating the smooth slopes of the Appalachian and thus have little familiarity with the sharp edges of the Rockies, Olympics, and Cascades.

My friend and old roommate B. picked me up and took me on a driving tour of downtown Seattle before we settled at The Palace Kitchen, a restaurant run by some well-known chef that many of my friends may recognize (if I could remember the name). I have no talent for this kind of knowledge or recollection, though I do know a good dinner when I taste one. This was a good dinner. Halibut on a bed of "bread salad" - a concoction of bread, olive oil, peas and beans, with goat (?) cheese. The service was kind, present but not rushed, and the open kitchen and pleasant acoustics provided a wonderful atmosphere. An amazing meal - B's generous introduction to his Seattle lifestyle.

This morning B. dropped me off at the train station, laden with coffee and doughnuts from the local shop. On the advice of B. and S. (B's wonderful girlfriend), I had booked "business class" Amtrak tickets, which afforded a very comfortable ride up the coast towards Vancouver. If ever I was to recommend a train ride in North America, this one currently tops my list. The ride is scenic, with the gently lapping waves of the Sound matching the lull of the train. There are few spots along the entire trip that do not beg for a photograph, and the temptation to just look out of the window won out enough that I only saw about half of the "in-train movie": Million Dollar Baby. These were nice enough distractions when I wasn't tweaking my presentation for tomorrow.

I'm booked in at the Ramada downtown, which is right around the block from one of two conference venues. After slightly overshooting my stop on the AirTrain (the local Metro), I finally made my way to the hotel, which seems to be in a slightly less tourist-laden part of town. Local pizza shops are scattered around (a high student population, perhaps, eating the 97 cent slices of pie), and there are enough used book stores within 100 meters to keep me occupied during downtime. Since the Ramada is about half the cost of the other hotels I looked at, it seems like a pretty good deal.

Vancouver seems like a great city so far. Walkable, with adequate public transportation, and residents who have been nice enough to direct a wayward tourist. After I stop by the registration desk, I plan to grab a quick bite to eat and take a short walking tour before the 7pm keynote.

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June 15, 2005

DIGRA - Taking Off

I'm just about ready to catch my flight to the DIGRA conference. I leave shortly for Seattle, where I will meet up with an old friend for the night. I take the train to Vancouver in the morning, and I suspect I will poke around the city for a short while before heading over to TL Taylor's (of TerraNova fame) opening keynote address. The conference has a great line-up of speakers, and I hope to be able to put faces to some of the online personalities I've met over the past few years. I will try to blog some of the sessions, depending on the availability of wi-fi.

If any fellow bloggers want to get together for a drink, just drop me a note here, send an e-mail (jcrhody AT umd DOT edu), or look for the bearded fella wandering around Vancouver.

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June 14, 2005

Belated Herd-iversary

You would think that the annual notice to renew my domain subscription would jog my memory, but it doesn’t. I missed it again. On June 4th, Wordherders celebrated its second year as the umbrella for our little blogging cooperative. Some of us were already blogging, while others had never heard of this "blogging" before. And now two [1, 2] of our members are within the top ten best Sixty Second Stories.

Who knew what fame would come.

Happy Herd-iversary everyone.

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June 13, 2005

Games and Storytelling

The entire first year of lectures from the Games and Storytelling series, a collaboration between the University of Tampere Game
Research Lab, University of Art and Design Helsinki, and two company
partners, Veikkaus and Nokia. More information available at http://gamesandstorytelling.net/

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June 10, 2005

Digging In

While my paper for the DIGRA conference has long been done (Game Fiction: Playing the Interface in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Asheron’s Call), I'm still putting together my PowerPoint, since the 12 page paper certainly will not fit in the 12 minute time slot each person is allotted (not to mention that outside of English departments, conferencing seems to switch from "reading a paper" to "clicking a PowerPoint"). I'm looking forward to the trip, recalling the rejuvenating effects gained from my last major conference (AoIR 2003 in Toronto).

At the same time, this is lining up to be the Month That Won't Stand Still. The days slip by, much as my daughter did the other day, shrieking with joy as she danced and sprinted her way through the aisles of Office Depot. There's nothing more enjoyable than a row full of staplers, except perhaps for those metal-frame staircases that linger about, dangling signs that read "Employees Only." Those signs mean little to a 17-month old who has that dangerous combination of illiteracy, no sense of danger, and a love of climbing.

While the eBay spam at my "day job" might seem to be the most pressing issue, based on the frequency those emails seem to visit my inbox, we have a deadline looming at the end of the month, making my trip to Vancouver less convenient that it possibly might have been otherwise. There's also the unfortunate aspect of leaving behind my family, and missing the wedding of a cousin. Our household will be split three ways for a short while next week, and this is an unfamiliar occurrence. Toss in a few other obligations and hopeful aspirations with a looming deadline and I feel like I'm running, wishing for some wind at my back.

As my wife reminded me, however, as we sat watching the lightning bugs rise from the grass in our backyard, once the plane takes off and heads towards Seattle, I'll lean back and relax. A visit with two very good friends bookends my trip, and I get to revisit Seattle briefly, which I loved the last time I was there, and see Vancouver for the first time (I've been to Victoria on Vancouver Island, but never on the mainland proper). By this Sunday, my PowerPoint should be finalized. I'll have a laptop and about 4 hours on the train from Seattle to Vancouver to just get some other work done. The month isn't over yet - I just need to stop feeling like it is.

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June 8, 2005

Under the category of "dream jobs"

Position: Assistant Professor
Salary: $50,000 to less than $60,000
Institution: University of Central Florida
Location: Florida
Date posted: 5/27/2005

The School of Film and Digital Media (SFDM) at the University of Central Florida has over 1200 undergraduate students, and 36 faculty members, and offer B.A., M.A., and M.F.A. degrees. The school has facilities on the main campus as well as a new graduate and professional center in downtown Orlando.

SFDM is seeking to fill a tenure track Assistant Professor position, with an emphasis in digital storytelling, that would also include a secondary joint appointment in the Department of English.

Duties include teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in Digital Media and English, advising undergraduate students in Digital media, providing service to the department, college, and university, and developing and maintaining a program of research.

A terminal degree in an area related to Digital Media is required. Experience in grant proposal preparation, and demonstrated interpersonal skills are required.

The necessary background to develop an active research area in digital narratology or closely related are preferred. University teaching experience is preferred.
STARTING DATE:August 8, 2005

[via the Chronicle]

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